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Prewashing Hand Dyed Fabrics

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Hand dyed blue and green fabric

Have you ever found some really gorgeous hand dyed fabrics that you absolutely loved but passed on buying because you were afraid it would bleed and ruin your project? There’s nothing worse than spending countless hours sewing a quilt only to have the dye bleeding and seeping into surrounding fabrics!

Hand dyed fabrics are gorgeous, but you want to spend a little extra time ensuring their beautiful colors stay where they belong. With the right preparation you won’t have to worry about bleeding!

I want to clarify that all the tips I’m about to share are for cottons dyed with procion fiber reactive dyes. This type of dye is most known for its use in tie dye, but there’s a ton of different techniques you can use it for, the most recently popular being ice dyeing.

This is the type of dye I use. I’m not saying these techniques won’t work for other dyes – I just can’t vouch for their effectiveness because I just don’t have enough experience with them.

What I love about procion fiber reactive dyes is that it’s permanent. The dye actually bonds with the fabric through a chemical process, so what’s going to stick is going to stay stuck. The stuff that is washing out is the excess dye. Once it’s all out it isn’t going to let loose any more dye, which is great for two reasons: one, it’s not going to bleed into other fabrics, and two, it’s really resistant to fading (just don’t go leaving it in the sun because the sun is hard on everything!).

When you buy fabric from me I spend a lot of time and energy washing out as much of the excess dye that I can. This is often enough to wash out the excess dyes of most colors.

However I always urge using caution. Sometimes differences in water chemistry can be enough to cause the fabric to release more dye. And sometimes you just want to be sure the dye was fully removed.

Certain reds, blues, purples and deeply dyed colors can be difficult to fully remove. When using hand dyed fabrics with these colors or if you are using them next to white or light fabric I recommend washing them thoroughly before sewing with them. Better safe than sorry, right?

Here’s what I recommend for any new purchases of hand dyed fabric:

At a minimum, use warm water and machine wash all new hand dyed fabrics prior to use.

Items that use BLUE, RED, PURPLE, or are particularly DEEP tend to be more difficult to fully remove all the excess dye.

I have found the most effective method for removing excess dye is using boiling hot water. If you have a container that can withstand water this hot, this is the best way to go. Make sure to boil enough water to cover the fabric. If you see a lot of dye in the water, switch it out after 10 minutes or so. I consider the fabric done when it can soak for an hour without any noticeable color in the water.

Remember; don’t ever use anything for dye that you also use for food! Don’t use your stock pot to hot water soak your dyes then make soup! Yuck! Use a dedicated container.

If you can’t use the boiling water method, try a longer soak. Try soaking overnight in hot water. If you notice color in the soak water repeat the soaking step until the water is clear.

If the fabric is going to be used next to white or light fabric you definitely want to make sure you spend a little extra time making sure you get out as much excess dye as you can.

Soaking hand dyed fabrics in the tub

Here’s a clever test to check for bleeding:

While the dyed fabric is wet, sandwich it between two pieces of white cotton fabric and press dry. If color transferred onto the white fabric, it needs more washing! (It’s not foolproof but it’s still handy!)

Dye bleed test results
Notice some blue dye transferred onto the white? This hand dyed fabric needs more washing.

(I found this tip on Paula Burch’s site – she had tons of useful info!)

Bottom line: always exercise caution when using hand dyed fabrics. It’s better to over wash than not wash enough and have fabric bleed.

Now that you know how to prewash hand dyed fabrics, what project would you love to use it in?

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