The Day My Quilt Bled and Almost Dyed

We’ve had this quilt on our bed for about 5 years.  I think it’s the third quilt I ever made, done all in my hand-dyed fabrics, and I’m quite attached to it.  I’m still amazed that I took on this project when I had minimal sewing/quilting skills and was sewing on a cheap Singer sewing machine.
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Mississippi Delta — Evolution of a Quilt

I began working on this small quilt a few years ago, and it took me well over a year to get it to the point it’s at now.

I started with a bunch of small pieces of leftover fabric–some were from other quilts but most were from experiments playing with dye stenciling, monoprinting and discharging.  I cut the fabric into 4 inch squares and started arranging them on my design wall.

Here’s one arrangement of the squares.

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Putting Color on Cloth

I love making art quilts and, for me, one of the most satisfying parts of the process is getting the right fabric for the quilt.  This usually means that I play a big role in the design of the fabric–putting the color on the cloth.

I’ve tried lots of techniques to get the right color on the cloth.  I’ve done a lot of low water immersion dyeing using Procion MX dyes, and as I’ve become more proficient at it, I can dye specific color gradations when I need them.  For a comprehensive site about hand dyeing, check out Paula Burch’s site.

I’ve also experimented with a number of other dyeing techniques.  Shibori dyeing is a fun way to add different patterns to dyed cloth (click here for some amazing examples).  Ironing a freezer paper stencil on fabric and then adding thickened dye allows you a fairly high degree of control over the end result, while deconstructed screen printing is anything but predictable.  

Gelatin monoprinting can also give some unexpected results, and despite its name, you can sometimes get multiple prints from one go.  Shaving cream marbling on fabric can be done using dyes, inks or paints. 

In addition to dyeing the fabric, there are other ways I like to add color to the cloth.  Paint is a good alternative to dye, though it can change the hand of the fabric, making it stiffer.  The simplest way is to just paint on the fabric using a textile paint.  Paintstiks (basically oil paint in crayon form) are another option.  Both methods usually require heat setting the fabric for the paint to be permanent.

A technique that I’ve used in a few of my quilts is rust dyeing.    This process can yield the typical rust color on fabric, but can also give a wonderful gray color when the rust is combined with tannic acid during the dyeing.  And of course, after the fabric is rusted there’s always the option of overdyeing it to put more color on the cloth.

I’ve even tried a bit of cyanotype printing (blueprints), though I have yet to use any of this fabric in a quilt.

Using a digital camera, computer and inkjet printer opens up tremendous possibilities for adding more color to the cloth.  I’ve made quilts by printing photographs on fabric and I’ve also designed fabrics on the computer which I printed through a commercial service called Spoonflower.

Once a quilt top is complete, there are still more options for adding color.  The quilting can be a major color component, and lately I’ve been using a lot of heavy weight polyester thread for quilting, sometimes will two threads at a time.  Beading is another good way to get in a bit more color.

My search for the best ways of putting color on cloth continues.  At this point, my favorites are the low water immersion dyeing, the fabrics designed on my computer, and the quilting.