Spooky Part II - Experimental Ice-Dyeing On Fabric

This is the continuation of my Spooky Quilt Project (Part 1 - Sewing the Patchwork).

The already finished front side of the quilt obviously still needs a nice fabric for as backing!


A palette of matching shades and the ice-dyeing technique will turn a boring white fabric into an explosion of colours.

Since this is a dyeing experiment, it's probably not the only and maybe not the best way to do ice-dyeing. If you're interested in trying it yourself, I recommend researching more information in the world wide web.

My documentation does show you the basics and materials that are needed and also how easy it is, to dye you own fabric for a unique outcome.

Have fun!

First things first: the fabric.

Since it will be the backing for my quilt, the piece of fabric must be at least as wide and long as the finished patchwork.

It could also be assembled from several smaller pieces, but I don’t want to do that this time. And I found an old white cotton bed sheet which meets the requirements perfectly!


In addition to the fabric, some dyestuff will of course be used, but more on that in a moment. You will also need a waterproof tub and a kind of draining rack that is large enough to hold the piece of fabric and will sit securely in the tub.


I chose a laundry basket and a rack for drying dishes that I can easily clean afterwards.

Now for the dye!

Colour pigments, i.e. powdered dyes, are best suited for ice dyeing. I chose some for batik dyeing on natural fibres (e.g. cotton). Fibre and dye compatibility is very important!


The color selection of orange, red, pink, purple and black corresponds to the colours in my Spooky Patchwork.

An important part of dyeing textiles is pre-treating the fabric so that the fibres accept the dye well.

According to the packaging for my batik dye, table salt should be added to the dye bath. Since I won't be making a dye bath, I'll put the salt in clear, warm water at approx. 60°C, in which the fabric will be soaked before dyeing.


Before we really get to work, there is a little test run with leftover fabric to check my set-up.

A preliminary dyeing test provides a direct preview of the ice-dye technique: Ice cubes are placed on the fabric to be dyed and the colour pigments are distributed over it.

As the ice melts, the pigments dissolve and are transported into the fabric by the melt water.


In order to assess all the colours individually, they were applied next to each other with some distance between them for the test.


The result of the test dyeing, after washing and drying: successful - ready to apply in large format!


The black dye bled into the orange in my test, but the contrasts come into their own and the colour sticks well to the fabric.


Red and pink gave a very similar colour result, although the slightly lighter pink blended more nicely into my palette. That's why I'll leave out the red pigment for the experiment.

A protagonist of ice-dyeing is of course the ice. I put three liters of water in freezer bags in the freezer. Looking back, one bag would have been enough, but a little backup isn't a bad thing for this.


Of course, molds for ice cubes also work, but I found a well-sealed bag to be safer against wet accidents and the finished big ice block is more economical.

Freezing took about 24 hours.

Here I re-checked my dyeing set-up again. The cotton sheet can be easily crumpled, twisted and draped so that the material is evenly distributed in the dish rack.



It is best to pre-wash the textile material to remove any remaining production aids that could affect the dyeing results.



Now we're really getting started!

First, the fabric is weighed, as the weight usually determines the amount of water and dye required.

A lot of dye on a small amount of fabric results in a more intense color than a little dye on a lot of fabric.


Ice dye is a special case because there is no dye bath, but the amount of salt (or other substances, based on the dyeing technique) also depends on the weight of the fabric.

As in test dyeing, the fabric is treated with saline solution, the concentration of which depends on the previously determined weight of fabric, as mentioned before.

The water has a temperature of about 60°C again, so the salt dissolves better.

The material must be completely immersed in the solution.

I turned the fabric repeatedly and left it in the solution for some time to make sure it soaked right through.

My chosen laundry basket is perfect for this preparation step.


Before dyes come into play, excess water has to be removed from the fabric. A slightly damp fabric will accept the dye better from the melt water of the ice cubes, but if the fabric is too wet the colors can bleed together and look washed out too much.

The ice is ready!

In between I tested whether the contents of the bag were thouroughly frozen through.


Initially only an outer layer freezes in the bag, the core of the block will still be liquid.

The easiest way: It's better to wait a little longer than planned.

Of course, the one liter ice blocks are not suitable for dyeing.

The ice has to be crushed into smaller pieces if it doesn't already come in the practical form of ice cubes from molds.


Practically, the ice block bag can be worked on directly with a hammer.

But watch your fingers!

Is it finally time to dye?!

Well, almost - first the set-up: The pre-treated fabric is on the draining rack in the laundry basket as practiced before, and the ice cubes and dye pigments are ready.

