A few weeks ago, I posted a picture on Instagram of a practice dye run on a large piece of fabric. I wanted to perfect the technique of dip dying / ombre ahead of making some from-scratch curtains. The lovely people at Dylon saw my post and got in touch, and I was super pleased that they wanted to send some fabric dye my way to help me create these curtains.
Originally, I had been thinking about making some for our in-progress living room, however we found some perfect ones for that room, but I had my heart set on making some now. As we will be having the white and blue theme throughout the whole house, I went ahead and created some curtains for one of the spare rooms.
Fabric dye will always work best and most true to colour on 100% cotton, so I purchased some extra wide (a whopping 110″ wide) pure cotton calico in a medium weight. I’ve never seen such huge fabric! I use hand dye for this technique, but if you’re dying solid colour pieces, I really recommend the machine dye – I’ve had great success in the past. With the hand dye, you’ll need salt to fix the colour. I had some Dylon salt from the previous practice run, and some regular cooking/table salt to make up the quantity.
A measuring tape and my rotary cutter and I was pretty set. (You’ll also need a large container, a jug, something to stir with and a water spray bottle etc. but I’m never that prepared with my photos!)
I wanted my pencil pleat curtains to be very full, so would be using 90″ width for each curtain panel, for my 72″ (or 180cm) window. First step then, was to cut 20″ inches off of the width of my huge fabric. I measured, made a small snip with some scissors, and was able to tear a nice straight line down the length of the fabric. My finished curtains would be around 48″ (122cm) long, and so I had purchased three metres, and left this as one piece. By keeping the fabric folded in half, I could dip dye the ends of the fabric together in one go, and end up with two very evenly dyed pieces.
Before we get ahead of ourselves though, it’s important to weigh your fabric to work out how much dye and salt you will need. One sachet of hand dye will colour 250g fabric to the full, pictured shade, or result in a more subtle effect on something larger. I wanted to dye around a third of my fabric, so ended up using two sachets.
It’s also important to pre-wash the fabric, especially if you’re using brand new. Any potential shrinkage will occur here instead of with the final product, and as you need to start the dyeing process with wet fabric, it’s a great time to do it. In the machine it goes.
Each sachet of dye needs mixing with 500ml of warm water. I used one navy and one ocean blue dye to give me a more medium toned blue. In the big box it went. I used an ‘under the bed’ storage box as it’s wide opening meant I had more control for dip dying such a wide width.
Next up, salt. 250g of the stuff per sachet of dye. In the box that goes too. Next was 12 litres of warm (hot tap) water, and we’re pretty good to go. Just stir it really well to dissolve the salt and dye, and make sure it’s all thoroughly mixed.
I also used a clothes airer to peg my fabric to, which worked perfectly. I’m lucky in that, as our living room is currently a work space / building site, I could do this indoors, however I would recommend tackling such a big project outdoors to prevent any mishaps. You’ll notice dye on the floor in one of my photos, but that’s because I knew I could afford to be a little carefree!
So, you’re ready to dip your damp fabric! This first bit is so exciting. I had pegged the fold of the fabric to the top of the airer, giving me the two free ends to dip. It’s a little tricky to get a perfectly even dip line with something so wide, but don’t worry.
After the first initial dip and swish (this is to the highest point you want your dye to be) spray it like crazy with a water bottle. The extra water will run down the fabric and create a much smoother gradient or ombre effect.
Agitate the fabric often, but steadily (every 5-10 minutes) lift more and more of the fabric out of the dye. Make sure the front and back are equally saturated (especially if your fabric is two layers like mine) and that there are no undyed spots. Leave the last few inches of fabric in for another 15-30 minutes, and hey presto! you’ve dip dyed your first curtain panel.
Next you need to rinse it in cold water. Off to the bathroom we go. I couldn’t take a photo of this as I only have the two arms, but I ended up placing the dyed section of the fabric into a polythene bag to help carry it up to the bathroom. You may find it easier to rinse in the kitchen, but I preferred the bath for it’s size. You don’t want to run any loose dye into your undyed white fabric, so it’s important to hold your fabric up as you rinse, and run the water down the fabric. The shower head was really helpful for this. The white you see at the bottom of the tub is the plastic bag I mentioned, not the fabric.
Rinse, rinse, and rinse again until the water is running clear. Next, it was back into the washing machine for a final rinse and spin. The reason you need to rinse with the cold water so well is to really fix the dye, but also prevent any mishaps in the machine. Any loose dye could mark your undyed sections, so take the time to do it properly and you’ll be happier in the long run.
Pop it on the line, ignore the crazy overgrown grass, and admire your handiwork. You’re a dip-dyeing genius! Ombre queen!
Once dry, you can start thinking about turning your fabric into actual curtains. Finally, you can cut across the fold line, and turn your one piece of very long fabric into your two curtain lengths. And now you’re going to get very well acquainted with your iron. Go over the whole fabric to give yourself a nice smooth piece to work with, and then prepare your hems. Starting with the sides of your fabric, fold over once, about 1.5cm and press well.
Turn this over again, and re-press.
And finally you’re ready to sew. Pop it under the machine and stitch a lovely long seam across both of your freshly pressed edges.
Next up is the bottom hem (the darkest edge). This should be much deeper than the side hems. It’s how professional curtains are done, and just looks right. I went for about 6cm in total. Fold over once, press, fold again, re-press. And now, shock horror, we’re going to hand-sew.
I mean, I actually love hand-sewing, I feel I have maximum control, but I know many hate it. Well, suck it up, because this is really going to be worth it. If you don’t already know how, google Blind Stitch, and then spend the next three hours hand hemming and perfecting it.
To see the finished result of those tiny itty bitty nearly invisble stitches from the front is so worth it.
And the back of it is pretty damn neat too. So, three hems down and now we just need to make a curtain out of the damn thing!
Fold over the top edge once, approximately 2cm, and press with the iron. I’d purchased some curtain header tape online that arrived just in time, cut it to size, allowing a little extra to tuck underneath for neat edges, pinned, and sewed with the sewing machine. Once on the top edge of the curtain tape…
…and once on the bottom.
Next up, iron the whole thing AGAIN. Ironing before you gather the tape will be much easier. But then, with the help of a tape measure, gather and knot the panel to size in the same way you would with any pencil pleat curtain. Pop in your curtain hooks and ta-da!
A curtain! Stand up, admire, pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself. You did it. And then take that iron out again, because you have a second curtain to make.
Once we get around to decorating the spare room I’ll show you photos of the curtains up in more detail. For now, I popped this one up in our bedroom so I could show you how it turned out, and I have to say, I couldn’t be more pleased.
A big thank you to Dylon for the dye, which gave me the kick I needed to get this project done! Check out the different products in the range for yourself at www.dylon.co.uk. And check back here soon too, because I’m going to have another fabric dyeing post for you in the next couple of weeks, and more Christmas posts even sooner than that.
For now, with love,