Dyeing Fabric…


I’m a big fan of reaching for the fabric dye, when needed.  I spent many a happy hour in the laundry room at college creating colour mixes from the big tubs of powdered dye, usually whilst trying to avoid getting told off for going overboard as the dye was very, VERY expensive.  Whilst on my Art Foundation course I also often dyed clothing, in an old pan, which I still have in a shed somewhere…just in case it’s ever needed…and I had to use the same pan for boiling chickens, it being the only large one I owned, often with some interesting results.  (Just to explain, I lived in the YMCA in York as it was the only stand alone accommodation on offer and I didn’t want to live in with a family, and York Tech didn’t have halls etc.  If you roasted a chicken in the communal kitchens it was likely to get stolen just as it was nearly ready, oddly people were less likely to steal a slightly purple, boiled chicken.   Seriously, I’m not kidding.  Incidentally, the chicken tasted and looked fine after you removed the skin and I did wash the pan over and over before using it for food, but there always seemed to be a residue left, plus I was 18 so I didn’t really care all that much).

Small Shade Card OL AW

Anyhow, back to dyeing fabric, not chickens.  I’ve always favoured Dylon dyes as they give great results, but I struggle with the colours on offer and often find myself mixing them.  They are also quite expensive and following the instructions you need quite a lot of dye to fabric ratio (the packet recommends 1 x box of machine dye per 600g fabric.  For the linen I mostly dye for softie clothing, this works out at 150cm of fabric for HALF a packet of dye).  I’ve always been a bit miffed that there is no scarlet or true red, the ‘Tulip Red’ is quite pink based and ‘Rosewood’ kind of brownish, and I’m always desperate for a good mustard yellow.  On average, a box of Dylon machine dye will cost about £5.50 and sometimes that doesn’t include P&P which is expensive with the boxes counting as small packets.


Enter iDye.  I mentioned in the last post that  I’ve been making aprons, this involved ordering a lot (5 meters per apron batch) of expensive Essex Linen but on arrival I didn’t like the colour (I bought 2 lots for different apron designs).  I was reluctant to dye it, knowing how many packets I’d need to get a good colour depth and very aware of how this would bump up the material costs involved in each aprons; I also couldn’t find the dye colour I wanted (a natural mid pink) and quite frankly, couldn’t be arsed to try and mix it.  After a search online for alternative makes, I found iDye, LOVELY colour choices, I mean, look there are 4 shades of mustard yellow that are just perfect!  Also, the dye is a lot cheaper (approx £4 per sachet, but that dyes 1 – 1.3 kg of fabric).  The packet is small so can easily be posted as a large letter resulting in most cases the P&P being free (I bought mine from Amazon, no idea which shop).


I was a bit doubtful that such a small packet would dye such a large amount of fabric but after reading some reviews went for it.  So, for 5 meters of medium weight linen I decided to use 2 packets of iDye, as I’d rather go overboard than find the colour isn’t strong enough.  I was also keeping it in mind that I’d be using a front loading washing machine and not the top loading one recommended in the instructions, so there would likely be more water than intended.  On the subject of the instructions, I read in some reviews that people returned the product as they were unhappy the whole ‘NO MESS dye packet that DISSOLVES in water’ claim was intended for top loading machines only.  Amateurs 😉

DSC_0001 2

So, here’s how I do it.  Pre wash your fabric so it’s evenly wet.  For linen I use a 40 degree wool wash.  Mix the recommended amount of salt with the recommended amount of dye.  In the case of iDye cut open the packet and tip the powder contents into a bowl and mix a bit (I have also just dissolved the packet in a small amount of water and poured this directly into the machine on top of the salt, which works fine).  Shove the damp fabric to the side of the machine and next to it (so they don’t touch for the moment) add the salt/dye. The reason I do this is to not instantly have the dye granules sitting on the wet fabric, plus I’d prefer the machine to load some water in first to dilute the mix before it touches the fabric.  Wash together on a 40 degree wool wash (this cycle on my machine uses less water so the dye and water mix will be stronger, it also loads water before it does it’s first rotate).  I then wash the dyed fabric repeatedly on the appropriate cycle until the water runs clear, with the iDye it took a couple of wool wash washes.

