Hands down: lightest first.
Here's the ombré dip-dyed fabric sewn into a ring sling:
- Dye appropriate for your fabric type. I prefer Jacquard dyes. I used Jacquard iDye in the following proportions to achieve the end color*:
- 2 parts 418 Turquoise
- 2 parts 419 Royal Blue
- 1 parts 421 Kelly Green
- Non-iodized salt (if needed)
- Dye fixative
- Mason jar with lid (for mixing dye)
- Large pot or bucket
- Stovetop, camp stove, or bucket heater (optional, but keeping the fabric close to a simmer helps the dye absorb better)
- Old clothes
Step 1: Prepare the dye concentrate
- Add the dye powder/liquid into a Mason jar and fill with water. I used approx. 1 cup (250 ml) of water per package of iDye, resulting in a full quart/liter of dye concentrate for 5 packages of iDye. (Note: I ombre dyed a total of 18 yards of 56" wide linen with this concentrate and still had some left over. If I had dyed the colors successively in the same bucket, rather than in separate buckets, I would have had at least half a jar of concentrate left.)
- Fasten the lid tightly and shake well. Even a few drops of this concentrate will stain your fingers a deep hue!
Step 2: Moisten fabric
If your dye calls for it, moisten your fabric before putting into the dye bath. If you want to leave the top undyed, then do NOT wet the fabric.
Step 3: Prepare the dyeing area
You will need some way to hang your fabric and move it progressively upward. I suspended my fabric with a sturdy hanger. I was dyeing a double length for ring slings, so I simply folded the fabric twice lengthwise to fit on the hanger, then put the hanger in the middle. If you're only dyeing one length/garment, you'll need to attach it to your hanger with safety pins.
Next, I attached two ropes to a tree branch and moved my fabric up in 6" intervals. (I used two ropes to more easily jump back and forth between lengths, but you could make do with one rope.) I tied single knots in the rope and slipped the hanger hook through. The rope held 5 1/2 yards of wet fabric with no slipping.
Step 4: Prepare the lightest dye bath
Fill your pot/bucket with boiling water. Start by adding a tiny amount of dye for the lightest hue, around 1/4 tsp or less per 4 gallons of water.
I used a bucket heater to keep the water hot. You could also use your stovetop or campstove.
Step 5: Add fabric
Add entire length of fabric to the dye bath and agitate constantly. (If you're keeping the top undyed, suspend the undyed end above the dye bath.) I kept my fabric folded over the hanger, but you might find it easier to take it off for this first step. Aim to keep the fabric in the dye bath for at least 10-15 minutes to ensure an even tone, so don't add too much dye concentrate at first! You can always add more if needed.
Tip for adding additional dye concentrate to a dye bath: Remove the fabric before mixing in additional dye concentrate. The last thing you want to do is to pour dye concentrate right onto the fabric; you'll end up with a dark spot!
Step 6: Elevate and add more dye
When the fabric has reached the desired shade, elevate one end 6" above the dye bath. (You may choose smaller or larger intervals depending on the length of the fabric/garment you're dyeing). Add a tiny bit more dye concentrate (start with 1/8-1/4 tsp) and gently agitate the fabric.
My tip: Every time I moved to a deeper hue, I elevated the fabric 12", carefully stirred in the dye solution, then lowered it back 6". This ensured a more even gradation between hues. I would also ladle the deeper dye bath up a few inches on the suspended fabric to help soften the hue changes.
Here's a picture showing successive dye baths, starting with the 3rd color change and ending with the last one (I did about 9 color changes in total).
Every 5-10 minutes, lift the fabric up another 6" and add more dye concentrate. Continue to gently stir the fabric to ensure an even hue. As you reach the deeper shades, you'll add progressively larger amounts of dye concentrate and let the fabric sit for longer intervals. Your deepest hue should sit in the dye bath for around 30 minutes.
Once the last part of the fabric has reached the desired hue, remove the fabric out of the dye bath. Always rinse from top (lightest) to bottom. If you're outdoors, simply elevate the fabric and rinse in place with a hose until the water runs clear. Remember, the fabric will be lighter once it's been rinsed, washed, and dried.
Machine wash the dyed fabric with dye fixative.
The lines between hue changes disappeared after rinsing & machine washing. I was very pleased with the end result!