How To Hand Dye Aida (And Why You Should Try It)

There are a lot of cross stitch fabrics out there, and there are a whole bunch of cross stitch fabric brands, however, the color selections are a little… lacking. You might want something with a bright color, you might want something a little more patterned, or just something fun, but you can’t find any.
Thankfully, you can hand dye aida, and once you do, you’ll see that its something you just have to try!

Various Hand Dyed Aida Pieces (Source: Etsy)
Various Hand Dyed Aida Pieces (Source: Etsy)

Why Should You Try Hand Dying Aida?

There are two main advantages to hand-dying aida (or any cross stitch fabric for that matter); color choice, and color variation.
We’ll start simple with color choice. Companies like Zweigart and DMC do a large selection of counts and colors, but they all mostly focus on pale or light colors. And whilst they do have the occasional black aida their selection of deep colors, or unusual colors is limited. Ever wanted a bright orange piece of aida? Not going to happen. Purple? Nope. Not even bright yellows, pinks or greens outside of those deep Christmas colors. So what happens if your background is meant to be grass? Well, hand dye your aida.
Next comes color variation, and what we mean by that is not something a solid color. Now, you can buy some basic patterned fabrics, and you can even print on aida using a home printer, but sometimes you just want it to look organic. Below we have a photo of a mermaid on hand-dyed aida, which thanks to its undulating blues and greens make a fantastic, and realistic sea. This is how to upgrade your cross stitch.

Cross Stitch Mermaid on Hand Dyed Aida by pacrislopa (Source: reddit)
Cross Stitch Mermaid on Hand Dyed Aida by pacrislopa (Source: reddit)

How To Hand Dye Aida

Enough of the talk! Let’s see about dying this stuff. We do need to say that there are a few ways to dye fabrics and its dependant on the dye you use, but most fabric dyes are very similar.
What you need:
White aida cloth (make sure its white!)
Fabric dye (Rit dye is a common brand in the US, and Dylon in the UK)
Hot water
Stirring tool
Bowl (the bowl may be permanently dyed and should never be used for food)
There are two really important things in the guide above. Firstly, the aida should be white to start. It might seem like a cool idea to use a colored aida and then dye it for funky results, but the dye won’t bond and you’ll end up ruining your project. The second is the bowl. It needs to be big enough for you to move the water around (without spilling any dye, trust us, you don’t want that) and it should NEVER be used for food preparation as fabric dyes are often toxic, harmful to health or just generally not something you want to consume.
So, fill your bowl with enough hot water to cover the fabric entirely (if you want a partially dyed effect you should have only enough water to cover 50% of the fabric), and then throw in salt. The salt actually helps the cotton bond to the dye and leaves you with a stronger color, and will bleed less. How much really depends on the amount of water you’re using, but we suggest half a cup for every 8 liters of water (the size of a washing up bowl).
Throw your aida in the water to get it wet. Then set it on the side. This might seem like an odd step, but the dye won’t absorb unless the aida is wet.
Add your dye to whatever recipe the dye bottle says. Many brands, like the ones we mentioned, have mixes on their website showing you colors you can achieve, but mixing them up yourself is half the fun in my book! Make sure to mix the dyes well, and shake the bottles if you’re only using one color to ensure its mixed (fabric dyes can split over time). It might seem like you’re using a lot of dye for your small amount of water and fabric, but you do need this much.
Now is the fun part. Add your fabric, and stir for 10-20 minutes. Regularly check the color by taking it out, you may find that a quick dip is enough to dye it to your liking (we once dyed aida for 30 seconds and it was the perfect color we wanted).
Remove your fabric and wash it a lot. You need to make sure there is no color runoff, and we suggest starting with warm water, but once there is no runoff, use cold for a few seconds. Hang your fabric up to dry (you don’t have to block your fabric). Some people like to use a dryer, and this can be fine, but we find the color tends to lighten a little this way. Once dry, give it an iron, and get stitching!
We’ve also found this great Flosstube video guide on how to hand dye aida which is worth checking out. She also shows you how to get funky dye patterns.

Want To Buy Hand Dye Aida Instead?

Hand dying aida might not be for everyone, and we know that. Luckily, cross stitchers are a wonderful lot and you can pick up some amazing hand dyed aida from Etsy.

How To Care For Hand Dyed Aida

Whilst it is super awesome, hand-dyed aida is also something you need to be a little warier of. We strongly suggest washing your aida before you use it as sometimes dyed can bleed out a little bit. You should be fine if you don’t, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Other than that just make sure if you choose to wash your cross stitch once complete, you use cold water (warm water increases the chances of bleeding).

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. lindaklieber

    Is there a way to lighten the hand dyed aida without damaging what has been stitched on it? I started a pattern and have gotten far enough in that I don’t want to start over, but it’s a decent size pattern, so I’m a little less than 1/3 of the way through.
    Thank you.

    1. LordLibidan

      Possibly! Baking soda.
      First thing first; make sure your threads are color fast.
      Then you need to work out the dye you used. Is that color fast? If it is, then I’m afraid there is nothing you can do. But if it isn’t (most aren’t) then you can soak the work in work in water and baking soda.
      I would test it first on a small section cut off the corner, with some stitching on.
      I would also probably finish the colors that you’re using right now. If it changes the thread colors even slightly, when you place it next to “new” threads, you might see the difference.

  2. Katerina

    I have a question: when I’ve dyed my aida, how do you suggest that I dispose of the water that contains the dye? Will the colour stay on the porcelain of my shower or toilet? Or how else can I throw it out? Bearing in mind that it’s toxic too.

    1. LordLibidan

      It’s worth noting that not all dyes are toxic. In fact, most dyes sold in the EU and Australia are non-toxic. They are still irritants mind!
      The exact way to dispose of the dye water will depend massively on your country and local laws. In the UK you can dispose of the water through normal drains, and unused/partially used fabric dyes can be too. However, in France, you must dispose of them at a local recycling center (not a municipal dump).

  3. Kat T

    Question – I just used this method with the salt but didn’t need to keep it in the dye very long. Will that limited amount of exposure with the salt be enough to keep the fabric from bleeding? Or chould I put it in a salt water bath for say, 30 minutes, to be sure it sets?

    1. LordLibidan

      That depends on the specific dye you’ve used really. In most cases liquid dyes are fast-set so it shouldn’t be an issue with bleeding. But I’m afraid it might have to be trial and error for you! Sorry!