Tutorial: How to Hand Dye Waldorf playsilks


Tutorial:  How to Dye Waldorf Playsilks    

I love plant dyes.  The colors are pure and can’t be duplicated by commercial dyes. The playsilks above were dyed with logwood and fustic wood. It’s time consuming to plant dye–taking a couple days of soaking, boiling and dyeing.  It can also be expensive if you buy the wood precut and ready to boil like I did.  (although I can dry and reboil the wood for a less strong dye)  There’s no question though that plant dyes are better for our environment.

For most busy moms of younger children however–me included–plant dyeing was not an option for my playsilks.  I didn’t have the time and I didn’t want my kids around boiling pots of plant materials and mordants. (metal salts used to make the plant dyes stick to the fabric)

I found that packaged fabric dyes worked the best and were easiest for me to do.  There are many, many ways to dye silk, but this is most simple way that I learned how to do it.

First, I bought 35″ x 35″ inch silk habotai scarves from Dharma Trading Company–an amazing online source for handwork supplies.  The playsilks are hemmed, ready to dye and cost about $5 (shipping included).  You get a price break if you buy in quantity, so please gather fellow moms and go in together when ordering.  

Next, the fabric dye…There’s Rit–which is a staple and works perfectly fine.  There’s also a dye called “iDye” which I personally like to use.  The powdered dye comes in a water soluable packet (so no handling of powder–which can be ingested) and there is a great variety of colors to choose from.  One packet of iDye can easily dye 2 pounds of fabric (24–35″ x 35″ playsilks) and so once again, this is great incentive to gather your group of moms to share dye pots!

iDye needs heat, so your first step is to get large amounts of water to the simmer stage.  You’ll need 2 gallons (or so–less if you want a more concentrated dye) for each packet of iDye.

Instructions on the iDye and Rit packages suggest dyeing in your washing machine or on your stove top.  I didn’t like the idea of potentially having leftover dye in my washing machine, and I really didn’t like the idea of having commercial dyes boiling in my kitchen.  Instead of this, my friend and master weaver Carol taught me the great trick of using those large buckets from the hardware stores to dye in. Simply heat the water, pour into the buckets, put the iDye packet in with a splash (please follow directions on packet) of white vinegar.  (although Carol admits that she never adds vinegar or salt)


Once your dye is ready, wet your playsilks (and whatever else you will be dyeing like yarn or basket reed) with water.  Unfold the silks as best as you can and submerge them into your dye.  STIR, STIR, STIR–taking notice if there are any folded parts of the silk that might not be getting dye.  Stir thoroughly every 5 minutes or so to ensure even color.

Put a “lid” of wood, or anything you have to cover and keep the heat in the bucket after stirring.  Once the dye cools enough to handle, take the playsilk out of the dye (using rubber gloves of course!) and open up to make sure that the entire playsilk is being exposed to the dye.  Submerge again and stir again…

The silks dye in about 30 minutes–more or less–depending on the depth of color that you want.  When dried, the color is lighter–so keep that in mind.

Keep testing until you’re pleased with the color of your playsilks.  Take the playsilk then and rinse, rinse, rinse with cool clear water.  

Hang up to dry and voila!  This is the time of magic in dyeing.  When you stand back and experience the beautiful color that you have created.

If you can…do this with your group of moms and experience the magic together…

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  1. How did you do the stars in the blue silk?

    • Hi Kelsey,
      I just wanted subtle stars so I used Elmer’s BLUE gel glue to make the stars, let it dry and then quickly dipped in a strong, concentrated dye. (the glue starts to melt so you have to work quickly) For clear defined stars I think you’d have to do a batik wax resist and then paint your silk. I’m going to do some silk painted scarves with my kids soon and I’ll post what we do. Thanks for your question! Lori

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