Foolproof Recipes for Mixing Dye Colors

I wonder if my love of dyeing came from coloring Easter eggs as a child. Setting out the little glass cups full of hot water and vinegar, mixing in the dye powder, and slowly lowering the hard-boiled eggs in one at a time, it seemed magical to me when they emerged all decked out in pretty pastels.

I experimented with writing on the white eggshell with wax crayon before dipping-my first resist! I over-dyed by dipping a colored egg in a second color to create two-tone effects. And sometimes I jazzed the dyed eggs up with stickers, stamps, or glitter. Hmm, seems I was into embellishment at an early age.

Lately my dyeing adventures involve fabric instead of eggs, soy wax and flour paste as resists, and screen-printing rather than stamping. But the thrill is the same. (The fact that I can keep and use the fabric, whereas the eggshells were cracked and tossed away, is a bonus.)

One of the things I like about dyeing is the potential for surprise. Especially when you first start dyeing, you don't always know what result you're going to get. But it's good to have some basic recipes and color principles to follow, especially when you're new to the dye pot.

As with all dyeing processes, proceed with caution. Always wear a dust mask when handling dye powder, mix the dye in a safe location such as utility sink, and and use equipment that will not be be used for food preparation.

Artist Melanie Testa has an eye for color and a mind for mixing dyes, a creative combination that she demonstrates in her book Inspired to Quilt: Creative Experiments in Art Quilt Imagery. I asked her to share some of her tips for choosing and mixing dye colors with you.

Choosing Colors and Mixing Dyes
By Melanie Testa

Choosing Colors
If you are a new dyer, all you really need to invest in is three colors: red, blue and yellow. But what color red, what color blue, and what color yellow? For that, you have to assess what sort of color takes your fancy. Hot colors? Then turquoise, fuchsia, and lemon yellow would be good choices for you. But if your tastes sway toward earthy, cool tones, you might prefer navy blue, strongest red, and tangerine. Or, you might just might like an average grouping of color, like golden yellow, mixing red, and intense blue. (Note: These are the Pro Chem names for these colors. Another company may call the same hues by different names.)

The reason I have chosen to work with the color groupings is that they are primary dye powders, not a mixture of several powders. This is important because when you buy a mixture you cannot know how much of one dye particle you are weighing/measuring out when making your dye concentrates. I use all nine of these colors in these particular groupings, but if you are on a budget, I suggest you chose one of these three groupings and begin to experiment.

Weighing and Measuring
Normally I mix a 5% dye concentrate, which means I weigh 5 grams of dye and add that to 100mls water. By weighing the dye powder, I am assured that the concentrate I am mixing is predictable and I have come to expect the intensity of color I get from this weighed mixture. 

You may choose to throw caution to the wind and measure your dye powders (instead of weighing them), in which case you should add 1.5 tablespoons of dye powder to 2 cup water, and then experiment to see how you like this mixture. If you measure your dyes, experimenting to see if you like the intensity of your concentrate is key. Just play and have fun, but keep track of your measurements and experiments. That way, if you like the colors, you know what to do next time, and if the colors seem too light, add more dye powder to your concentrates.

For the record, 1 tablespoon equals 3 teaspoons. Ten grams of dye seems to be a little less than 2 level teaspoons of dye powder. Twenty grams of dye powder measures out to be 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of dye powder. Weighing your dyes will provide predictable concentrates, measuring dye requires experimentation. But heck! We are talking dye here, so get out some cloth and start playing!

If you're coming to International Quilt Festival/Chicago April 16-18, be sure to come by the Make It University!TM with Cloth Paper Scissors® area where Melanie and other mixed-media fiber artists will be demonstrating their techniques and making art right on the show floor in our Open Studios. Get details and the schedule on the Quilting Arts Community Events page.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Fabric Painting & Dyeing, Quilting Daily Blog

2 thoughts on “Foolproof Recipes for Mixing Dye Colors

  1. It may be worth mentioning for Australian readers that – for reasons lost to common sense – our tablespoon is actually 20mls, not 15mls as in the US, UK and pretty much everywhere else. Since many of our craft books come from overseas, converting measurements to teaspoons is a must to make the recipes work!!