Icy weather, Icy Dyeing…

Three hours ‘stewing’ time to go … Itching to rinse off and see the results….PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE!! 

Ice Magic!

I had heard about ‘Ice Dyeing’ and seen examples online but hadn’t had a go myself- until yesterday!

What better way to spend a freezing January day than messing about with a tub of ice cubes and dye powder? I decided to have a go after seeing some ice dyed fabric firsthand at my machine embroidery workshop last week and discussing the process with the workshopper who’d made the fabric.

Usually I like to paint dyes onto fabrics or screens to get interesting colour combinations and marks, so I was intrigued to see what could be achieved with ice. The principle is that as the ice melts it carries the dye powder throug to the fabric, creating random textures and colour mixes.

Setting Up.


First of all, soak the fabric you wish to dye in a washing soda solution. Dissolve 200g of the soda crystals in 1 litre of hot water (multiply to make enough solution to cover the fabric) and let the fabric soak for 30 minutes. Then wring out the fabric and place some pieces of fabric at the bottom of a large tub. Next, balance a wire rack over this fabric – mine’s balanced on a couple of cans from the recycling! Then add more fabric on top of the rack – scrumple or pleat the fabric to get different effects.

Now pile your ice on top of the fabric – I used 2kg of cubes in this example. You can use crushed ice or even snow (not that there’s much of that here!) I tried to make sure that I covered all the fabric on the rack.

Now add the dye powder, I used 5ml teaspoons of Procion MX dyes (remember to wear gloves and a dust mask) , in yellow, red, turquoise (2 tsp) and navy. Keeping red/yellow mostly to the left and navy/turquoise to the right but allowing some transfer. I decided to add one final piece of fabric over the top of the ice and dye to see if this would come out differently.

Then comes the really hard bit – wait for 24 hours!! 

The ice melted quite slowly transporting the dye powder through the fabric on the rack to form a dark pool at the bottom of the tub, this soaked into the lower fabric pieces.

The top piece of fabric looked quite splotchy at this stage! When the ice had all melted, each piece of fabric was rinsed thoroughly in cold water – until the water ran (almost) clear. Then all the pieces were put in a 40degree wash with soap powder – more waiting!!

But finally…here they are!

This is the fabric that was laid over the ice; I can see Georgia O’Keeffe style skulls top left!

In the photo above, the main blue cotton piece, the silk piece to the left and the wool blanket strip to the right were on the rack during the dyeing process. 

 In this photo, the autumnal piece (cotton again) was on the rack. The deeper blue brown piece (linen) was at the bottom of the tub and soaked in the melted ice dye liquor. The blue/khaki silk piece (top left) was also at the bottom of the tub, the blue/turquoise silk piece (top right ) was on the rack.

My thoughts?  Definitely doing this again! I’m delighted by the effects and the way they change depending on where the fabric was in the tub. The way the patterning looks is very different to tie dye and reminds me of mineral or lichen patterns. I’m thinking of an experiment with natural dyes and rust next too!

Let me know what you think! 

Published by Donna Cheshire Textiles

I am a professional textile artist specializing in Appliqué and Free Motion machine stitching. In order to create a unique colour palette, I hand dye my own fabrics and then use these to create the landscapes and coastal scenes recorded in my sketchbook. I often incorporate recycled or vintage fabrics in my work - they add meaning to the story the work is telling. I love being so close to the Northumbrian coast and countryside and I especially like taking time walk and draw these stunning landscapes

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