There has been a discussion on QuiltArt recently about the cost of hand-dyed fabric. DebbieHomeDyer did some math and came up with $4.50 out-of-pocket cost for 1 yd of hand-dyed fabric. (30 yd bolt of PFD at ~3.95/yd, 3.95 for 2 oz dye - enough to dye 8 yds, pennies for soda ash.)
I think she did a sort of mathmatical sleight of hand.
First, while the cost of soda ash needed to dye a yard of fabric is just pennies, you still have to buy at least a pound (Dharma has 1 lb for $1.69). Ignoring shipping charges, your out-of-pocket cost is $1.69, not just the $.40 worth actually used to dye those 8 yds. I could also argue that the cost of the 22 yds you haven't dyed must also be included in your out-of-pocket cost. I bet you bought a full bolt to get a lower price per yard. What about synthrapol? $4.09 for 16 oz.
What are you going to dye in? Baggies, tubs, buckets, measuring spoons, jars - they all have a cost. Maybe if you are dyeing a few yards every once in a while for your own use, you can use "stuff that was sitting around the house", but by the time you finish dyeing that 30-yd bolt, you'll have made at least one trip to the dollar store to buy a measuring cup with readable lettering, a set of spoons so you can measure 1/2 TBL instead of eyeballing "something close" with the 1 TBL measuring spoon you have. You'll have bought more dixie cups to replace those you took out of the bathroom. And you have replaced the kitchen towels that don't match the kitchen color scheme anymore, thanks to dye mop-ups.
FYI: Both DebbieHomeDyer and I completely ignored the cost of rinsing, washing, drying, and ironing this fabric.
If you got the color/shade you wanted in the 8 yds you dyed, hooray! Give yourself a pat on the back. More likely, you'll end up dyeing a few more yards trying to get that certain color. Sidebar: I have 10-20 shades of green in stock at any given time. And I STILL have customers who can't find the green they want/need.
Anyway, my point is that you can't dye a few yards of fabric for $5 a yard. Not having done any calculations, just making a guess, I would say that you might have to dye about 100 yards to get into that cost range. So, when your out-of-pocket expense is in the neighborhood of $500, does my $18 and $20/yd fabric seem so expensive?
Speaking of sleight of hand, I noticed something strange this past weekend. Quilters were watching a demonstration of a quilting system that uses your home machine & has a frame to support the quilt. No one asked for the dimensions of the machine cart so they could check to see if their machine would fit. They weren't thinking about how different a real quilt would behave compared to the demonstrator 45" wide fabric sandwich, pre-basted in a 1" diagonal grid. (I've seen a lot of quilts that were more lightly quilted than this basting!) No one wondered aloud about how the thin stick support would handle the bulk of a king-size quilt.
I was amused to see that most people watching the demo were looking at the quilting being done, rather than evaluating the system. I know it is a natural reaction to watch something in motion and that is exactly what happened! For the record, I don't think the designer/salesman was intentionally trying to pull a fast one. He just used an optimum set-up for his demo. And it sold them!
What sleight of hand can I use to get people to buy my fabric?