Experimenting with Ice Dyeing

My Facebook feed has been loaded with posts of beautiful warps which have been ice dyed. They are absolutely wonderful. I’ve been wanting to dye a warp using this method for quite some time and just haven’t found the courage– that is up until now. I’ve read numerous blog posts and watched several YouTube videos from fellow weavers and, although helpful, none quite provided detailed instructions on exactly how to do it. I was often left with questions such as how much ice, how much dye powder to use and how to lay your yarn (how thick can you go) and on and on. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m just going to have to do it- make my own mistakes, learn from them and change it up in the future. So here we go.


From my reading, I learned that you get different effects when using different yarns. I’m going to do a little experimenting here. For my first project I will be using 6/2 mercerized cotton. My plan is to make two baby blankets with this warp. I will be using 8/2 tencel for the my second warp which I will likely use to make a few scarves. Both the mercerized cotton and tencel have a sheen to them so I’m excited to see if there is much of a difference. Both the cotton and the tencel are natural in color.

Winding The Warps

Before starting to dye, I wound the warps for the projects on my warping wheel. My baby blankets will be about 40 inches wide at 16 epi so I wound 640 ends plus a few more just in case of breakage. I wound six chains of 100 and one of 40. For the tencel warp, I wound 460 ends. I’m not quite settled on what this project will be but I’m estimating 23 inches wide at 20 epi. I have four chains of 120 ends and one with 40. Since tencel tends to break, I made sure to wind extra ends. I then weighed the warps. The tencel warp weighed 739 grams and the mercerized cotton warp 690 grams. So that’s about three pounds of yarn.

After the warps were wound I scoured the yarn. This step is optional, but since I purchased the 6/2 mercerized cotton off of a Facebook Marketplace post, I wasn’t sure the yarn was clean. To do this I simply filled my sink with warm water and added Dawn dish soap and let it set for a few hours. I then rinsed out the warps.

Choosing the Dyes

In my readings I learned that one of the cool things about ice dyeing is getting unexpected results when colors “split”. Some dyes contain a mixture of colors and when ice dyeing, the colors split and you are left with several different colors in your yarn or fabric from that one dye. Other colors, such as primary colors, do not split. It’s not that you can’t or shouldn’t use them, it’ll just give you a different effect. Some people choose to test their dyes ahead of time to see what colors will emerge. They do this by wetting a piece of fabric or coffee filter and dropping bit of dye on it to see what happens. This sounds like a good idea, but I’m not going to do this. I’m going to just see what happens with the colors I’m using.

The other important consideration that choosing a black (a color that splits) will often tone down your end result. I want a darker toned warp so I’m going to be using Nickel as one of my colors. I will be pulling my colors from my inspiration watercolor painting.

This is my inspiration picture. I’m going to pull out colors from this.

I’ll be using Pro MX Reactive Dyes from Pro Chemical and Dye. I’ll be using the following colors: Kilt Green, Curry, Nickel, Olive and Pearl Gray. We’ll just have to see which colors split.

Measuring the Dye

This is where it gets a little tricky–I think. When I’m immersion dyeing or painting a warp, there’s a formula. You weigh your yarn when dry and then calculate how much dye to dissolve in water based upon whether you want a light, medium or dark version of the color. It doesn’t seem to be that way when ice dyeing. This seems to be a little more free spirit-ish. When searching for how much dye to use, one blogger commented “less than what you think”. Helpful, but not so much. I’m going to kind of use the immersion dyeing weights as a general guide. The total weight of yarn I want to dye is around three pounds. I’m using five colors so I’ll divide that by five and then calculate the amount of dye powder I’ll start with for each color.

I will be using salt shakers to evenly distribute the dye on the ice so I put the desired amount of dye powder in each shaker and give it a go.

Set Up

Before putting in the ice, I needed to get my bucket ready with the grates that the yarn will set upon. I purchased these cookie cooling racks at our local Walmart as well as this Sterilite under the bed storage container.

I can fit three cooling racks in the plastic container. If you are dyeing only one or two skeins of yarn, you could certainly use a smaller tub and one rack. One blogger even used a kitty litter tub. This may be going a little overboard in terms of the set up, but what I decided to do was to link the three cooling racks using zip ties. I’m trying to avoid dips between the racks and to provide stability.

Now the racks need to be suspended in the container. I do not want the yarn sitting in the melted dye water that will accumulate on the bottom so they need to be lifted high enough to prevent sitting in the water and low enough for the ice to sit on top without spilling over. I drilled holes towards the top of the container and suspended them with zip ties. Once the ice is placed on top, the weight will depress the racks about 4 inches.

Preparing the Yarn

The first step in the dye process is to soak the warps in the soda ash solution. Since I dye quite a bit, I have a bucket full of the soda ash solution which I’m able to reuse. When I first made the solution, I added 9 Tablespoons of soda ash (80 grams) to every gallon of water. Since mercerized cotton and tencel aren’t the most absorbent, I let the warps set in the solution overnight making sure all the yarn was submerged and the choke ties loosened.

After setting overnight, it was time to remove the yarn from the soda ash solution. I removed each chain and wrung the yarn out (not too much though). It is very important that you do not rinse the yarn as it is the soda ash solution which allows the dye to adhere to the yarn. I then placed each chain on the rack.

At first I was unsure of how much ice would be needed to cover the warp. It’s important that all the warp is covered in ice as I did not want the dye to touch the warp directly first. I found that for my container and set up two large bags of ice (20 pounds each) did the trick.

The next step was to apply the dye powder. Although I used the manufacturer’s directions for amount of dye powder per pound of fabric/yarn, it just didn’t seem like it would be enough to cover it. As it turns out, it really was as as the ice melted, the dye spread.

I applied the ice and dye powder early morning- about 8 am and put it outside to let it melt. It’s early March and the temperature was expected to reach 65 degrees. It was 3:00 pm when the ice finally melted. Once melted, I moved the warp around a bit to be sure all the warp was dyed. Because I had to stack the yarn a bit, there were some undyed spots underneath so I touched them up using a paintbrush. Next time I won’t put so much yarn on the rack. I wrapped the warp in Saran Wrap and placed the cover on top. I placed the container in a room where the temperature is 75 degrees. I’m actually going to let it set for a day in a half making sure all that it doesn’t dry out.

It was quite a treat to open the Saran Wrap. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the colors were so, so pretty!

I then removed each chain carefully and reattached the potholder loops used to secure the threads. I then washed each chain and hung them out to dry. I noticed that the dye of the tencel warp did not seem to rinse out as much as the mercerized cotton. They both are pretty, but overall I prefer the tencel. I only wish that tencel wasn’t prone to breakage during the weaving process.

Well, here’s the finished product. I really love these colors. Next time I may use a true black rather than the Nickel and I may not have as much gold, but overall I’m really pleased. Can’t wait to get them on the loom!

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