How to Use Fabric Dye to Create a Co-Ordinated Vintage Style Doll

My latest custom order was for a pair of Tilda dolls with a “very pink, vintage look”.  The fabric I had available just didn’t have a sufficiently vintage look to work well – but fabric dye was the perfect solution.

Dyeing a range of fabrics with the same dye gives you the opportunity to create a co-ordinated range of bespoke fabrics that all match perfectly.  If you are working with fabric remnants – as I usually am – fabric dye is an inexpensive way to completely change the look and feel of the fabrics and create something really special.

As well as enabling you to create a suite of fabric that looks as though it has all been designed to match perfectly, fabric dyes also help to soften the appearance of a print and achieve an authentic vintage style.

Here is the story of how this “pretty in pink” pair were created …

Fabric Dye - The Perfect Pair - "Pretty in Pink"
The Perfect Pair - "Pretty in Pink"

Sally was yearning after for a flowery fabric for the dolls’ dresses and a co-ordinated Cath Kidston type look.  I had a pretty rosebud fabric available – but it had quite a harsh white background.  We needed something much softer to create the vintage feel we were after.

In addition to that, I had a remnant of co-ordinating pink Cath Kidston fabric – but not enough to make two dolls and this pair needed to be as identical as two handmade dolls can be.  What I did have in my fabric stash was two pieces of the same fabric design – but in a powder blue colour way.

It was time to get the fabric dye and rubber gloves out and set about creating a bespoke fabric combination.

I created Sally’s dolls using the same methods I have set out on previous posts, so you can refer back to those if you want further detail of how the doll herself is created.

I will reserve this post to share with you how I made the fabric for her dress and skirts.

Fabric Dye "Pretty in Pink"
Fabric Dye "Pretty in Pink"


Fabric Dye
Fabric Dye

These are how the fabrics I had available started out – not very promising unless you have the right fabric dye in your cupboard.

I prepared a dye solution using a couple of tablespoons of dye and an equal quantity of  salt.

This gave a rather brighter pink than I would have ideally liked – but was close enough to get an agreement that this was the way we would go to create our dolls.

To prepare the final fabric, I diluted the dye mixture with a little warm water to create a softer, paler version of the fabric.



Fabric Dye

The powder blue floral fabric turned a very pretty pale purply pink when submerged in the dye solution.

The white broderie anglaise turned a lovely pastel pink shade when dyed.

Because all the fabrics for the top skirt and underskirt had been dyed using the same dye, they had the appearance of a co-ordinated set of fabrics – just what I was looking for.

What You Will Need:

To dye the fabrics, I used:

Fabric Dye Dylon Peony Pink
Fabric Dye Dylon Peony Pink
Fabric Dye Process
Fabric Dye Process

Step by Step Guide - How to Dye your Fabrics

  1. Wash your fabric pieces thoroughly and leave them damp.
  2. Using rubber gloves, dilute two teaspoons of dye in some hot tap water (about 40 degrees C).
  3. Add more hot water until you get the dye colour you want.  Remember that you can’t take water out once you have put it in – so go slowly, muddling the fabric in the dye with your metal spoon as you go.
  4. When you are happy with the colour – add an equal quantity of salt.
  5. Make sure that the fabric is fully submerged and has not folds/creases that might prevent the dye from covering the whole fabric and achieving an even result.
  6. Leave the fabrics in the dye for around an hour – the dye deepens in colour as the fabric absorbs the colour.
  7. Rinse the fabric out with plenty of cold water.
  8. Finally, rinse with warm water again and make sure that the dye is fully absorbed and your rinsing water runs clear.
  9. Leave your fabrics to air dry before you press them ready for sewing.
Fabric Dye - Drying

Tips and Tricks

  1. I chose to use white trims for this project in the end, but you can also dye trims to co-ordinate with your fabrics if you wish.  As long as you use trims made from all natural materials (e.g. cotton), you will get good results.
  2. I used some washed out yoghurt pots to keep the left over dye safe for future projects.  Thanks Sue!  Make sure your label your pots carefully – the powder dyes are very easy to get mixed up once you no longer have the original packaging!
Fabric Dye Storage
Fabric Dye Storage
Fabric Dye the Perfect Pair
The Perfect Pair - waiting patiently for their underskirts

How to Make Perfect Tilda Knees

Sewing the knees of a Tilda doll is a tricky business, I always find.  If you run just a single line of stitches across the knee, you risk the thread coming undone or an ugly knot at the side.  If you oversew the stitches to prevent them unravelling, you risk not perfectly matching the stitch line and ending up with an ugly double stitch run.

The solution I have found is firstly to use a metal sewing clip to guid your stitch line so you get it perfectly straight.  To finish the stitching neatly and securely, pass the thread back inside the leg and tie it inside the knee before continuing to stuff the rest of the leg.  That way, your nice secure knot is perfectly concealed inside your doll’s leg.

Fabric Dye Tilda Knees
Using metal fabric clips to get a straight knee
Fabric Dye Tilda Knees
Knot threads INSIDE the leg to conceal completely
Fabric Dye Perfect Tilda Knees

How to Sew Perfectly Straight Hems - Use a Dritz-Ezy Hem Tool

There is a LOT of measuring and pressing involved with making a Tilda doll.  Using a Dritz-Ezy Hem tool make light work of it all.  It is a super useful addition to your craft tool collection.

Fabric Dye Dritzy-Ezy Hem Tool
Dritzy-Ezy Hem Tool

Heart Up-Cycling!

Heart Upcycling Logo
  • Using fabric dye meant that I was able to make good use of a couple of fabric remnants that had been in my stash for a while, but I had difficulty co-ordinating them with other fabrics.
  • I had a tiny amount of a very pretty donated rosebud trim available.  I had been holding on to this for a while, but this was the project it had been waiting for.  A little goes a long way in Tilda world – I had just enough to make a pretty edge to the bodices and 4 rosebuds left to embellish their waists.
  • The dolls are stuffed using my favourite stuffing made from re-cycled plastic bottles.
  • Their necklaces are similar – but not identical.  The beads were donated.  Thanks Becky!
  • What to do with the few scraps of dyed rosebud fabric that I had left?  I could have kept it in my stash, but  it was crying out to be made into a heart shaped lavender bag – a free gift for a customer that has been a real pleasure to work with.
Polyester stuffing made from recycled plastic bottles
Stuffing made from recycled plastic bottles
Fabric Dye - Vintage Rosebud Trim
Vintage Rosebud Trim
Fabric Dye "Pretty in Pink"
"Pretty in Pink" - Necklaces from upcycled beads.
Fabric Dye Lavender Sachet
and enough fabric left for a pretty lavender bag - Heart Upcycling!

I am only at the start of my journey with fabric dyes.  I am also a keen gardener and am interested to discover that many of the plants that grow in my own garden or are easily available in my local area make wonderful fabric dyes.  Not only do they create natural looking colours, they are also completely free, which keeps my costs down and maximises the donations I can make to Birmingham St. Mary’s Hospice.

Subscribe to receive an e-mail when I post an update. I will definitely be experimenting with natural fabric dyes over the coming months – so watch this space

Heart Up-Cycling!

Fabric Dye Rosebud Feet
The finishing touch - a pair of handmade pink rosebuds each

Would you like a Doll made especially for you?

Request Printable PDF Instructions

A Printable PDF Instruction Sheet for making your own Tilda Doll is available incorporating all the Tips and Tricks of previous posts.  

Please contact me to request a downloadable PDF file (Subscribers only).

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