You will need

  • Pieces of white or pale coloured washed and dried cotton fabric: the pieces need to be fat quarter size or smaller (we used old sheets)
  • Dyrect dyes in two or more colours
  • Table salt
  • Water
  • Microwave oven
  • Takeaway plastic containers or plastic bags suitable for microwave use
  • Stirring sticks (try using recycled wooden stirrers from coffee shops)
  • Plastic measuring spoons
  • Scales to weigh the dry fabric
Omega dyes have been specially created to be easy to use in the home, studio or classroom. The colours can be mixed to give a wide range of hues, but if you mix too many you'll just end up with a muddy brown! We restricted ourselves to rosy pink and cornflower blue. Using two colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel will give lovely toning results.

The Rules

  1. The dyes are safe to use in the home but that doesn't mean you should be silly with them. The quantities used are quite safe to dispose of into the drains and cesspits, but always flush through with plenty of cold water. If you have a septic tank then it is advisable to find an alternative disposal method if you dye on a regular basis.
  2. 1t is probably wisest not to use dyes if someone in your house is pregnant or breastfeeding, or a severe asthmatic as when the dyes are in powder form they could be inhaled and be harmful. The dyes are safe once they are dissolved in a liquid.
  3. Children should only use dyes under supervision and they should be prepared by an adult. Children should not be around the dyes in powder form as the particles can be in the air.
  4. Always work in a well ventilated space, away from food and food preparation items.
  5. Keep a set of utensils specially for dyeing and wash them immediately after use. It's best to mark them so everyone else will know what they are for. Use an old non- metal dish for the microwave, or use a plastic roasting bag. Ideally, the microwave should not be the one you use for food; if you do use the family microwave then wipe it out thoroughly after dyeing, 'cook' a couple of cups of water in it and then wipe it out again.
  6. Cover your work surfaces whilst dyeing - accidents do happen! Use paper over plastic, then the paper can simply be gathered up and thrown away if any dye is spilled. As we show here, put all your equipment on a tray so any spills will be contained in a small area. See Figure 1.
  7. Wear old clothes and/or an apron and wear gloves throughout the dyeing process (you can buy plastic gloves from most DIY shops). If you get dye on your skin wash it off with soap and water. Any colour won't stay there long and won't do any harm once washed. Never rub your nose or eyes or put your fingers in your mouth whilst dye is on your hands. lf you have a dust mask then wear it whilst spooning out the dye powder.
Figure 1: Equipment laid out on a tray
Figure 1: Equipment laid out on a tray

Preparation

  1. Weigh the dry fabric to calculate the amount of dye needed. You will need 5g dye (about half a 5ml teaspoon) to 100g of dry fabric. The fabric shown here weighed 250g.
  2. Mix 1 tablespoon of salt for each 100g of fabric in a jug with some hot water. This is to soak your fabric in before dyeing.
  3. Make sure your fabric has been washed and dried; if you don't do this the 'dressing' on the fabric will prevent it from taking the colour up nicely.
  4. Put the fabric to soak in the hot salty water while you prepare your dyes.
  5. Measure half a teaspoon of dye powder into a small jug or jam jar, add hot water and stir carefully until no dye powder is visible.

Dyeing

Figure 2: Ready to go in the microwave
Figure 2: Ready to go in the microwave
  1. Put your fabric in the container you are going to use to dye it in; we used a selection of plastic takeaway dishes. Carefully spoon the dye over the fabric and press it down slightly with your gloved finger or a stirring stick. See Figure 2
  2. Cover the container and heat for 5 minutes in the microwave. You could check after 2 1/2 minutes that the fabric has not dried out, which could cause it to burn. If necessary, add more salted water to the container.
  3. Wash in good quality detergent, rinse and dry on the washing line. See Figure 3.
Figure 3: Selection of fabrics on the washing line
Figure 3: Selection of fabrics on the washing line

Experiments

Figure 4: Smaller containers give a more distinct pattern
Figure 4: Smaller containers give a more distinct pattern
  1. Using different size containers produces different patterns on the fabric. Figure 4 shows the effect of 'crushing' the fabric into a smaller container, producing a more distinct pattern. Be more vigilant about the fabric drying out. You could try traditional tie dyeing. Remember that elastic bands, pegs and paper clips are not suitable for use in microwave ovens.
  2. You can add two colours to the dyeing container so they merge to give you a range of colours on the fabric. See Figure 5.
  3. For paler shades use more water or a shorter dyeing time. We used only 3 minutes for our pale samples.
Figure 5: Two colours merge to give three
Figure 5: Two colours merge to give three

First published in Popular Patchwork October 2008