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QuiltCon – Fabric Dyeing for Modern Quilts with Kim Eichler-Messmer

At this point, I’m sure many of you have been inundated with QuiltCon posts. So I will not say much about the general show other than “awesome” and “I way overcommitted, AGAIN. I won’t do that next time for realsies.” I didn’t even get a chance to see the whole quilt show, but what I did see was like wandering through a physical manifestation of blog land. Surreal and incredible.


What I did want to chat about was the workshops I attended. I decided to choose workshops that would force me to try things I wouldn’t normally try, and I ended up taking two fabric dyeing workshops because that’s just not something I’d set up at home without trying it first. There’s a lot to talk about, so I’m breaking it up into two posts. The first (this one) is on Fabric Dyeing for Modern Quilts.

Kim Eichler-Messmer (author of “Modern Color: An Illustrated Guide to Dyeing Fabric for Modern Quilts“) was the instructor, and she was a wonderful teacher. You can tell this is something she’s really comfortable teaching, and we got through a LOT in the course of the workshop.

The workshop itself was set in the back of a bar near 6th St, which was unexpected. But they didn’t mind if we turned their tables blue, so that worked out nicely.


The first thing we learned was how to dye a solid color. From the moment I started mixing dye powder to get the exact color I wanted, I was hooked. I want to dye everything now. I want to make a recipe book filled with carefully scrawled notes of dye ratios for making specific colors. I want to take some white on white fabrics and play with dyeing them. Basically, this is totally up my alley!

Of course then it turns out that it takes patience and the colors change as the process goes on, so until it’s washed and dried, you don’t know the exact color. But there will be more of this. Oh yes there will.


After dyeing a single color, she showed us low-water immersion dyeing, which uses multiple colors to produce a really beautiful texture. This piece used red, pink, orange, and a darker purple. Kim also gave us notes about when to add soda ash to get different effects, as well as how much to poke and prod things to change the overall texture.


Next up was gradation dyeing, which involved 6 pieces of cloth and 6 dye baths. I made a gradation from teal to indigo. We finished these up and then went to lunch, so they were not handled much during the dyeing. This gave them a stronger textured look instead of a more solid fabric look.


After lunch we learned ombre. I was most excited to learn the ombre technique butΒ about 15 seconds into the process I realized I am not well suited for ombre dyeing. It requires a LOT of patience, which is really not in my wheelhouse. I did manage to make highlighter yellow dye, which is…something. In the picture above, the offcolored bit near the top is because I put this piece on top of another piece that was still wet, and it did some contact dyeing.

And speaking of contact dyeing, it was a little frustrating to have such a small space and to be outside where the powder would travel. It got all over everything including myself. I still have some blue dye under my fingernails that won’t come out. That powder is insidious.


However, overall I seriously enjoyed the process and want to do more of it, and Kim was a really great instructor. My only disconnect with the class is that I love the beautiful fabrics, but they are not the types of fabric I’m interested in quilting with at all. Not quite sure what to do about that conundrum.

Have you ever dyed fabric before? What’d you think?


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