Do you have any excess 100% white cotton fabric lying around? Perhaps you have lots of old cotton white sheets or fabric that you don’t need? Do you feel it would be wasteful to throw it out? Read an example of how to recycle old sheets by dyeing and sewing.
Here’s the thing. 100% white cotton sheets, or any other white cotton fabrics are a very useful product to recycle. They can be recycled into useful products, and when that recycling has been finished – you can place them in the compost bin to degrade naturally.
Why do the project?
My mother must have felt it was wasteful to discard her old white sheets.
In cleaning up her house, we found a huge box of white cotton sheets – single sheets – I think from 1975.
I can’t bring myself to discard them either – not just her stash – but mine as well, and have taken to saving all my used white 100% sheets.
That’s a lot of old sheets to use to find out if I like fabric dyeing as part of my art and craft repertoire. So – let’s recycle our old cotton sheets.
What are you going to do to recycle your old sheets?
Perhaps you have an idea of what you would like to do to use up your old sheets. Here’s what I have done with some of mine.
In my pursuit of my art and craft dream – I thought I might give dyeing fabric a go. I had done it once before. Once I made a tie-dyed t-shirt for my son at school – and it seemed like a fun thing to do.
I had dyed the t-shirt and though I’d give the sheets a go.
It would be a good experiment for me to learn how to get different patterns and designs on the fabric.
But how should I dye fabric? How should I fold it – should I fold it? I had no idea.
In trying to find out how to fold and dye fabric, I looked at videos on the internet, but finally turned to trusty Craftsy.com. I bought an online class by Jane Donnewold – The Art of Cloth Dyeing.
Jane provided useful information about the types of dye, their additives, and the dyeing solutions. However, I did not have that type of dye.
Sometime before – I had gone to my local craft store and bought a range of colours of liquid RIT dye that was on sale. I was going to use these up before I bought anymore. It was going to be an adventure to see how these would work out.
However, Jane did provide examples of how to fold fabric, and how to manipulate fabric so that different effects could be made. I was going to give that a go.
What did I do to recycle my fabric?
In my pursuit of my art and craft dream, I had read up on quilting.
It seemed to me to be a huge learning curve – but what I did learn – is that there is this thing called the ‘Fat Quarter’. I thought that if that was used so much in quilting – ie the use of fabric, then that would be ideal for me to dye fabric. It would be a useful size.
So I cut up some of my old sheets into fat quarter sizes ready to be dyed.
Not only was recycling an old sheet being environmentally responsible, it could also help the environment in another way.
I was also aware that the plastic carry bags that we used at the supermarket are not good for the environment. It would be good to have some fabric shopping bags.
Off I went to the internet again. I found a great tutorial on how to sew a grocery shopping bag on craftster.org.
So – I cut up an old plastic bag and used the pattern as a base for cutting fabric. I cut out a number of these patterns to dye and then sew together to make fabric bags.
How did I dye it?
I followed the instructions from the online tutorial to cut the pieces. I kept the less worn outer edges of the sheets, and discarded the threadbare cotton fabric to the compost bin. The worms would the last step in the process to recycle old sheets.
Then I folded the pieces in a random fashion – but taking cues from Jane Donnewold’s Craftsy class. I folded and rolled and used so many rubber bands.
Yet the issue with the Rit dye, and the procion dye is that one can set in cold water for many hours, and the other needs to be immersed in hot water for a shorter period.
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Using creative license
How was I going to do this By using a bit of creative license. I had been saving used 1 litre yoghurt tubs and lids to use in craft, and this was ideal. The tubs comfortably fitted one or two rolled fabric pieces.
I then boiled water, mixed in a generous swig of liquid dye, added some salt, and mixed together. When the salt had dissolved, I then added the one or two rolled fabric pieces and pushed them under the solution with a bamboo stick.
I let them sit like that until they were cool.
Then I put the plastic yoghurt tub and lid into the microwave on a lower heat for bursts of 1 minute (to see how the plastic tub was coping), and that the water was warm enough to continue to activate the dye – but really – what did I know – I was making this stuff up as I went along. Not scientific – but practical.
You can follow RIT’s microwave dyeing instructions (which I found after I did this dyeing exercise).
But you know – I did have a lot of fabric to dye. I did this a couple of times during the day, and then left the dye to rest in the dye solution in the plastic tubs overnight.
The next day, I removed the fabric from the cold dye solution.
Where there was good dye solution left in the tub, and if I had extra fabric I could dye – instead of waste the dye solution, I mixed remaining dyes mixes together to make enough for a yoghurt tub of fabric. I added folded or rolled fabric, and heated the solution up again in the microwave – repeating the process again. This meant that the end colours were mixed, and quite a surprise.
You should only use instruments that are dedicated to your craft – ie you shouldn’t use pots, pans, bucket or any utensils in which you’ve dyed fabric for food preparation.
I made sure the microwave oven was spotlessly clean, that the tubs had their lids on and were placed on trays and paper towels to collect any drops, and that it was cleaned spotless again and steamed and wiped when the process was finished.
My process to recycle fabric
Dye colours and fabric sizes
The dyes I used were the RIT liquid dye – in Denim Blue, Apple Green, Scarlet, Golden Yellow, Sunshine Orange, Fuschia, Violet, Lemon Yellow and Cocoa Brown.
