When you start out, it can be hard to know how much dye to apply in ice dyeing. This is especially true if you’re applying it powder-over-ice, where not only is it not hitting the fabric immediately, but there’s a layer of ice obscuring your view anyway.

I’ll admit, I didn’t really measure dye when I started out — I just sprinkled on whatever seemed like a good amount, and waited to see what would happen. Sometimes I got the effect I wanted. Sometimes I didn’t. I pretty quickly developed a sense of how densely to sprinkle the dye in order to get good color. It took much longer to work out which dyes are more powerful than normal, so I could use less of them. (If you’ve heard the phrase “red rushes in,” I find this to be often but not always true.)

This post is intended to give you (and me!) a rough visual guide to how much dye to use and what kind of color you might expect. I make no attempt to deal with the overpowering nature of some colors — the samples below are all dyed with a single color, Lapis, which has the advantage of splitting nicely. They’re all adult medium T-shirts, scrunched, and are dyed powder-over-ice on a rack.

Adult medium T-shirt dyed powder-over-ice with 1/8 teaspoon of Lapis fiber-reactive dye.
Adult medium T-shirt dyed powder-over-ice with 1/4 teaspoon of Lapis fiber-reactive dye.
Adult medium T-shirt dyed powder-over-ice with 1/2 teaspoon of Lapis fiber-reactive dye.
Adult medium T-shirt dyed powder-over-ice with 1 teaspoon of Lapis fiber-reactive dye.

What I like most about this experiment is that all of the T-shirts look nice; the intensity is different, but they all display the kinds of patterns that first attracted me to ice dyeing.

6 thoughts on “How much dye do you need?

  1. Very useful controlled test. I love the lapis in all 4 intensities of ice dye, but am thinking the top one (1/8) will be a good approach for baby clothes (so perhaps 1/16th on a couple onesies, or 1.8 over 5-6 onsies in mass production, he he).

    My second fav is the 1/2 teaspoon, but I am thinking even better would be 3/4 teaspoon — in between number 3 and number 4 above.


  2. Wow. Thank you so much for posting that. Who knew that 1/8th of a tsp would produce such beautiful results. I love the split going on with the Lapis. I am currently working on a quilt project and looking for the perfect background colour. That’s it!! Of course, I have every colour but that lol?? Question: Do you cover your project with a single layer of strategically placed cubes, or just pile it on? What method did you use for the results in your dye colour gallery!

    1. I have almost always just piled the ice on, aiming for roughly a single layer but not being too worried about it. I have it on my list to see whether being more careful with the ice makes a noticeable difference.

      As for the gallery, each swatch (about 5″ x 7″) is muck-dyed powder-over-ice, with about 1/8th teaspoon of dye. That’s a lot of dye for that little piece! If I had it to do over again, I might choose different parameters, but I started the swatches early in my ice dyeing life.

  3. I am going to start putting together color swatches and would like to know how big would you use for a swatch if you were doing it over.
    Thank you for the very informative website. I love ice dye and I am new to it so reading as much as I can online. Then trying things out has been a lot of fun!
    Any advice from the group would be appreciated.

    Thanks so much!

    1. If I had all the money and space in the world, I’d love to do fat-quarters for my samples. However, I have more than 80 dye colors, and am currently working on creating three swatches for each of them: one muck-dyed, one ice-dyed on a rack, and one low water immersion. Doing all those samples with fat quarters would require something like 60 yards of fabric!

      Alternately, I’m thinking of looking for smaller measuring spoons. I feel fairly confident in my ability to eyeball half of a quarter teaspoon, which is what I typically do for swatches, but I wouldn’t go lower than that. If I were really serious about manipulating the amount of dye, I’d get a sensitive scale and do it by weight, but I’m clearly a bit more ad-hoc than that.

      At this point I’ve decided that the swatches, for me, are just to have a visual record of how much the dye splits and what colors I can expect in the final product, and don’t tell me anything about how much dye to use. I figure out the amount of dye mostly by feel, which is… well, not completely reliable, but I’ve gotten better at it over time.

      Sorry if that isn’t very helpful!

      1. Holly,
        I used old white 100% cotton sheets for my samples. They are a bit large at 18” squares however you get a very good idea how each color splits. I’m awful at figuring out how much dye to use and know I use way too much by how dark the water is once the ice has melted. I plan on trying to really cut back when attempting snow dyeing later in the year.


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