Mandala Dyeing

When I was first learning about fabric dyeing, I read about many different techniques.  One that I tried and really enjoyed was a technique known as snow dyeing.  And, living in Minnesota, we certainly have plenty of snow each year to play with!
After trying some small samples, my first major piece that I dyed was the backing to my dyed fabric quilt (see Sept 22, 2015 post for more information).  I wanted the back of the quilt to complement the pieced from quilt, so I snow dyed with my six main dyes.  I then folded the fabric in a manner that brought all of the borders together and over-dyed the edges with black dye. The result was very nice and looks much better in person than in this photo.

Now that there is a fair amount of snow outside, I decided to take my snow dyeing one step farther – Mandalas.  Looking around any craft store or art supply store, you will see adult coloring books.  Many of these have mandalas for coloring.

The word “mandala” is from the classical Indian language of Sanskrit.  Loosely translated to mean “circle”.  However, a mandala is far from the simple shape we think of as a circle.  It is a complex structure with overlapping lines of shape and color.
Unable to find specific instructions for snow dyeing mandalas, I decided that some experimentation would be necessary.

My first attempt:

  • Combed cotton fabric 22″ x 22″, soaked in warmed soda ash solution for 30 minutes. 
  • Remove the fabric from the solution and squeeze the excess liquid from the fabric.  
  • Hang to dry for 24 hours.
  • Iron the folds into the fabric.
    Unfolded fabric to show the pleating created by the folds


Folded fabric





Bucket with two folded pieces of fabric
  • Place folded fabric in drain tray.  I used a drawer organizer with holes drilled in the bottom. The organizer was then set above a large storage bucket to collect the melting snow.
  • Cover the fabric with snow.  Make sure that there is no fabric visible.  I used about 8 cups of snow.  
  • Sprinkle a total of 1/2 teaspoon of Procian MX dye over the snow.  I used several colors hoping for some colors blending together.  
Fabric covered with snow and sprinkled with dye powder.
I forgot to take a photo right away.
The above photo was taken after three hours.
You can see that the snow had melted and the dye powder had blended a bit.
  • Place the lid over the bucket (mostly to keep the cat out of the dyes) and allow to sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
  • After 24 hours, rinse fabric in cold water.
  • Wash in hot water with blue Dawn soap.
  • Rinse, dry and iron.
Lessons learned:
  • too much white, I need to add more dye.  
So, I checked for any suggestions on-line. One site stated that the colors were more vibrant if the dye was mixed directly with the snow.  I will give that a try.

And, to save time, I realized that snow melting over fabric will make the fabric wet (I certainly didn’t need Sherlock to help me make that deduction). So, next sample I will use the fabric immediately after soaking in the soda ash solution.

I also wanted to see what happened if I used preprinted fabric.  I was hoping that this might be a nice way to make my own fabric, but still have a pattern printed on it.

So, another experiment to try.

My second attempt:

  • Printed white-on-white cotton fabric 18″ x 22″, soaked in warmed soda ash solution for 30 minutes. 
  • Remove the fabric from the solution and squeeze the excess liquid from the fabric.  
  • Place damp fabric on table and fold for desired dye pattern
  • Place in tray over bucket
  • Mix dye with snow.  I used Mixing Blue, Golden Yellow, Mixing Red.  1/4 teaspoon was mixed with 8 cups of snow and packed over the fabric.
  • Place lid over the bucket and allow to sit at room temperature.
  • After 24 hours, rinse fabric in cold water.
  • Wash in hot water with blue Dawn soap.
  • Rinse, dry and iron.
I did take a picture of the fabric before dyeing.
Unfortunately white on white does not show very well.
So, I’m not posting that picture. But, this is the dyed result. 
Lessons learned:
  • colors are brighter – but, I think just a bit more dye would be even better
  • printed fabric looks nice, but maybe not for mandalas since it tends to distract from the pattern created by the dyes.

Looking at more on-line ideas, I found a site that used rubber bands to bind the fabric to create more detail in the mandala.  And, another site that used the microwave the speed up the dyeing process. So, more experiments to try.

My third attempt:

  • Combed cotton fabric 22″ x 22″ folded and bound with rubber bands. 

