More than a year after I started ice dyeing, my son asked for a gray and red sweatshirt.
I was secretly delighted by this. My children were used to wearing a constant rotation of hand-dyed clothing, but it was rare that I got an actual request. Most of the time I just filled their drawers with my experiments and watched to see which ones they wore.
I didn’t have a gray dye, though. (I am a sucker for bright colors; it took me a long time to discover the delights of their less flashy cousins.) So I ordered Brushed Steel, a nice dark gray, from Dharma, along with Scarlet to add the red. The dyes arrived, and I went out and dyed his sweatshirt that night.
He was not thrilled with the result.
What had happened? I knew that dyes split during ice-dyeing, but until that sweatshirt the splitting had been mild and fun, involving gentle hints of analogous colors. Brushed Steel was not so tame.
Neutral colors are tricky because they are mixtures of colors from all around the color wheel. As you probably learned in kindergarten, mixing all three primary colors together gives you brown, gray or black (depending on the proportions used, although you probably weren’t keeping notes at the time). In ice-dyeing, that means that neutral dyes will often tend to split into wildly disparate components.
Plenty of other dyes split. Brilliant blue, for example, splits into turquoise and pink, only much of the mixture ends up still combining together in the fabric, so the predominant effect is still blue. But the splitting isn’t so jarring, because turqoise and pink feel like the right sort of neighbors to blue. The fact that streaks of them come out during ice dyeing is just cool.
But browns and grays are by definition mixtures of tertiary colors (sets of colors that form a triangle on the color wheel). This means that when they split, they can produce a huge range of shades, not all of which are ones you’d normally expect — or be happy about.
Some neutrals do this far less than others. Pewter, for example, comes across as mostly gray with just a few streaks of soft color. (I wish I’d known this for my son’s sweatshirt.) My working theory is that it has to do with how closely the solubility of the components match. If the components dissolve in water at roughly the same rate, they’re more likely to meld together and dye the fabric their combined color. If one dissolves much more quickly, it will hit the fabric first, and (depending on how the ice melts) possibly at a different place than a later color.
Regardless, it’s a fact that dyeing with neutrals can give you some interesting — and unexpected — results. If you’re thinking of trying a neutral color, definitely consider doing a sample or checking it out in my gallery to avoid an unpleasant surprise.
I’ll be honest: now that I know what to expect from neutrals, they’ve produced some of my favorite pieces.
What about you? What’s your favorite neutral to ice-dye with?