A Transcontinental Dye Day

Mud dyeing is simple, safe, and fun regardless what age you are.

Susan E. Horton , Christina Garton Aug 14, 2020 - 6 min read

A Transcontinental Dye Day Primary Image

Mud-dyed yarns and T-shirts drying. Photo credit: Susan E. Horton

Here’s proof that great minds think alike. This past July, without consulting each other, both Christina Garton and Susan Horton decided separately to have a dye day with their sons. Of course, Christina’s son is 3, and Susan’s is 28, but no matter, a dye day is fun at any age. Both of them were intrigued by Elisabeth Hill’s Bengala Mud dyeing article featured in Handwoven, March/April 2020, and they were in love with her napkins dyed with the same mud dyes that were in Easy Weaving with Little Looms, Summer 2020.

Hill Finished Napkins

Elisabeth Hill’s Mud Cloth Napkins from Easy Weaving with Little Looms, Summer 2020. Photo credit: Elisabeth Hill

Susan’s Dye Day

Mud dyeing was an outside backyard project that didn’t take forever but yielded great results. I liked the idea that we didn’t have to worry about weird mordants or chemicals that we shouldn’t be breathing or touching. Rather than carefully disposing of the dye water, it was simple to just dump out the buckets in the yard. I probably should have worn gloves when I worked with the indigo dye only because it added a special blue tint to my hands that didn’t wash off immediately and mostly looked like dirt.

At our house, Aaron, his girlfriend, and I dyed cotton Mallo yarn from Gist, a slub cotton I had in my stash, raffia from Universal Yarn, and a variety of clothing. We did some tie-dyeing and wrapping that came out great, mixed colors in the dyebaths and over-dyed one color with another in some cases. We began carefully, following the instructions that come with the dyes until we understood the process, and then—as so often happens with a dye day—we ad-libbed. dyed balls of yarn seh

Balls of mud-dyed yarns including cottons and raffia. The colors are subtle in some cases but beautiful. Photo credit: Susan E. Horton

After everything was dried, I wound the skeins back into balls in preparation for warping my rigid-heddle loom and washed all of the clothing to get rid of any excess dyes. Not much seemed to come off, although the indigo T-shirt I dyed was slightly lighter after washing.

If you are looking for a fun project to do at home, try some mud-dyeing. The dyes are very easy to use. They come with instructions that will get you started, and then you, too, can branch out on your own.

Christina’s Soil Story

When I realized my kiddo would need more face masks, I knew I needed to do something fun as an incentive for him to actually wear them. My first thought was to buy a bunch of cotton masks and then tie-dye them in the backyard. Of course, then I also had visions of what the realities of tie-dyeing with a 3-year-old would be like, especially a 3-year-old like mine who is not just smart, but clever. I was also a good 6 months pregnant at the time and figured that perhaps hanging out near hot vats of chemical dyes wasn’t a great idea.

H dyeing his mask

H dyeing one of his masks. Photo credit: Christina Garton

Then I remembered Elisabeth Hill’s experiences with mud dyeing. H and I picked out 3 colors of mud dye and patiently waited for everything to arrive in our mailbox. It was worth the wait because our dye day was a blast. After pre-treating the masks with the prefixer, we headed out to the backyard. I attempted some basic shibori tie ups on a couple of my masks, but H staunchly refused to bind his masks in any way.

Setting up to dye was simple—fill up 3 tubs with cold hose water and add some dye—and the actual dyeing was even simpler. We put in our masks and swished them around as we sang songs to pass the time. H loved swirling his mask around and then taking it out to admire the color changes. Watching his joy at seeing his mask go from white to pink to red was magical. While I did talk to him about dye safety, I appreciated not having to worry about him wearing gloves or spilling dye on his skin. It was the perfect little-kid dyeing experience.

Christina's Masks

Christina’s and H’s masks as they dried. The color faded a little after drying (which is to be expected) but has already held up to multiple washings. Photo credit: Christina Garton

The masks turned out beautifully with no residue, weird smells, or color migration when washed. Although H has a selection of masks, most of which feature cartoon characters or dinosaurs, his favorite are the ones we dyed together. As I hoped, because he dyed them himself, he loves to wear them. Now we’re planning on another dye day in a couple weeks; this time I think we’ll do fun stuff such as T-shirts and baby onesies. I’m looking forward to another fiber adventure with my little guy.

Weave well and happy weaving!

Susan & Christina