Ice Dyeing – A Quick How To

Ice Dyeing – A Quick How To

My local fiber art group did some ice dyeing yesterday and I thought you might like to try it. It’s a simple process, doesn’t take long and gets great results.



The supplies needed are ice, cotton or silk fabrics, fiber reactive dye powders, soda ash, water, a container for the soda ash liquid, a container about gallon (3785 grams) sized to dye in, dust mask, gloves and a spoon to apply dyes. I have not tried this method with acid dyes but it would probably work. You would just need to steam the fabric before rinsing it out.

The first step is to mix 1 cup of soda ash with a gallon of water, stir until dissolved. Place all your fabric in the soda ash water and soak for at least 30 minutes. Take your gallon container, glass jars work really well for this, and place a layer of ice on the bottom of the jar. Put one piece of fabric on top of the ice and just squash it down into the jar. Put more ice on top of the fabric. With your gloves and dust mask on, sprinkle about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of dye powder over the ice. We used 2-3 colors per layer.

ice dyeing 4


Place another piece of fabric on top of the dye powder layer. Put more ice on top of that fabric and sprinkle more dye powder on top. Keep layering fabric, ice and dye powder until the jar is full. I used reds, blues and blacks in the jar seen in the photo above. You can use any colors that you wish.

ice dyeing 3


You can see Carole layering her fabric, ice and dye powders.

ice dyeing 2


Bunny used a large dye pot to work in and it worked just as well as the glass jars. Plus it holds more fabric so you could do larger pieces easily this way.

ice dyeing 7


Once your jar is filled to the top, do a last layer of ice and dye powder and then close with a lid. If you don’t have a lid, use plastic wrap over the top. Then set the container aside for 24 hours. The ice will melt and the dye powders will mix with the melting ice and dye the fabric with fantastic patterns.



Here are my two jars after melting for 24 hours. The hardest part is not disturbing the fabric. Pour out the excess dye liquid and then rinse the fabric. I rinsed three times in cold water in the sink and then put the fabric in the washing machine with a small amount of Synthropol and washed with a regular wash cycle. Then iron the fabric. 



This is one of the pieces of fabric that was at the very bottom of the red and blue glass jar. It’s very dark but I think it will be really nice with stitching using a light-colored thread on top.



I used a variety of small pieces of cotton of various weights that I had handy. 

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThis is 90# cheesecloth and this is just a small portion of it. It dyed beautifully. You could also put cotton thread in the dyeing jar but I didn’t have any white thread to try. You can also over dye fabrics this way so if you have a fabric that you don’t particularly like, try over dyeing it with this method.



I loved this one. It was on the very top of the red/blue jar.



This was some cotton muslin that was stitched together prior to dyeing. It reminds me of sunlight through the tree tops.



The ice melting really gets different reactions of the dye with the fabric than you can get in other methods. This works with snow too but for those of you that rarely get snow, ice is simple and gives good results.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe colors will be lighter if you use less dye powder and darker with more dye powder. You can mix a variety of colors or not. The results will always be different and you won’t be able to duplicate your results but that to me is the best thing about this method. Each piece of fabric will be unique. I didn’t have any silk but this will work with silk as well. I think this method would be really good to use on silk that will then be nuno felted. 

If you try out ice dyeing, please post photos on the forum or on our Flickr group, we’d love to see how it worked for you.



60 thoughts on “Ice Dyeing – A Quick How To

    1. Thanks Karen. It was fun and really easy. We had a good time. I can hardly wait to see the others fabric.

  1. I want to try this method turning the dye mix itself into ice cubes and see if that works . I use acid dyes , so will have to modify it a little and steam it instead but looks like fun

    1. That’s a good idea Denise. Please do let us know how it works and show us your results. I will have to try this with acid dyes and see how it works too.