  • Soak in soda ash solution for 30 minutes
  • Place in tray over bucket

  • Mix dye with snow and packed over the fabric.
  • Place lid over the bucket and allow to sit at room temperature.
  • After the snow had melted, approximately 6 hours, place the fabric in a plastic bag.
  • Microwave on High for 30 seconds, wait 2 minutes.  Repeat 4 times.
  • Rinse with cold water.
  • Wash in hot water with blue Dawn soap.
  • Rinse, dry and iron.

Lessons learned:
  • Rubber bands left uneven marks on the fabric.  I liked the folding better.
  • Microwaving the dyes caused the colors to be more muted.
I do love this technique, but I still need to perfect my “formulas”.

Dye Resists – Oatmeal

Now that the holidays are over, I have time to get back to some more fabric dyeing. I have a bed runner that I want to make that will have appliqued flowers, which I plan to use only hand-dyed fabrics for. So, I need to get more fabric pieces made. To create some variety in the fabrics, I will be using several dye resist techniques. In addition to dextrins (see October 30, 2015 for details), there are a variety of other techniques to use for dye resists.  One that I wanted to try (because it was readily available and rather inexpensive was oatmeal resists.

I started by washing my combed cotton fabric in Blue Dawn (works the same as Synthrapol, is cheaper, and doesn’t require ordering – you can buy it at any grocery store) to remove any sizing.  The fabric was soaked in a solution of Soda Ash and allowed to hang dry. Once dry, the fabric was securely stretched on a hard surface, which was covered with a thin piece of plastic. Small binder clips worked well to secure the fabric to an old floor linoleum tile.

I tried out three different approaches for the oatmeal resist.
1. Slow Cook Oatmeal – 1/4 cup oats mixed with 1/3 cup water and microwaved on High for two minutes. Cooled to room temperature. The oatmeal mixture was spread over fabric using a 4″ plastic putty knife.  You can get a set of three putty knives (2″, 4″ and 6″) at Home Depot for less than $3. Allow to dry completely (approximately 24 hours).

Slow Cooked Oatmeal

2. Quick Oats – 1/4 cup oats mixed with 1/3 cup boiling water. Cool to room temperature and spread over fabric similar to the technique described for slow cook oatmeal.  Dry completely. Note – this mixture was extremely sticky and hard to spread.  So, that prompted me to try a different approach to using the Quick Oats.

Quick Oats

3. Sprayed Oats –  the stretched fabric was sprayed with warm water to saturate the fabric.  Quick Oats were sprinkled over the surface and then sprayed again with hot water to saturate the oats.  So secure the oats to the fabric, a paper towel was placed over the oats and the surface was rolled flat with a rolling pin.  Remove and discard the paper towel and allow the fabric to dry completely.

Quick Oats – Sprayed

To dye the fabrics, I tried several approaches.  First, I tried to brush on a mixture of thickened dye. Unfortunately, this approach caused the oatmeal to be pulled off of the fabric.  Next I tried to brush on a dye solution (without thickener).  This worked a bit better, but the dye needed to be tapped on the fabric rather than spreading with the foam brush to avoid moving the oatmeal  Lastly, I put the dye solution (1 mg.ml, no thickener) in a small spray bottle and sprayed the dye onto the oatmeal coated fabric.  This worked really well, but had the potential to be really messy. So, to keep the dye aerosol from making a mess of my laundry room, I put the fabric inside a plastic bag and sprayed the dye into the opening of the bag.  This was actually a good approach since the fabric needed to “batch” for 24 hours and the plastic bag helped to keep the fabrics from drying out.

Slow cooked oats                                            Quick Oats                                            Quick Oats – sprayed

After 24 hours, to wash out the oatmeal and excess dye, I added about a cup of hot water to each plastic bag and allowed them to soak for 30 minutes.  Since the oatmeal was really sticky, it is somewhat frustrating to try to hand wash it off of the fabric.  Instead, I found that if I removed the binder clips that were holding the fabric to the tile, I could then just pour the fabric and dye solution directly into the washing machine.  The fabrics were washed with Blue Dawn and dried.  
I really liked the results:
Additional samples:
Can’t wait to try some more fabric dyeing approaches!