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Give Plain White Linens a Colorful New Look With Ice-Dying

The result looks like a watercolor masterpiece.

July 15, 2016
Photo by Bobbi Lin

How many pillows are just enough? It's an important thing to ask yourself in your 20s. I personally find comfort in a surplus—all over the couch, the bed, and on every chair, in heaps so towering you have to wiggle between them to recline. For the less excessive, just a few will do the trick. 

A cushy cloud of a pillow is not impossible to come by; it's finding pillowcases you love that can be a task. So when my friend Lauren Kelley, a known textile collector and lover of beautiful things, brought me two perfectly crisp, stone-washed linen pillowcases from Hawkins New York, I jumped at the chance to toy with them. 

Hawkins New York Stone Washed Linen Pillow Cases  Stone Washed Linen Pillow Covers
I started out with a set of simple white pillowcases, the stone-washed linen ones we sell in our Shop

We talked about trying our hand at shibori, a Japanese technique for dying fabrics that is so all over the internet right now. But the binding tutorials reminded me a little too much of tie-dying, with its potato spore-esque rubber band buns and smoke ring results that never turn out quite like you wish they would. So, inspired by a heat wave in the office, I settled on ice-dying them instead, guided by a tutorial on Dharma Trading

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In this incredibly hands-off process, you cover a piece of fabric in a mountain of ice (many thanks to the colleagues who let me thieve our supply one very hot morning recently), sprinkle it with powdered dye, and let it melt slowly. The resulting pattern is like a watercolor. Here's how you do it:

diy ice-dye pillow cases James Ransom

You'll need...

2 pillowcases or another type of linen, in any light color but preferably white
1 cup soda ash
1 gallon cold water
Plastic bin, tub, or bucket
Roasting or drying rack that will fit in your tub of choice
1 packet of Procion dye in your color of choice, or several colors if you want a spectrum
1 bag of ice, or a bucket of snow if it's winter
Plastic gloves

diy ice dye linen pillow cases james ransom

1. Wash your linens. Whether you're working with pillowcases, a shirt, a sheet, or a swatch of fabric, put your textile through a wash cycle to rid it of any oils, dirt, or fabric softeners. 

2. Soak it in a soda ash solution. Sold by the pound at many craft stores, soda ash is required to activate and fix Procion dyes (easy-to-use reactive dyes that work for coloring natural fabrics). Dissolve 1 cup of soda ash in 1 gallon of water, doubling or halving depending on how many things you wish to dye (for two Euro sham-sized pillowcases, a gallon worked great). Sink your textiles in the solution so that they're covered and let soak for 15 minutes. 

diy ice dye linen pillow cases

3. Prepare a tub while it soaks. If you work near a test kitchen like me, you might be tempted to ice-dye in a roasting pan—but I don't recommend it (even after lining the pan with alumimun foil, I was so scared that I'd stain it that I didn't sleep!). A plastic tub, bin, or bucket would be ideal. Fit a roasting rack or a wire drying rack in the tub so your fabric can drain. 

4. Scrunch. After 15 minutes, ring out your linens but do not rinse them. Then, scrunch them up without any concern for shape or pattern and set them back on the rack in your bucket. 

diy ice dye linen pillow cases

5. Ice them. Cover every inch of the fabric with ice cubes (any size or variety of sizes of ice you have available is fine). If you need to raid your company's ice maker, don't do so on the hottest day of the year or you might make some enemies. I learned the hard way so you don't have to.

6. Sprinkle with dye. Using all the restraint you can muster, sprinkle the dye over top of your ice cubes—just a little bit here and there like confectioners' sugar, far less than you expect to need. Within moments, the color will bloom and darken.

DIY ice dye linen pillowcases  diy ice dye linen pillowcases

Since the slow melt of the ice creates plenty of tonal variation, I opted to go with just one color (a pack of indigo dye that turned out to be so old that the color was muted—but the pillowcases turned out beautifully anyway!). If you're nervous about blending colors, using just one is a good way to start. If you love the idea of mottling a few together, go right ahead—remembering that blue and yellow make green but purple and orange make...brown. Which could be beautiful! Just consider the color wheel before going crazy.

diy ice dye linen pillowcases

If you prefer super-saturated colors, sprinkle on a little more dye even after it darkens. This is definitely not a science—you don't have tons of control over the final design—but it's very hard to royally mess up.

7. Wait. Put your tub in a place where no curious hands might mess with it, cover it in plastic wrap, and let it melt. On a hot summer day, this doesn't take all afternoon, but you'll want to let it sit for a full 24 hours so the color can take. 

DIY ice dye linen pillow cases  diy ice dye linen pillow cases

8. Rinse. After a full day in the tub, your textiles will be perched atop a pool of dark, ominous water. Wearing gloves (lest you want your hands to go Avatar on you), remove the linens and rinse them under cold water in the sink until the water runs clear. 

9. Wash. Once all the dye has been rinsed out, put your ice-dyed fabric in the wash with detergent and run a cycle to get rid of any remaining dye. Tumble or hang dry, depending on your fabric, and then they're ready to use! 

DIY ice-dye pillow cases

This post originally ran last summer—but we brought it back to add cool to the dog days. 

First and last photos by Bobbi Lin; all others by James Ransom

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Jackie April 28, 2020
Definitely going to try this!
Mickey C. August 30, 2018
Please adjust your instructions to follow Dharma's. You MUST wash in HOT water to remove the unbonded dye from the piece or it WILL bleed dye onto other laundry or damp/wet things that it touches if you don't.
Brianne H. July 24, 2018
Love how this looks with the stonewashed fabric! Do you know of anywhere to get this wholesale?
Eunice C. February 14, 2017
So obsessed with this!! Can't wait to try it on my bedroom pillow cases!
Amanda S. February 14, 2017
Nancy J. September 25, 2015
These would look stunning in an all white bedroom?! I SO want to try it.
boulangere August 15, 2015
Very cool (pun definitely intended) idea
Rhonda35 August 15, 2015
Despite being banned from using dye at home after a messy (and expensive) incident, I might have to try this on the down-low. Love the finished effect!
Amanda S. August 17, 2015
It's a much tidier method than others I've tried! Almost hands-off. Hope it works for you!
Jackie S. August 14, 2015
Love the watercolor affect! Sooooo pretty!
Olivia B. August 14, 2015
Love love love.
Catherine August 14, 2015
Colleen S. August 14, 2015
reminds me of of stone washed jeans.. but way freaking cooler (which is saying a lot cause stone wash is badass)
Amanda S. August 17, 2015
Makes me want to try it on denim!
Posie (. August 14, 2015
Um this is the coolest thing ever, prepare for me to be wearing a full on ice-dyed outfit from hat to socks next time you see me.
Lauren K. August 14, 2015
Let's make ice-dyed outfits for your parents' Jersey cows.
Amanda S. August 17, 2015
Please, both of you, share photo-evidence.