It's best to take this next step outside and on a stain-proof surface, with respiratory protection to be on the safe side!

Once the ice is spread evenly across the entire fabric, the colour finally comes into play. I used a teaspoon for controlled dosage and distribution.


The color pigments are a very fine powder. In order not to inhale any of it, it is necessary to handle it very carefully and wearing the respiratory protection I mentioned.

The different shades are applied one by one all over the ice cube layer.


I think it's worth taking some time at this point to watch the streams of colour that form as the ice slowly melts and the pigments dissolve.

I could watch forever!



But on to the next color!

The different tones are applied in interlocking and partly overlapping patches. When scattering the pigments they can easily mix a bit which is no problem, but they should not be mixed too much because the result can get muddy.

In the end you should be able to see beautiful, clear colored areas.

All colors have now been applied to the ice - black came last in a smaller amount as it is the strongest tone.

The more colour I added, the more fascinating it got to watch the ice melt into the fabric.

Now another look a little closer to the action - the pigments and melt water form small rivulets of mixed colours down the ice cubes.

Super fascinating!


The pigment residue looks very dark and rather muddy, but it will spread out with the remaining ice.

If necessary, some more ice can be added here and there, on top of the pigment residue.

As the ice melts, the coloured water drips through the fabric and down into the laundry basket.


The bottom layer of the fabric is still white, maybe there wasn't enough  pigment applied here or there're too many layers of fabric on top of each other - but that makes the result more interesting, it's all part of the experiment.

The ice is now almost gone - despite it being a sunny summer day at around 26°C, this will take a few hours.


But the dye has already visibly been absorbed into the fabric at this point.

Iused the waiting time for some gardening on my balcony.



The sun has set and the ice has completely melted.


I was so exited to see the result!

Even though I would have preferred to unfold the fabric straight away, I left the whole set-up standing untouched like that overnight to allow the colour to take effect longer.



Actually a few days later, I finally had time and the fabric was very ready to be unfolded to reveal a first look at the dyeing result.


As suspected, there are some areas that remained white where the fabric was very densely layered and the dye didn't get through.


The black looks very dark, but  colours will look more intense when wet in most cases.

On the packaging of my colour pigments there was no information about disposal or possible  environmental impact of the product, except that dyeing in the washing machine is possible. Unfortunately, even longer research did not yield any clearer answers.


Wastewater treatment is very thorough in Germany, so I decided that washing the substance out in the bathtub was justifiable.

You can clearly see the excess dye here, which has not been bound to fibres and can therefore be easily rinsed out.


Areas in the fabric that previously remained white are now slightly coloured by the washed-out pigments. A separate color fixative might have helped here, but its packaging had a hazardous substance labeling about its environmental impact, which is why I decided against using it.

After carefully washing it by hand, I dared to wash the fabric thoroughly in the washing machine.


Here, too, the wash water is still slightly purple from the dye particles that have been washed out.


This thorough washing treatment is intended to ensure that no accidents occur with discolouration in the light fabrics of the finished quilt should it ever need to be washed.

Here is the fabric after washing - there is no pure white left at all, the intermediate areas have become coloured.


Despite the successful dyeing test at the beginning, I still had lingering doubts that the dye might not hold well or even wash out completely.

Luckily that didn't happen, even if the color faded a bit.

 Success! :)


After the wet fabric has been allowed to dry for a while, the last remaining moisture can come in quite handy for ironing.


Not only does the fabric dry quickly in the end like that, but it also becomes nice and smooth. This is important for the next steps of using it as a quilt backing!

Alternatively, the fabric could have been smoothed later using steam ironing - but when in Rome...

To finish this article, here're a few detailed shots of the finished fabric:


Some beautiful color overlays and marbling were created here, as well as slight mirror effects from folds in the fabric.

These ribbon-like stripes were created by twisting the fabric together to form a strand.


Some not entirely white but at least very bright areas remain and provide good contrast to the colours.

Cloudy colour effects and mixtures like this are a typical identifying feature of the ice dye technique. Through loosely and randomly gathered fabric, the dye penetrates the layers randomly.

Perfect result for this experiment!

I am very happy with the result of this experiment. The dyed fabric is truly unique and goes wonderfully with the patchwork, with vibrant clouds of colour in the tones of my Spooky pattern collection.


The second step to the finished quilt has now been completed and both the front and back are ready for further processing. Now all that's missing is the middle layer, a volume fleece, and the most important thing about a quilt - the actual quilting which is sewing the layers together.


There will be a new article about the next project phase soon!

For now, Happy Halloween!


Update: Click here to read the third part of the Spooky project.

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