18 August 2010

Reflections on: dyeing

Although I have been trying to use only fabric from my stash instead of buying new pieces, I have just realised a collection of a different nature has been quietly building in my sewing studio. It is multihued and, just like new fabric, I can’t resist its call.

One of the benefits of good storage is that everything has a secure place. All similar items are placed together so that they can easily be located, instead of tucked away in different, often-forgotten, positions. If you are particularly well organised, you can even label the various drawers, shelves, boxes and cupboards so that every creative tool can be easily found.

Nobody ever tells you that good organisation has a dark side, probably because it is too frightening to speak out loud. Since I know that we are among friends here, I am prepared to share this secret with you. Here is the scary truth – once you gather your supplies in one place, you will see how much of everything you own.

There, it is out in the open now. As long as spools of thread are stored in a multitude of boxes and as long as bags of pretty buttons are kept in different parts of the sewing box, they don’t look like they add up to much. Is this a deliberate strategy or do you think we are just deluding ourselves?

My revelation came after I had gathered my packs of dye powder together. I thought they could all be stored in a shallow drawer, but found that I needed a deeper space for them. If you are just an occasional hand-dyeing dabbler, like I am, you will know that it doesn’t take much dye powder to make a batch of liquid dye. I don’t dye regularly, so I have no need for large containers of powder. This means that all my packs are small and individually don’t take up much space. However, I have plenty of them just in case I feel an urgent need to dye fabric or threads in a hurry. Well, you never know!

Once I had all my dyes together, I started to organise them in colour groups. Then I arranged them in the form of a colour wheel, so I could see if there were any gaps in my collection. Of course, there were more shades of blue than any other colour. (Who’d have thought that?) Ideas for colour combinations started to emerge as I played with the packs. I started to make a list of the colours I had, as if that action would justify my play. In fact, I was just enjoying the pretty colours.

I felt a little guilty at that stage. I realised I had not dyed any fabric this year, although I could do with some more of certain colours in my stash. I’ve used a lot of lime green in the past 12 months (mostly on the backs of Artist Trading Cards), so could do with more of that shade. Hot pink and saturated orange are always useful too, so I set about dyeing some of those as well.

Hand dyeing fabric is quite mysterious. Watching a white fabric turn into fabulous colours with irregular patterns is a joy, especially when there are sometimes accidental effects. Seeing the resulting fabric drying on the clothesline is a colourful delight, especially when I arrange the pieces so that they complement each other. Ironing the newly dyed fabric is a pleasure, as the heat from the iron makes the colours more intense. Fancy all that pleasure resulting from a tiny pack of coloured powder!

It’s a magical process, creating colour. If you haven’t tried it, I suggest you give it a go. I realised that I don’t mind owning so many packs of dye powder after all. The power of making an ordinary piece of cloth into something that glows with a vibrant shade or has a barely-there wash of colour is awesome. I am grateful that I can so easily fill my life with all the colours of the rainbow. 


  1. Anonymous12:58 pm


    I tried dyeing but wasn't turned on by the messy bits, so I find the need for colour comes to the fore when I walk into a quilt shop with lots of tone on tone, hand dyed look-a-likes and and any other form of commercially made fabric which doesn't have bold pattern. I find myself buying lots of my favourite colours, then realise I don't have enough(?) of the highlights and contrasts I need to make my favourites come to life.

    Now, I must go organise so I can send some fabric to a great niece who has caught the bug, and see what I need to look for next time I go shopping!

    Judy B

  2. Hi Erica, Welcome to the real world of textile artists - owing lots of stuff - it is all necessary to the growth of our creative souls. Well that's what I truly believe.....so relax and enjoy. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of your intriguing colour collections from all those little parcels of dyes. If you were able to see my dye stash - perhaps we could do a surprize fat quarter swap!!?!

  3. Oh boy! I had to do that in April (ptiing all my bits an d pieces in the same room!) Eeeek! I can't nove in there. But it's all stuff that I need! really! It's very scarey though!

    My favourite bits are the hand dyed, hand painted and lino printed fabrics! They are so much fun to play with and now they are all together so I can play with them.


  4. Sorry Erica but I dont like your scary truth. I like my stash hidden under a rock (well, several rocks) because if I ever found out how much I truly own, I think I would be sent to come kind of hoarders hospital! Pamela you are hitting the nail right on my creative-artisty, fabric-hoardy, must-have-it-can't-live-without-it soul :)


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