How to Dye: Freshly Picked Baby Outfits

A note from Vivika: I’m happy to introduce you to Candy Glendening, who is going to be a guest blogger for the next four weeks, teaching you how to combine dyeing and stitch. Candy has been a guest on ‘Quilting Arts TV,’ has her own QA Workshop video, and has appeared in several Interweave publications. Take it away, Candy!


candy glendening how to dye baby outfits
Candy Glendening
hand dye baby clothes glendening
Juicy baby clothes ready to be
picked. By Candy Glendening.

It may be because both my boys were born in May, but it seems like I’m always making presents for baby showers in the spring. One quick and easy gift that always goes over well at a shower is one of my “Freshly Picked” baby outfits.

I begin by dyeing a short-sleeve, snap-crotch tee and a pair of socks one color, and a pair of pants and some fabric a color that contrasts nicely with the tee. I then free-motion machine sketch a quirky bird or flower on the fabric and sew the patch onto the tee.

If you’d like to make your own Freshly Picked outfit, you’ll need:

  • 100% cotton snap crotch tee, pants, socks (I often buy these from, but as long as they’re 100% cotton, any white clothing should be fine)
  • PFD (Prepared for Dyeing) Fabric, at least an 8″ square, I usually dye fat quarter size
  • 2 Contrasting Procion MX Fiber Reactive dye powders
  • Soda ash soak (1/2 cup Sodium Carbonate mixed in 1 gallon water)
  • 2 recycled sports cap drink bottles to hold your dissolved dyes
  • 2 plastic containers that can hold your clothing/fabric compressed
  • 2 plastic drink cups & disposable spoons
  • 1 measuring cup you’ll never use for food preparation
  • Particulate mask (to wear while handling the dye powders)
  • Latex/rubber gloves to protect your hands

1. Start by soaking your clothing and fabric in the soda ash solution (this raises the pH of the fiber so that when the dye is touches the fiber it will form a permanent, washfast bond).

preparing to dye fabric
Prepare the fabric for dyeing by soaking
in a soda ash solution.

2. Prepare your dyes by placing about 2 teaspoons of dye into a plastic cup (make sure to wear your mask when working with the dry powder). In another plastic cup measure 1 cup of lukewarm water. Add a small amount of water to the dye, mixing it into a paste. Continue adding small amounts of water until the powder is completely dissolved.

3. Repeat this process with your other dye. (For details and exact amounts on the colors I mixed for this project, see my Quilting Arts WorkshopTM video: Dyeing to Stitch.)

4. Pour this dye into your dye storage containers.

5. Wring out the soaking fabric and place the tee, socks (and some fabric if you’d like to add to your stash) in one pile, and the pants and fabric for the patch in another. Lay each piece flat and then “scrumble” it by pushing in from all sides until you’ve got a pancake of fabric about 1″ tall that has lots of nooks and crannies to hold the dye solution; this is what provides all the lovely visual texture in my fabrics.

prepare to dye fabric scrumbling
How to ‘scrumble’ baby clothes for
low-immersion dyeing.


6. Once the “scrumbling” is complete, place all the clothing/fabric you would like a single color into a plastic container that holds the fabric compressed.

7. Repeat with your other clothes/fabric. (I’m actually making two different outfits in this tutorial and so have prepared four colors)

8. Slowly start adding dye (figure 8a) until the fabric/clothes are mostly colored, but with some white still showing (figure 8b). Massage the fabric/clothes until you don’t see any more white (figure 8c), there should be very little excess dye in the bottom of the container (figure 8d).

fabric dyeing glendening
Applying the dye.

This type of dyeing is called “low water immersion dyeing”, with the dye in direct contact with the fiber, you can easily get intense colors, and with the “scrumbled” fabric, wonderful visual texture as well. Tip: When working with multiple colors, I keep a container with water and a rag to quickly rinse and blot my gloved hands between colors.

11. Once you’ve added the dye and massaged all your clothes/fabric, let them sit in the sun or in a warm part of your house. After 2 hours, if the dyes were kept at room temperature, approximately 95% of the dye will have reacted with the fiber. You can wash the fabric then, or wait. I usually wait overnight to eke out that last little bit of dyeing (if your room is cool, the reaction will take longer). You also can leave these until you have time; it is at your convenience.

batching for fabric dyeing
Dyeing fabric; the batching process.

12. Dump one shirt in your sink (be careful of splashes, the dye can still stain your countertop, your grout, and your clothes!!!) Rinse in cool water until the fabric loses its slippery feel and loses very little color when squeezed. When the slipperiness is gone, so is most of the soda ash, so the odds of any dye reacting with other fiber now are remote.

13. Repeat with the other color(s). At this point you can let them sit in a big bath of water for a bit to help with diffusion.

14. After a few hours of sitting in water, wash them (all together at this point) in the hottest temp your washing machine can do. I use a small amount of Synthrapol, which is a detergent that is sold to help keep any washed away dye particles from depositing on the other fabrics, but if you did that first soak in individual containers, you probably won’t need it and plain old detergent (without bleach!) will be fine.

15. After the washing machine runs all the way through, I usually run it again, stopping it in the middle of the washing agitation, lifting the lid and scooping out some water in a clear glass. If you see no color, your washing days are over – if you do, back to the washing machine for you!

I hope you’ve found this a good introduction to fabric dyeing. In my next post I’ll show you how to free-motion machine sketch the motif and attach the patch to the shirt so you can have your own “freshly picked” outfit to take to that next baby shower.


Other topics you may enjoy:


Fabric Painting & Dyeing, Quilting Daily Blog

4 thoughts on “How to Dye: Freshly Picked Baby Outfits

  1. This post will show you how to sketch free-motion machine quilting designs like a bird motif on a bright piece of fabric and embellish the shirt to create the cutest little outfit.

  2. Dyeing my own fabric allows me to make pieces that are unique – it reflects the handmade nature of what I do, and ensures that what I make is one of a kind. In this next pair of posts, I'll show you how I dye multicolor fabric and use it to make a

  3. Last week I shared a pillow project by Candy Glendening, noting how the simplicity of the design allowed her hand-dyed fabrics to take center stage. Today I thought give you some insight into Candy's fabric dyeing process.