Afterwards, I run an empty cotton cycle to clean the machine, I’ve discovered if I combine this with a limescale removing sachet it removes any trace of dye and I can happily follow with a regular white wash with no worries.  As this is a lot of laundry cycles I try to save all my dyeing up and do it together, one colour after another, that way I don’t have to clean the machine between, clearly I start with the lightest colour first.


Incidentally, why add salt?  Salt does not set the dye, it just makes dye migrate out of the water and into the fabric, creating a stronger colour.  There’s science here somewhere, I guess it creates an ionic solution.  Oh and don’t buy expensive dye salt, just cheap table stuff is fine.  I pretty much always add 500g of salt when running a machine dye load.

DSC_0236I most certainly wont be abandoning Dylon dyes altogether, it is much easier to follow the instructions as they are UK marketed and I love the colour ‘Burlesque Red’ which I use for Fox clothing, but it’s nice to have more options.

43 thoughts on “Dyeing Fabric…

  1. Brilliant. I too have struggled with the limited colour choices with Dylon (I’m sure there used to be more in the hand-dye range than now?). I’ve been frustrated with fabric suppliers slightly changing the colours of the solids I’ve been using (sending a much more bubble-gum pink than the deep fuschia I like) so have been dyeing my own for a couple of years now. The i dye seems to have a better choice for husbands slightly past-it work shirts too (no more boring white for weekends now!). Thanks for all the research! x

      • Dear Linen cat,

        Yes, I have two little tins of the older formula of Dylon in “Mexican Red” which is a much truer red than the overly pink Tulip Red. I also have another in a colour called “Bronze Rose”; the next time I dye some things red, I’ll combine these for a rich, interesting tone.

        I don’t have a washing machine and would not feel comfy dyeing at the laundrette; I suppose I Dye can be done by hand as well?

      • Trouble is, you either have to use a machine or need a large totally flat bottomed pan as iDye requires constant heat and for those of us with ceramic hobs this is a mare. As I have neither and don’t dye often enough to invest, I look at lovely colours from afar and then sadly go off to mix Dylon colours together.

  2. Those little purple jackets are gorgeous! Though I am feeling a bit inadequate that I haven’t even attempted to dye anything since I was a student… Can see myself browsing the dyes at Dunelm Mill when I call in there for thread in a minute. Not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad having it practically on the doorstep! Handy for threads and zips, probably just as well their fabric isn’t right for my needs…

    • I only dye fabric when I have to, I worry a lot about the colour running in future and things being ruined, even though I do pre-wash like crazy before making anything up from dyed linen. Probably good that I don’t have anywhere near here to buy haberdashery etc! It means I have to save my orders up though, to make the postage on things worth it. Bx

  3. Hi Beth, it made me chuckle when I read about the purple chicken! My food always got stolen too, I was in halls and it was so upsetting as I had a strict budget, wish I’d thought of the purple meat, brilliant! Your dye colours look lovely, especially the ochre yellow and I love the mini fox clothing purple too 🙂 am at home with a bad shoulder on very strong pain killers, so this has cheered me up today, hope your having a good weekend with your family, safxxx

    • Oh no, only just seen this, I do hope your shoulder is better??! I would have loved halls, it’s a greta opportunity to find people to house share with, on my Art Foundation is was only a one year course and I remember being a bit gutted there was no proper housing list, I didn’t know anyone else going so the YMCA was the best option….I think my poor Mum didn’t want to leave me there though, it wasn’t the nicest of places, if I’m totally honest, but it worked for me. Bxx

  4. Such an interesting post Beth. My memories of using dyes was at school making tie dyed tea shirts in the 1970s! Fond memories. You really made me laugh about the chicken….at least it didn’t get stolen. Thanks for your recent visit…it’s such a shame that I only found out about the Cheapside Hoard in it’s last week,,,,,it was really incredible, I will keep my eyes open to see if it is shown anywhere else. Enjoy the weekend xx

    • I am hoping to maximise M’s being at home for a while as an opportunity to visit London more often and see more things, but sadly, we seem to have something on most days plus he’s just got sick 😦 We should come in more as a family, I’d like the boys to have more exposure to the city in general. Bethx

  5. Hi Beth, I don’t know if you’ve gone on your little holiday yet but in any case I really hope you have a beautiful and relaxing time! I understand your happiness with some alone time. I happily lived in a small unit by myself for some years in my twenties and still need some regular time just in my own head. Interesting to read your dyeing process. I’ve never had a lot of luck with it but haven’t been brave enough to try it in the machine. And I loved the story about purple boiled chicken!