  2. Looks like fun Ruth, A bit like making a lasagne with ice dye and fabric, tasty for the eyes! 🙂

    I use acid dyes too Denise, do let us know what happens with your “freezing the dye” method, Though I’m not sure I’d want them in my freezer.

  3. I did this process with snow. Same idea. It gave me wonderful results and I have repeated it with tee shirts, laces, canvas purses and many other things.

    1. Yes it does work with snow too. Oddly, even though I get lots of snow here, I never tried it with snow. The nice thing about ice is you can do it any time of year.

  4. Perhaps this is a silly question!
    I notice you use soda ash (washing soda in UK) on the silk as well as the cotton.
    I use an acid medium for animal fibres and alkaline for vegetable fibres.
    Does the alkaline medium have any adverse effect on the silk itself?

    1. Silk works with both acid dyes and with fiber reactive dyes. The soda ash is usually used with the fiber reactive dyes and has no adverse effect on the silk. You shouldn’t leave it in for a long time but 24 hours won’t hurt it.

  5. great results Ruth i will have to give it a try. Koffipot check the strength on the washing soda. We have that here to but its not quite the same. I use PH up for pools. It’s the cheapest why to buy it here (especially at the end of summer) and a little bucket lasts me more than a year.

    1. Thanks Ann. I didn’t think about the differing strengths but it should still work if you wash it out in 24 hours.

  6. Hey Ruth,
    What a great method! I just took a class for confetti quilts and need to dye some fabric for it since we do not get mottled fabric in my part of India! This is a cool method and less messy – i think! most of all – it looks doable
    Thanks for the details!
    Cheers from India!!!

  7. I’m so pleased you told me of this Ruth.

    I love the serendipity of this method. I tried it with a piece of silk (scarf sized) and whilst I liked some areas, I wasn’t happy with the overall effect.

    Nil desperandum, I stretched it onto a frame and ‘scribbled’ on hot wax with a tjanting, then overpainted it with a violet dye. Result – splendid!! Even the hand rolled edge went well. So I’ve adopted this layering effect as my method, it’s such lovely, messy, fun and I get many compliments. 🙂

  8. Koffipot, Please post some pics that sounds wonderful. I did a few scrap pieces of silk and cotton. The cotton must have been mixed because the colors were muted, but the silk came out nice. I plan to try using acid dyes next time and steam them afterward to see how bright the colors get and if there is less run off.

    1. Ruth, it’s on my getting longer list of projects. 🙂 I’ll definitely share my results.

  9. I’m in South Africa – thank you for sharing all your know-how with us. If soda ash is washing soda then please tell me what is the difference in strengths? I only know washing soda.
    I still have to try to find the dyeing powder ………………. perhaps I’ll have to import from somewhere over the sea ………………. Loretta

    1. Hi Loretta – washing soda and soda ash are the same thing. There shouldn’t be any difference in strengths. What kind of dye powders do you have available? Anything that is considered a fiber reactive dye will work.

    2. Greetings from very hot and sunny Cape Town, South Africa! Was I happy to be doing some Ice Dyeing in this heat, here today!!! I was delighted to experiment with your Ice-Dyeing instructions thank-you! The jars are all standing in my Dyeing Yard with the soaking Indian Cotton I chose to dye, for Nuno Felting and I shall open them up and inspect the results tomorrow. I’ll try to take some photies to post.

      Many thanks for the pleasure and for the good instructions. My only concern is that you didn’t say, unless I missed it, that you need LOADS of ice!!! I ran out!!!

      Happy wishes

    3. Hi Loretta

      Perhaps we can share notes, as I am also in South Africa? I used to use Washing Soda, which I managed to obtain from our local supermarkets, but then I took to buying “Swimming Pool Soda”. It sells under a different name to that and I can let you have the details tomorrow, as I’ve locked all my supplies away now, but will happily pass on the info to you.