I had no planning of what colour went with which piece – I just put in a dye and one or two pieces of fabric that would fit into the tub. I had about 12 tubs set up – and I did it twice – so I had up to 48 pieces of fabric in fat quarter and shopping bag piece sizes.
Rinsing the fabric
After the dyeing process, I rinsed the fabric clean.
You do this by keeping the fabric folded and rinsing out the dye until it runs clear. When this runs clear, unroll or unfold the fabric, and keep rinsing until the water rinses clear again. This can take some time. This part of the process takes a lot of water.
Then machine wash the dyed fabric. Take care that you don’t mix coloured dyed fabric in the wash. These dyes can bleed into the other coloured fabrics in the wash.
You can also use RIT dye fixative earlier in the dyeing process to fix the dye colour. However, I didn’t have any so didn’t use it in my dye process.
What a surprise!
Oh Wow! What a wonderful surprise to see what patterns are made with folded and dyed fabric. They were gorgeous, and a dream to watch dry on the clothesline.
So what did I do with these fabric pieces?
Some fabric was used to sew some bags that I had been wanting to make.
The pattern used was Kristen Link’s free pattern previously available from Craftsy/Bluprint. I also used a free pattern ‘Zippered pouch Susie‘ from Pattydo.de. As well as that I thought it would be good to use some of my vintage Elna sewing cams and coloured thread to decorate a bag.
But what coloured fabrics go together?
Which of these colours would go together? I looked at the colour wheel and considered the colours of the fabric that had been dyed. They were not particularly vibrant in colour, but they had lovely pastel colours. See some examples of the colour relationships used below.
The lovely purse above uses a free pattern ‘Susie’ from Pattydo.de. The fabric that was dyed was a thicker white 100% cotton drill (not an old sheet). The outer shell is a violet colour, with a concertina fold of yellow which peeps through as the purse is moved. This is topped with a green piece at the top together with a green zip.
It is fully lined with a purple polyester. It is decorated with a green ribbon that has pink, yellow, gold and green thread that was sewn on with a decorative stitch.
The shopping bags above and below were made from old sheets and use the pattern and method from the tutorial on Crafster.org.
The bag above has a vibrant outer shell of fuschia colour, and is fully lined with green dyed fabric. The outer fuschia shell was folded in half lengthways, and the rolled (so that the outer fabric was on the outside (hence it is darker) to get this lovely pattern.
The images above show more examples of the fabric grocery bags. Both these bags are paler in colour as the fabric was threadbare. I found that the less worn fabric held the dye solution better than the older fabric.
Nevertheless, they provide a soft pastel colour.
The shopping bag above is fully lined with dyed fabric. The outer fabric shell is an orange-yellow colour and the inner colour is blue. This follows a complementary colour theme. The outer yellow fabric pattern was folded by pinching in the centre, and then rolling tightly in a circular motion. It was held together with rubber bands.
Drawstring Bag and Storage Bag
The bag above uses Kristen Link’s free pattern that was available from Craftsy/Bluprint, and also uses a thicker white cotton drill fabric (not a recycled sheet). It’s outer lower fabric piece is green, and the upper fabric piece is yellow. It is lined with a fuschia pink piece. This follows a split complement colour theme. The upper yellow fabric pattern was created by folding the fabric in equal sizes lengthways, and then in a zig-zag pattern the same size again to make theses square patterns.
The bags above and below are made with hand-dyed cotton drill fabric and also uses the free pattern that was provided by Kristen Link on Craftsy/Bluprint.
The lower outer colour of the bag above is violet, with the upper half in yellow-green. It is fully lined with yellow-green fabric. This follows a complementary colour relationship.
The bag above that is made with hand-dyed cotton drill fabric also uses Kirsten Link’s free pattern. The lower half is the same fuschia fabric as used to line the bag. The upper outer fabric is blue, which is the same colour as the drawstring.
Dyed fabric examples
Some of the designs that were created from the dyeing exercise using old sheets and white cotton drill fabric are shown below.
The yellow pattern above was obtained by folding the fabric lengthways and then rolling it into a circle. It was secured with a rubber band (or two). You can see that the darker the colour indicates that this part of the fabric was on the outside of the dyed fabric.
The orange-yellow fabric pattern above was folded on the diagonal, rolled and secured with rubber bands.
This violet colour (although it is actually a chocolate dye mixed with another dye) was left over from the first dye bath. To get this design, the fabric was folded and rolled in a similar fashion to the two images above. However, because the fabric was softer because of its age, it presents with different patterns.
The red pattern above was created by folding the fabric lengthwise and then folding again zig-zag into a square shape. It was secured with rubber bands.
The red pattern above was also created by folding lengthwise and the zig-zag into a square shape.
See more examples
But a great range of images of the dyed fabric will be made available on products available for purchase on Artnitso’s profile on Redbubble.com. You can look at some of these designs on Artnitso & Co’s gallery page on this website.
You’ll never look at an old white 100% cotton sheet the same way again, and this might provide inspiration to recycle your old sheets as you pursue your art and craft dream and find your niche.
Check out these and other designs at Artnitso’s shop on Redbubble.com. Look at the designs, as they look great on t-shirts, home décor, stationery and art items.
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