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How to Hand Dye Seam Binding Ribbon (a Tutorial)

hand-dyed seam binding ribbon

Customize your projects with unique hand-dyed ribbon in a rainbow of colors

Paper crafters tend to have great stashes of products, and ribbon is no exception. One of our favorites is rayon seam binding, which we love for its sheen and rich colors. But buying a rainbow of ribbon gets expensive. And how do you match ribbon to certain papers? Learn how to dye your own seam binding ribbon and you’ll never have to “make do” with store bought colors again.

Hand dyed rayon seam binding
Beautiful and completely unique + a bonus trick

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What is “seam binding” anyway?

Seam binding is a woven-edge 100% rayon ribbon used by sewists, papercrafters and mixed media artists. It boasts a silky soft sheen with a lightness that belies its strength. Seam binding is featherlight and lends itself to a variety of uses, both functional and decorative.

Sewists love it because it keeps necklines and armholes from stretching out of shape, among other functions. Papercrafters love it because it forms beautiful, multi-layered bows and it doesn’t add measurable weight to paper projects. 

Seam binding is used to make exquisite flowers, ruched (gathered) trim, beautiful needlework and more. Along with paper crafting, I use hand dyed seam binding to hang tiny painted art frames. (Shout out to my talented daughter for thinking this idea up. She’s also the artist who created these bitty beauties.) This is where coloring my own ribbon really comes in handy. It provides a decorative touch to the frames and gives them a little more oomph on the wall. 

Custom colored seam binding for tiny frames
Who says function can’t be pretty?

Seam binding ribbon takes color beautifully. From soft pastels to rich jewel tones, seam binding ribbon fulfills an enormous variety of creative needs. But, as paper crafters know, one color can’t possibly work for every project.

G&B Tip: Rayon seam binding is usually sold in ¼” and ½” widths. The ½” width is the type most often used on paper projects and comes in the widest range of colors, but ¼” has its place too. For the sake of this tutorial, I’ll stick to the larger size.

It only takes one color to create a rainbow

Coloring your own seam binding couldn’t be easier. You only need one color to start with. That’s right, just one color – white. You could use off-white, but sparkling, pure wedding white will give the truest results. (But if you can’t find that, then go for the next lightest tint.) 

White seam binding is typically sold in 100-yard rolls, and I usually color 1 yard at a time. That’s a lot of colored bang for the few bucks that you’ll shell out for a roll of this ribbon.

And don’t get me started on the fun factor. Coloring ribbon is as much fun as playing in finger paints in kindergarten. I found it hard to stop once I got started. And if you color other embellishments (custom colored mulberry flowers being my favorite) , you’ll give a complete designer effect to your projects.

Which inks color rayon seam binding better – water or alcohol?

The beauty of seam binding is that both water- and alcohol-based inks color it beautifully. This is extremely helpful as most crafters can scare up a couple of reinkers or ink pads here and there. My personal choices are the following:

  • Gelatos wax pencils
  • Dylusions ink sprays
  • Tim Holtz Alcohol Ink Refills

But pretty much anything that can color paper can color rayon ribbon and it’s always worth experimenting.

So let’s get started.

Supplies needed to hand dye rayon seam binding
Just a few supplies for a quick & easy process

Notes: 
1. I colored all ribbons on a non-stick craft sheet. Cleanup is a snap.
2. These ribbons are all “tossed” by hand to color them. This means to gently, but quickly lift the whole mass of ribbon by your fingertips and drop it in the wet zone, repeating until you achieve the desired color.

Supply list:

Rayon seam binding
Coloring agents (I used Gelatos, Ranger Adirondack Alcohol Ink and Dylusions Ink Sprays)
Mini Misters
Ranger Non-stick Craft Sheet
Homemade shimmer spray (coming to the blog soon. Plain rubbing alcohol will do as well but without shimmer.)
Paper towels
Rubbing alcohol (for cleanup after using alcohol inks)

Gelatos

Gelatos are a water-based, water-soluble medium that are sold in tubes similar to richly-colored lipsticks. They are silky smooth and can be used on a variety of porous surfaces, i.e. wood, paper, fabric and canvas, and they can be blended with fingertips or blended with paintbrushes and water. I call Gelatos the “grown up crayons,” but, since they’re water-based, they won’t leave an oily residue.

A box of Gelatos coloring sticks
Think of the color combinations

When coloring ribbons, I like to use two or three colors. This adds a certain depth to the ribbon color and looks far more interesting than just one flat hue. If you want to coordinate with papers featuring a variety of colors, you can color ribbon accordingly. Just try to not over blend so you don’t “muddy” the colors.

Step 1

Choose two or three shades of Gelatos (I chose three shades of green).

Swipe them across the non-stick mat a few times each.

Gelatos rubbed on the mat
The fun begins

Step 2

Spritz with a few shots of water. (I use a mini-mister, but you can use a spray bottle.)

