Cross-stitching fabric, an open-weave 100 percent cotton fabric that commonly comes in a pure white or tan-hued antique ivory color, is called aida cloth. Colored aida cloth is popular for unframed projects like pillows or as a background that complements a cross-stitch design. In a pinch, tea dyeing will give white aida cloth a tan tint. All-purpose chemical dye will also work. Dyeing with a fiber-reactive dye, which is made from plant fibers and allows mixing colors, is a better option.
Buy powdered fiber-reactive dyes such as Procion MX, urea and sodium alginate at a craft store or online specialty-dye supplier. Set aside until the day of dyeing.
Prepare pieces of aida cloth before dyeing by hand sewing a basting stitch all around the outside of each fabric piece with a needle and white cotton basting thread.
Prior to the dyeing session, fill a sink with warm water and add a teaspoon of liquid dish detergent, then soak the aida cloth in the sink to remove any fabric sizing.
Cover two metal baking sheets with plastic wrap, then lay white paper towels over the tops and set aside.
Dyeing Aida Cloth
Put on an apron, mask and gloves. Make a custom dye paste based on a recipe developed by Susan Druding of Straw into Gold, a Richmond, California, textile supplier.
Mix 1 to 3 tsp. dye powder with a few drops of warm water to make a paste. Repeat for each color. Place the dye paste in a glass or plastic bowl. add 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda to each bowl and mix.
Mix 4 cups of warm water with 10 tbsp. urea in a glass bowl. Take one cup of this solution and add to an old blender. Add 1 tsp. sodium alginate to the blender and mix. Repeat until you have 4 cups of thick paste. Pour 1 cup of thickened paste into each bowl of previously mixed dye paste (up to 4 colors), and mix well with a spoon.
Dampen a sponge and dip into mixture. Dab the color onto the aida cloth, either all over for a solid look, or dab randomly leaving some open white areas in the fabric.
Use a fresh sponge in another dye color, then dab over the fabric in the open white areas, slightly overlapping the previous color to create a multi-colored, hand dyed look. Set each finished cloth aside on the metal baking sheet.
Steam iron each dyed piece for 5 to 10 minutes to set the dye, then rinse in cold water. Hand wash in the sink using a mild detergent and rinse in cold water.
Premix dye paste and keep covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Use only household utensils and equipment dedicated for dyeing only as fiber-reactive dyes are toxic.