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Adventures Dying Stiff Stuff

By January 23, 2012

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Last week I decided that I wanted to whip up a bead embroidery heart tutorial for Valentine's Day. My obstacle, however, was that I didn't have any red colored backing material on hand.

Some beaders recommend the newer backings that are pre-colored, especially Nicoles's BeadBacking. I'm definitely planning to order some (and I'll let you know how that goes) -- but, for this project I needed red backing like now.

I did have some white Lacy's Stiff Stuff on hand, and happily it's dye-able. Unhappily, I had no red fabric dye, either. I rummaged through some cabinets and what I did have was red food coloring. Certain fabrics can be dyed with food coloring. The trouble is, synthetics typically cannot -- with the possible exception of nylon.

Is Stiff Stuff made of nylon? I thought it unlikely, but I experimented, just in case.

In order to dye fabrics with food coloring you need to set them first with an acid, such as vinegar. For my experiment I soaked a scrap of Stiff Stuff in a vinegar and water solution, and then added dark red food coloring and heated the whole thing up. I let it simmer awhile, and then cooled it down off the burner.

The result? A very lively pink! Like this:

Stiff Stuff Lively Pink

Out of curiosity, I decided to check whether this result was any different from simply pouring food coloring onto the Stiff Stuff and rinsing it off -- leaving out all of those vinegar and heating steps. The result was definitely less intense:

Stiff Stuff Pale Pink

Conclusion: Food coloring is not a good alternative to Rit for dying Stiff Stuff, unless you're looking for a very light hue.

My next move was to get out and find some Rit. (Fortunately, there is one store in town that still carries it.) I gloved up, mentally prepared myself for the mess, and went about the Rit dying process, which is:

  1. Boil 2 cups of water on the stove.
  2. Gradually, little by little, add 1 teaspoon of Rit powder to the pot (if you pour the entire amount in at once, the dyed boiling water will erupt).
  3. Drop the Stiff Stuff into the boiling water and dye solution, and allow it to soak for 60 seconds.
  4. Remove the pot from the burner, and use tongs to carefully lift out the Stiff Stuff (try not to bend the Stiff Stuff, which creates permanent creases).
  5. Rinse the Stiff Stuff under cold water, and pat it dry with paper towels.
  6. Lay the Stiff Stuff out flat to air dry.

Here are the results, using Rit Scarlet Red:

Stiff Stuff Scarlet Red


Another way to color Stiff Stuff is to stain it with a permanent marker. Here's a scrap I colored with a red Sharpie:

Stiff Stuff Colored Pen

Personally, I can't get behind the marker method. It leaves gaps of white (since it only colors the surface), and it raises the fibers on the Stiff Stuff which makes it fuzzy.

Some beaders avoid the backing color issue entirely by gluing a layer of ultrasuede to the top of their backing before they stitch any beads. (We'll cover that method in an upcoming tutorial.)

Which method do you prefer?

Do you use Lacy's Stiff for bead embroidery, or have you switched to one of the pre-colored options?


January 23, 2012 at 3:01 pm
(1) Jennifer says:

I tried dyeing my own Stiff Stuff, but I was never 100% happy with the results. I actually switched last summer and started using Nicole’s Bead Backing which is very similar to Stiff Stuff, but it comes pre-colored! The other thing I liked about the Bead Backing is that it doesn’t feel as “shop worn” when I’ve finished working on a large piece of bead embroidery. It seems to hold up better than the Stiff Stuff!

January 23, 2012 at 4:57 pm
(2) Gloria says:

I have tried dying stiff stuff but thought it too much hassle – I wasnt happy with the results. The marker pens are only good if you want to colour a very small area as as you have shown they only colour the service. I am a great fan of Nicole’s Beadbacking and dont use anything else now. The range of colours is fantastic,

January 23, 2012 at 6:30 pm
(3) Joanna says:

I paint the stiff stuff with acrylic paint. Absolutely no problems. Of course, only the surface is colored, but that isn’t a problem. This allows me to get closer to the desired color. I was concerned the fabric would be difficult to penetrate with the needle, but that was not a problem. I would advise anyone to try this on a small scrap first, but this is my chosen solution.

January 23, 2012 at 8:03 pm
(4) beadwork says:

Wow – thanks for all the great tips! I’m ordering some Nicole’s for sure. I can’t wait to do a comparison with the Stiff Stuff.

Painting with acrylics is the one thing I didn’t try – but I should have! I probably have acrylic paint around here that would have saved me from having to labor through the dying process. Thank you for bringing that up, Joanna.

January 24, 2012 at 11:40 am
(5) Valerie says:

Has anyone tried felt that has a glued back I haven’t tried it, but might just work I think I’m gonna try felt. Then after beading is done, but a second layer on back with glue. Love your design. Valerie

January 24, 2012 at 1:42 pm
(6) beadwork says:


I haven’t tried that, but I do think it would work. It’s definitely worth a try!

January 24, 2012 at 8:06 pm
(7) Shelly says:

Wow! I agree with Chris! What great ideas! I have just started doing beaded embroidery and have to say, I have a new found love! I use the Lacy’s Stiff Stuff. And like mentioned, I glue a piece of ultra suede to the Stiff Stuff, do my beading, and then glue a matching piece of ultra suede to the backside to conceal all of the stitching. I actually had not heard of this new stuff. I will definitely be checking it out!

Chris, I gotta tell you….I LOVE YOUR BLOG!!! I always look forward to it and it never disappoints! Thank you for doing such a great job!!!

January 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm
(8) beadwork says:

Thanks so much, Shelly! :)

January 30, 2012 at 4:49 pm
(9) Jeanne says:

I usually work directly on UltraSuede since I had a less than great experience with coloring the Stiff Stuff with brown permanent markers. I colored a piece prior to making a bracelet. The beadwork looked great, the SS adhered great to the brass base and I glued a second piece of UltraSuede on the back of the brass cuff and proceeded to do the edging. EVERY time I wear this bracelet I wind up with two brown rings around my arm – the permanent marker bleeds onto my skin. The bracelet is about 5 years old now and this still happens, especially in warmer weather.

January 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm
(10) Dianne says:

have you thought of trying fabric paint? Or craft paint? Just a thought.

January 30, 2012 at 7:22 pm
(11) Mona says:

I have had good luck using buckram purchased online from NewarkDress.com. Buckram is a white stiff fabric similar to stiff stuff only can be purchased for about $4.50 a yard. I have used acrylic paints to color the buckram. have also doubled it for extremely large heavy cabachons.

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