Gelatos with water spritzed on
The color will depend on how much water you spritz

Step 3

Drop the length of ribbon on the colors and gently “toss” them with the fingertips of one hand as you would a salad. Do this very gently so as to not overblend the colors.

“Toss” the ribbon until you’re satisfied with the color. 

Step 4

If there are any undesirable specks of undissolved Gelatos, flatten them with a finger and blend the area in the moisture which remains on the mat. Doing this will help soften the dark spot.

Either hang to dry or use a heat tool. 

Gelatos produce ribbon with soft colors.

Tim Holtz Alcohol Ink Refills

I used to color my rayon ribbon with my Copics alcohol markers, but I found I was wearing out the nibs too quickly, so I started using reinkers instead. Doesn’t matter which brand of alcohol ink you use, they all turn out beautifully. And instead of using water, I used my homemade shimmer spray. This is made with alcohol and glimmer for subtle color and sparkle (stay tuned for the tutorial on how to make your own).

Alcohol inks to color the ribbon
Homemade shimmer spray makes the difference

Again, I started with three colors, plus one of my homemade shimmer spray in a soft, metallic gold fleck. This time I used three shades of brown.

Step 1

Spray the ribbon first, very lightly, with the shimmer spray. It’s almost see-through, but not quite. And it adds a nice shimmer to the ribbon as it moistens the ribbon to get it ready for the inks.

Ribbon sprayed with homemade glimmer mist
Shimmer spray is so much better than plain alcohol

Step 2

Drop a few droplets of each ink close to each other on the non-stick mat. (Don’t worry, the ink will wipe right off with an alcohol-soaked paper towel.)

Step 3

Spray the ink drops with some of the shimmer spray. See the shimmer? This will show up on your ribbon.

Step 4

“Toss” the ribbon in the alcohol mixture.

Step 5

If any white spots remain, use your finger to move them through the droplets left on the mat.

Keep tossing (gently) until you’re happy with the color. Dry.

Alcohol inks produce ribbons with medium-strength colors and a slightly stiffer feel which makes for perfect crinkles, if desired.

Dylusions Ink Sprays

These babies are da bomb when it comes to coloring rayon seam binding. WOW. They give the most intense colors of the three and I found it hard to stop once I started playing with them. 

G&B Warning! Be careful of overspray – these colors spray FAR. Use a spray box, or shield behind the spray area with scrap paper. I did neither and had a mess to clean up. But it was a pretty mess.

Step 1

Spray the first color directly onto the seam binding, (I used blue).

Step 2

Spray a second color (I used yellow).

“Toss” the ribbon to blend the colors. Easy does it, these colors pack a punch and you want some gradations of color throughout the ribbon. Look at that green! And look at my fingers! (You might want to use gloves throughout the whole coloring process.)

Hang to dry or use a heat tool.

G&B  Bonus Tip #1: Scrunch the ribbon in your hand while drying it and you’ll produce “crinkly” seam binding. I prefer just a few crinkles in mine, so I don’t do this. But it produces a very nice effect. Or, if you like smooth ribbon, iron on low when dry.

G&B Bonus Tip #2: If you don’t want to waste all the gorgeous color left on the mat, lay a paper towel strip on top and let the color soak in. You can use it in future projects.

Paper towel saturated with ink
Turn this “trash” into treasure for a future project

I was having too much fun to stop with these three, so I dyed three more lengths of seam binding.

Spraying in order from light to dark (yellow, then orange, then brown), Dylusions spray inks created this gorgeous russet and gold color with vintage appeal. 

  • I used two shades of purple and pearly pink Gelatos for soft violet.
  • Yellow and red Dylusions blended into soft orange-y peach.

I hung all six yards of ribbon on the shower rod to dry. Kind of like the way I used to dry pantyhose “back in the day.” You could use a heat tool to dry yours by tossing the ribbon with one hand and moving the heat tool with the other. (This is the perfect time to crinkle the ribbon.)

The bonus – cheap (but pretty) ribbon storage

Now that you have several new colors of ribbon, you don’t want to just squash them in a drawer. Try this quick and easy trick to store and display them at the same time:

Cover a paper towel roll with pretty paper, then wrap the ribbon around and tape to secure.

Storing the custom colored seam binding
Looks pretty enough to display

They look nice next to the antique spools which store other hand-dyed ribbons as well as vintage laces. (I’ll be on the lookout for more spools in upcoming antiquing trips.)

Some examples of custom-dyed ribbon

Here are a few past examples of hand dyed seam binding ribbon:

In conclusion, hand-dyed seam binding ribbon will ensure your creations coordinate beautifully every time

Other tutorials to create customized embellishments

Turning Trash Into Treasure – How to Make Faux Glass Flowers
How to Make Your Own Custom Shimmer Paints
How to Color Mulberry Flowers Using Alcohol Markers


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Pinterest cover of hand dyed ribbon tutorial

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