Jam Jar dyeing tutorial

Today was a scheduled day for a City and Guilds study day, but as the weather has been so dreadful and even dangerous we decided to postpone it for a couple of weeks rather than risk our students well-being!  We were going to be having a fun day of jam-jar dyeing, Gelli-plate printing, and curved piecing.  Instead, I hope everyone is hunkered down, warm and safe!

For those who like to play with fabric, here is a brief tutorial on jam jar dyeing! It is an edited extract from our City and Guilds syllabus.

Get the jam jar, or plastic bag out!  This trial is a very low immersion technique giving very unpredictable results, which makes it all the more exciting!   This is just one method, there are others, and you must find the one that you like besteither preferring the process, or the results.  Other ‘recipes’ for this method ask you to add Urea which is a hygroscopic agent, a humectant which means it attracts moisture: moisture is vital for the reactive process that bonds colour to fibre.  In this method, covering your jar with cling film, or tightly closing your bag, will keep the moisture in long enough. Most methods say wet the fabric first, but try it dry and try it wet – dry start used here – you can see the results!

These fabrics resulted from using four layers of Procion MX dye and fabric in a larger-than-usual jar; first, Magenta, second Golden yellow, third Cerulean  Blue, fourth Lemon Yellow.


Golden Yellow

Cerulean Blue

Lemon Yellow

  • Cut three or four pieces of light coloured fabric that is either PFD, or that has been washed to remove any factory finish.  Cutting 15”, (38 cm) squares will give you a size with potential for play!  Three squares will cram into a normal jam jar.  You could choose a print on a light background if you want to try a “what if…..”.  Over-dyeing is a way to see if you can change a fabric you don’t like for the better, (or worse!). Gloves, apron, dust mask on!!
  • Put a scant half teaspoon of your first colour into the jar, (henceforth read as ’or bag’) and scrunch dry fabric on top.  Sprinkle another scant half teaspoon of your second colour into the jam jar and add your second piece of fabric.  Continue adding fabric and colour as you wish.  Over the whole lot, pour enough soda ash solution, (a strong solution due to the small quantity of water used in total – 200gms to a litre of water) to just cover, pushing the layers of fabric down, as you do.  You are aiming to use as little water as possible, but to keep all the fabric wet.
  • Now you can either play the waiting game, or, after researching the H&S implications, you can put the concoction into the microwave, for about three minutes.
  • Once the dye-bath has been brewing for several hours, or cooled if it has been heated, rinse each piece of fabric until the water runs absolutely clear.  Dry, press, and enjoy!