How Do You Control Color When Ice Dyeing?

Ice dyeing can create some beautiful designs but it comes with a lot of unpredictability. Since I’m typically a person who like to know exactly how things are going to look when they’re done my adventures in dyeing have been a bit of an exercise in disorder. While it can be a bit nerve-wracking when you don’t know how the colors are going to mix each time, it can also be exciting to see what bit of magic unfolds when you rinse out that latest dye. It’s a little bit like opening up presents on your birthday.

Sometimes people will message me asking for very specific things. My usual response is something along the lines of “There’s a lot of unpredictability in ice dyeing, so I cannot guarantee that this will turn out a specific way.”

One particular request really got me thinking whether it was possible to better control where the color goes during ice dyeing. They had wanted geode dyed fabric but with an even distribution of green and blue.

Typically my geode fabrics look like this when I use blue and green together:

Green geode ice dye

Sometimes there is a little bit of blue but it tends to be overwhelmingly green.

Usually when I ice dye I start with the fabric at the bottom, add a few inches of ice cubes, and then sprinkle the dye on the top. It’s difficult to control the dye through all those layers of ice. As the pigments dance over the ice on their way down, they tend to mix with each other in rather random ways and sometimes mix too much.

Could I get more color variation with my geode dyes and prevent so much mixing?

The Experiment

A total of 10 fat quarters were tied in a similar fashion. 2 fat quarters were dyed together in each of 5 variations.

Variation #1

Colors: ½ tsp. emerald green, ¼ tsp. sky blue, and ¼ tsp. cobalt blue

The dyes were randomly sprinkled in sections over the ice without any color overlap.

These ended up primarily an earthy green. There are areas of bluish-green, but there aren’t any true blue sections.

Variation #2

Colors: ½ tsp. emerald green, ¼ tsp. turquoise, ¼ tsp. sky blue, and ¼ tsp. cobalt blue

The dyes were randomly sprinkled in sections over the ice without any color overlap. Turquoise was sprinkled randomly over the ice with some overlap.  ½ tsp. of additional soda ash was evenly sprinkled over all the ice.

Note: I hadn’t used turquoise in variation #1 because I know from previous dying experience that it mostly washes out when used in ice dyeing if you don’t add additional soda ash on top.

The overall color did end up being slightly darker, however there also tended to be blocks of solid color, losing the beautiful crystalline detailing that is visible in the lighter areas. The turquoise did blend with the green to make some areas of more vibrant green. Overall, however, blue was still lacking.

Variation #3

Colors: ½ tsp. emerald green, ¼ tsp. sky blue, and ¼ tsp. cobalt blue

The dyes were randomly sprinkled directly on the fabric sections with no overlap between colors. The ice layer was then put over the top.

There is distinct separation between green and blue and close to an even split in color coverage on the fabric.

Variation #4

Colors: ½ tsp. emerald green, ¼ tsp. turquoise, ¼ tsp. sky blue, and ¼ tsp. cobalt blue

The dyes were randomly sprinkled directly on the fabric sections. There was no overlap between blue and green, however turquoise was placed over the blues and green in a few places. Ice was placed on top, then ½ tsp. of additional soda ash was evenly sprinkled over the ice.

Other than the fact that there is visible turquoise on the fabric, the most surprising part of this variation was that it was remarkably similar to variation #3. I didn’t see the same dense blocks of color like I saw in variation #2 when additional soda ash was added on top of the ice.

Variation #5

Colors: emerald green, turquoise, sky blue, and cobalt blue all mixed with water to the manufacturer’s directions for tie dye. The dye was applied to the fabric using a squirt bottle using the typical tie dye method with no color overlap.

I wanted to do a traditional tie dye variation because it is often used to put colors specifically where they are desired. While there is a fairly even distribution of green and white there is also a greater amount of white area than in the ice dyes. The colors were overall darker and more intense without much in the middle color tones. The detailed crystalline patterning you see in ice dye while still there isn’t as dramatic.

Results

The winner is variation #3!

The best way to control the color distribution on ice dyed fabrics is variation #3: to apply the dye directly to the fabric and place the ice layer on top. The one drawback is that when you place dye directly on the fabric you have a greater chance of dye dots appearing on the fabric.

Turquoise and green geode ice dye

Do you like all the colors mixing together or do you prefer to see separate colors in your dyes?

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Ailsa Burn-Murdoch
February 11, 2021 1:42 pm

Thank you for explaining all of this! I’ve been tie dying all of a week, and playing around a lot, including some ice dyeing. I wanted to mandala dye a sarong and used your folding guide, and put the dye straight on the fabric, then wondered if I’d read it wrong as nowhere else mentions that. It’s melting away now, under ice and snow, so I’m excited to see the results tomorrow