      Happy wishes
      Toody Cape Town

  10. The results of my first attempt at Ice Dyeing are very pleasing thank you! I should like to attach a picture or two. Please advise as to how I should go about this. Many thanks

    1. Hi Toody – I’m glad you enjoyed the ice dyeing. We would love to see photos of what you achieved. The easiest way to show them is to join our forum and you can post them under dyeing. On the forum, you can share photos, ask questions and learn from our online community of fiber artists from throughout the world. Just sign up and then you can post.

      If you’d rather write a short post with photos about your experience here on the blog, please use the contact us form on the black menu bar at the top. Send a note and I’ll contact you directly.

    2. Thanks ever so much Ruthlane. I have registered to join the forum and will try posting my comments and photies soon as possible…hopefully tomorrow some time.

      Happy wishes

  11. Has anyone actually used acid dyes with the ice technique and then steamed the fabric. I’ve seen posts that ladies are going to “try” it. Has anyone actually done it yet and had success?

    1. Yes, Maria, I have tried it and it works fine. You use the same process but before rinsing, you steam for 30 minutes. Works great on wool or other animal fibers.

  12. I have been ice dyeing silk scarves with acid dyes using vinegar as a fixative and them steaming them in a ziplock in the microwave. 20-30 minutes in vinegar and 3 minutes in the microwave and presto! I have sold dozens of scarves using this method. I don’t use the layering method though. I do mine “scrunched up” in a single layer on a grate over a shallow tray to catch the run off.
    Love it!

  13. I used acid dyes, no citric acid/vinegar, no heat just rinsed while still wet and hung to dry. Hardly any dye came out in the rinse – looks great! Tis 106º today and I have another silk scarf being ice dyed.

    1. By choosing your colors carefully and avoiding putting all the colors in one place when you put the dye powders on the ice.

    1. Hi Lilijan – did you try Google translator? You should be able to translate with your browser as most have this option now.

  14. Could I use a wool blend felt for the fabric? How do you make the dye permanent so that the color doesn’t run when put in water? Thank you! The colors are beautiful.

    1. Hi Donna, the fiber reactive dyes don’t work all that well on wool blend felt. I would use acid dyes and then steam afterwards to set the dye. With cotton and silk fabric, the soda ash sets the dye.

  15. Does anyone have a list of Procion dyes and what color of dye each one splits/migrates to when used in ice dyeing, for ex. forest Green #31 splits into Lt. blue, and dk green , lime squeeze splits into yellow, lilac/blue ?

    1. Hi Claudette, that’s an interesting question. The best place I know for all about dyeing is Paula Burch’s site:

      The other suggestion would be to look at the brand name of dye you are using and look up their website to see what the specific colors are in each dye.

      Also, with ice dyeing, if you use more than one color you will get mixing of the colors and different color splits so that will make it much more complicated.

    2. Unfortunately I checked Procion dyes but couldn’t find a list. I haven’t found specifics on Paula Burch’s site. Hadn’t thought of mixing different colors would create different and complicated splits. Thank you for that info. I may try a lengthy experiment by taking each color (and I have many) and do a paper or fabric test with water & record the results. We shall see…thank you for your suggestions and for replying

    3. Perhaps you could contact Paula and ask if she knows of any resources? She is usually responsive to questions. Also, another resource is Dharma Trading. They may not have it on their website but if you email them, they do try and get you an answer. Good luck with your experiments and I’d love to hear the results. The other suggestion is that you ask this question in our forum and see if you get any other suggestions. It’s free to join.

    4. I spoke with someone from Dharma and the answer is that the company cannot share their formula ie: what colors they mix in . Makes sense. It is proprietary. I could test the colors on paper towels with water and record the splits which could then help control the outcomes, but not necessarily be totally reliable as there are variables like temp, water etc. I will continue getting “surprises”!

    5. Yes, that does make sense that the companies wouldn’t want to tell you. One of the reasons that I like ice dyeing is the “surprises” and not being able to control everything. I think that’s what is fun about it.

We'd love to hear your thoughts!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.