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How to Dye Fabric - Cotton Onesies

Learn how to dye fabric and a whole new world of color for baby clothes will await you! The following instructions are not for your average drug store dye in a box color. These are professional quality colors that stay true and vibrant and won't fade over repeated washings. If you can follow a recipe you can dye using this method!

hand dyed baby shirts

The three baby shirts in the photograph above were hand-dyed using this exact method and then embellished using these wool felt applique instructions.

These instructions are for dyeing cotton baby onesies and shirts in a washing machine. You can also dye in a tub or in a large plastic storage bin if you are worried about tub/washing machine stains. However, the beauty of doing it in the washing machine is that you set it to agitate and it does thew work for you. Dyeing in a tub or container works well but take muscle power to stand there and stir for 20 minutes to an hour at a time!

how to dye fabric Materials - You'll need a top loading washing machine, baby onesies or other cotton fabric, fiber reactive dyes, box of Kosher salt, soda ash, gloves and a few plastic containers for mixing that you will no longer use for food. I use disposable cottage cheese type containers and this works well. (UPDATE: because I get asked so often, I purchase my fiber reactive Procion dyes from Dharma Trading Company. They also have amazing and cheap cotton blank baby clothes - they are a wonderful resource!)

Some instructions will tell you to use a cleaning detergent called "synthrapol" but I skip this step for baby clothes because of all the "Danger" warnings on the bottle. If using blank and new cotton onesies it isn't necessary, simply pre-rinse them with hot water and no soap. I also no longer use Calsolene Oil which some people use to "break surface tension" on the water as I don't find that it makes a difference.

Step 1: - Run the rinse cycle on your machine so it fills up with water and then stop it. You want enough water so that your onesies will be completely covered and flow freely. Unless you are doing a a full load of onesies you will not need to fill the machine. I usually fill the machine 1/4 to 1/2 full depending on the amount I'm dyeing. Meanwhile, pre-rinse your onesies in hot water and set aside. You'll want them wet when they are dyed.

dissolve dye Step 2: - Dissolve your powdered dye in a small plastic container with some warm water and stir to make sure it is dissolved completely. A liquidy paste is fine. This extra step ensures that the dye will dissolve evenly in the water rather than just dumping it directly into your machine. Then dump all the dye into your machine and set it to agitate for a few minutes so the dye is completely dispersed and dissolved.

dye in washing machine Step 3: - Dissolve a lot of salt (I generally use about 3/4 of a Kosher salt box per load) in hot water and add it to the dye bath in the machine. Make sure all your salt is dissolved in your dye bath and set it to agitate for a few minutes again to make sure it is blended.

Step 4: - Now for the fun part! Toss in your wet onesies and set the machine to agitate for 20 minutes. Depending on your machine, you may have to keep stopping it (don't let it drain out!) and re-starting the agitate cycle over and over until 20 minutes is reached.

soda ash fixer Step 5: - Dissolve the soda ash in another disposable plastic container in warm water. I use about one cup. When you are first learning how to dye fabric it is best to follow instructions that are included with your dye, but as you experiment you'll soon learn that dyeing isn't an exact science and you can modify the recipe. Add the soda TO the water rather than pouring the water on top of the soda ash, otherwise you'll have a clumpy mess that you'll need to break up. With gloves on you can break up the clumps until it is all dissolved. Move your fabric to one side of the machine and then pour a little of the soda ash mixture in then set to agitate for a few minutes and then repeat. It is important NOT to pour the soda ash mixture directly onto the fabric and to add it slowly over 10-15 minutes or you will end up with splotchy results. This is the trickiest part of learning how to dye fabric so take it slow here.

move fabric aside Step 6: - Once all the soda ash has been mixed in, let the washing machine agitate about for at least another 20 minutes, up to an hour. I usually do around 40 minutes, which is a nice compromise between ideal and me being impatient. Again, don't let the machine drain out yet! Make sure you keep setting it to agitate for at least 20 minutes.

finished dyed fabric Step 7: - Finally, let your washing machine finish the cycle and drain the dye out. Run rinse cycles until the water runs clear, do a final wash cycle with a touch of soap and then you are all finished learning how to dye fabric! You can also pull out the fabric at this point and rinse it by hand in your bathtub if you like. Make sure the onesies are completely rinsed of excess dye. Hang to dry or toss them in the dryer to see the results even faster!

All done! Now that you have learned how to dye fabric and have a handful of unique colored onesies, embellish them even more with more ideas from the Make Baby Clothes section!

Go to the Make Baby Clothes Section for more project ideas!

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