By Guess and By Golly

That's my nice freshly dyed yellow quilt backing on top.
It's 10:30 at night. I'm standing at the kitchen counter in my rubber gloves, splooshing a once white linen table cloth around in a basin of alarmingly orange liquid. Welcome to the glamourous life of a textile artist.

What prompted this late night dye bath? Well, opportunity for one - James is away, unable to quell my impulse with a wise and cautionary word. Dire necessity for two - I needed a fabric to back my crazy log cabin top, and I needed it NOW!

A couple of hours earlier, I had set out to locate a suitable piece of cloth in the stash. This meant pulling all the totes out of two different cupboards, going through them, getting sidetracked by something lovely that I'd forgotten I had, getting several new ideas, pulling out the makings for a bunch of projects, re-organizing the totes, realizing I had no fabric that would work for the quilt, pulling out another tote of old tableclothes tucked away for just such an occasion, finding one that was just the right size, but it was white and that was too stark a contrast, looking through everything again, deciding that I would have to dye the tablecloth myself, putting everything back into the totes (including the exciting and oh-so-tempting makings for a new project), stuffing them back into the closets, pulling out the bin of dye stuff and finally getting ready to dye.

Oh, but the instruction book for Procion dye wasn't in the bin. So I had to go looking for it on four different bookshelves, finally locating it tucked away loose in a cupboard. It's a good thing there wasn't any alcohol in the house because I sure could have used a glass of wine by this point to "settle me nerves". (I don't dye on a regular enough basis that I remember the procedure, so I need to re-learn each time.) I decided that something in a warm yellow/saffron/burnt orange range would work, estimated the weight of the tablecloth, blithely mixed up some suspiciously clumped yellow and orange dye powder, threw in a pinch of marine violet and was all set to go when I realized I was out of washing soda.

So I ran upstairs to the computer and Google-d "substituting lye for washing soda" 'cause I did find a jar of white crystals that I was pretty sure was lye, even though the label had somehow rubbed off. Google told me I shouldn't do such a thing - dangerous, toxic, etc., but I figured akalinity was what was needed and I would just be careful. So I mixed a couple of teaspoons of the mysterious white powder into some water, ascertained by the fumes that there was a good chance it was lye, and gingerly poured about half of it into the dyebath.

Then, I tested it with a pH strip. I may fly by the seat of my pants, but I do have a pH test kit! And, by crackey, the colours matched and I was right on the target of 10.5. Woo hoo! How's that for a miracle?

So I splooshed and splashed and actually followed the instructions for timing. The cloth came out a beautiful tangerine, and I hung it in the bathroom to dry.

The following morning it still wasn't dry (Pacific Northwest, ya know) so I threw it in the dryer for a few minutes and had a small freakout when I pulled it out and there were some mysterious black streaks on it. Hoping that this was just the dyeing gods having a bit of fun with me, I threw it into the washer and was very grateful to remove it, streak free.

As linen will do, it dried much lighter. But that's okay. It will be just fine.

My neighbour Robin, a fabulous quilter trained by Mennonites, suggested that I hand quilt the piece, going inside the edge of each patch in each block. Crazy and time-consuming as it sounds, I think I might just do that. Ah, time...if it doesn't get me one way, it'll get me another!


  1. Doesn't everyone just throw things in dyebaths if they aren't the right colour? I certainly do! Good save with the lye too. Lye or TSP would be the only subs that would work - baking soda is too low pH. You need to get it above pH 11 and under 12.

    Of course you will hand quilt the whole thing. That's who you are!


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