  6. Dylon’s limited colour range and price is really quite restrictive, so thank you for sharing this info. The colours have come up lovely on your linen. I’ve a length of linen that needs dyeing, so I’ll be ordering some iDye very soon. 😀

  7. Wow, Beth,

    That post both brings back many memories (dying the Levi’s 501 purple and green in a large pot on a kitchen stove, goddamit the mess AND the result) and also gets me pretty excited of the idea! This way the basic linens (those off white no-color’s) start to look so interesting again. And the dyes here (we only have dylon I think) are pretty expensive here too, so new choices are always welcome. Thank you for reminding of this way to make a special colored fabrics!

    Have a lovely week, dear friend!


  8. Oh the joys of communal living! Though I never resorted to dying my food purple… Thank you for the dying tips – need to turn a long sleeve white t shirt of P’s red this week as I can’t find a cheap one to buy anywhere. I’ll probably have to make do with one of the Dylon reds at this short notice (party, dress up, must go as Flash. Who?) so it sounds like Flash may have a slightly pinkier top than a true red!

  9. Thanks for sharing this info., Beth. I haven’t dyed anything since my teenage years. Thank goodness for Amazon!!
    Happy creating and weekend to you.
    Anne D.T.

    • I LOVE Amazon, we pay the yearly fee for ‘free’ delivery, which works out well as we order so much from there. Good thing to have when you’ve got kids and all your family live away or abroad, perfect for their ‘wish lists’. Bethxx

  10. Hi thanks for all advice, the iDyes sound great. I want to dye two sofa base covers and all the cushion covers so a bit trepidatious at the moment. I’ll be checking all your info again before I start. Judy
    P.s the chicken sounds great

  11. Thanks for your detailed ‘experiment’ with iDye. I want to dye a light coloured pair of good quality linen trousers but am concerned that they might shrink. Have you any experience of this?

    • Hi there

      Really sorry, this comment has only just shown up. You’ll only be able to wash the trousers on the normal machine setting you use for them, but other than that, it should be OK. If you’re worried, and you normally hand wash them, you might be better with a cold water dye, so you don’t have to use any heat. I mostly dye linen, but as it’s fabric by the meter, the shrinkage isn’t really and issue for me. Sorry I can’t help more!

  12. Hello, I found your site when looking for Dylon ‘Burlesque Red’. Is the lovely jacket in the bottom photo that colour? It comes out a more berry purple shade – would you agree? I have a jumper I just bought which is the perfect shape – I thought would be a berry shade, but has a slight orange/rust tone to it. I have no experience with dying colour to a different shade, can a rusty pink be changed to ‘burlesque red’??? Appreciate any advice you can give. Your foxes are gorgeous! 🙂

    • Hi

      The little jackets are ‘Burlesque Red’, the photo has probably been lightened for the blog, it’s a very dark berry purple/red colour in real life. I love it, it’s my favourite colour from the Dylon dyes. your only problem is how well the dye will ‘take’ and that will depend on the fabric content. If it’s pure cotton or wool, it should dye, but for wool you would need to use a cold water dye and I have to be totally honest, I’ve never dyed a jumper so I can’t really give advice. If it’s a mix and has some manmade fibre content, I don’t think I’d even try as I’m not sure it would work well. If you do attempt to dye your jumper and the colour isn’t deep enough on the first go, you can give it a second attempt with the same colour again, to improve the depth (again, as long as it’s entirely manmade fibres). I hope that helps! Beth (oh, and thank you on the fox comments 🙂 )

      • So kind of you to reply with such helpful advice! I am pretty scared to do it – gutted it is not the shade I thought. Will check out the fabric content. Thanks again :)))

  13. I desperately want a sorta dirty dusky pink.. do you think if I mix Dylan powder pink and pebble beige I’ll achieve this or can you suggest another combination?

    • Hi Libby. In all honest truth, I’m afraid I don’t know. The only way to get an idea of the final colour is to do a test sample using a small amount of dye and a little square of fabric (with the quantities you are thinking of using…for instance 75% Powder Pink and 25% Pebble) and adjust the colour quantities until you get a colour you like. I imagine that Powder Pink and Pebble will produce a very pale dusty pink….if you want a stronger colour you might need to add Burlesque Red….but again, I’m only guessing. Sorry I can’t help more and good luck!

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