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Topic: How do I dye X? Many questions answered.  (Read 15740 times)
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ptarmic wumpus
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« on: September 30, 2007 01:27:04 PM »

How do I dye X?

First, no matter what X is, you need to know the fiber content (or material if not an item made of fibers/textile).  If it has a label that says something like "100% cotton" or "20% nylon, 80% wool", that is the information that you need. If there is no label, you can try a burn test for fibers to get some kind of idea:

Before launching a discussion, a few words on safety. Dyeing involves using chemicals and sometimes large vessels of hot water. Many dyes are in powdered form, and breathing in fine powders of any sort is a bad idea, so at minimum a NIOSH dust mask (inexpensive and found at most hardware stores) should be used when handling powdered dyes (once the dyes are mixed in liquid, they are much safer).  Gloves are a good idea to keep from dyeing yourself - also, dye allergies can occur from excessive contact with dyestuffs.  NEVER use any dye equipment for food preparation (with the possible exception of food dyes) and keep dye chemicals away from food preparation areas - search the thrift store for inexpensive pots, measuring tools, etc.  Some dyes and bleach products give off toxic fumes - wear a mask rated for your purpose and do these types of activities in a well ventilated area.

The short answers:

Cotton, linen, rayon, hemp, tencel and other cellulose fibers:

  • union dyes such as RIT or Dylon;
  • fiber reactive dyes such as Procion MX type (includes Dylon COLD dyes ONLY, which are not easily found in the US, other Dylon are union dyes)
  • direct dyes such as Diazol  (direct dyes are a component in many union dyes as well)
  • natural dyes such as indigo, cochineal, madder, woad, weld, cutch, etc.
  • vat dyes such as Inkodye

Wool, silk, and other protein fibers
  • acid dyes such as Wash Fast Acid Dye, Food coloring, Lanaset
  • natural dyes
  • vat dyes
  • fiber reactive dyes (but with a different recipe than for cotton)
  • union dyes

  • acid dyes
  • iDye

Polyester, Acetate, Ingeo

  • disperse dyes
  • iDye


  • basic dyes

If your fiber is a blend of fibers, it may or may not take your dye choice well, depending on the type of fibers. if you have something that is mostly (80-90%) one fiber, it may take at least a medium shade for that fiber.  If it is 50-50 or mostly a fiber that doesn't dye well (like polyester), your item may dye only to a pastel shade, and may be uneven.

Info about dyes:

Much detailed information on the chemistry and use of these dyes may be found at these sites:
Paula Burch's About Dyes: http://www.pburch.net/dyeing/aboutdyes.shtml
Dharma Trading Instructions: http://www.dharmatrading.com/techniques/
PRO Chem: http://www.prochemical.com/directions.htm

Union or all-purpose dyes
These dyes include RIT, Dylon Multi-Purpose, DEKA L Hot Water, and Tintex dyes. These dyes are a mix of several different types of dyes (such as direct and acid dyes) which will dye a range of fabrics. They are easily found at the grocery store. If you have a blended item, such as something that is half silk and half cotton, these dyes may be a good choice to get an even color. However, if your item is all of one fiber, you can probably get a better result for less expense using a dye specifically designed for that fiber type. Union dyes are often not very light or washfast.

Fiber Reactive dyes (Procion MX type)
These dyes chemically bond to the fibers and give excellent results particularly on cotton/linen/rayon/hemp. They may be used in a cold bath in a bucket, or in the washing machine, and are excellent for tie dye and batik.  In order to 'fix' the dye (cause the dye to bond with the fiber), you need to use soda ash (for most fibers) or an acid such as vinegar (for wool or silk only). Soda ash can be purchased online or sometimes found in the grocery as 'washing soda' in the laundry area - get one without whiteners.  Salt is also useful when trying to achieve an even color when vat dyeing - rock salt for ice cream making can be found at the grocery.  These dyes may be found online or at some art or yarn stores.  Dylon Cold Water dye, Procion MX, Cibacron F are fiber reactive dyes.

Acid Dyes

Acid dyes only work on protein fibers such as silk, wool, cashmere, angora, and a few synthetics including nylon and soy silk.  Despite the scary name, acid dyes only require the use of a mild acid, such as distilled vinegar, to set the dyes.  They give brilliant colors on wool and silk, and require heat to set. These dyes include Jacquard, Wash Fast Acid Dyes, and food coloring (such as Kool-Aid and icing dyes). 

Vat Dyes
Vat dyes are a special type of dye which work by repeatedly immersing the fiber in an oxygen-free dyebath and then exposing the fiber to oxygen to cause a chemical reaction.  Indigo is a classic example of this type of dye, but there are also some synthetic dyes such as Inko-dye (which is fixed by light rather than oxygen).

Direct Dyes
Direct dyes are used in a hot water bath, and are a component in many union dyes. Direct dyes are not as washfast as fiber reactive dyes, and may need additional chemicals to improve fastness, such as Retayne.
There is a new dye, called iDye Poly, which is intended to work on polyester and nylon, and is a direct dye apparently similar to the older dye Deka L. You can read about this dye here:

Disperse Dyes
Disperse dyes are a way to dye polyester, but require high temperatures and are more difficult to use than most other dyes. Some transfer methods, such as ironing on crayons or the dye itself, are also possible.

Basic Dyes
Basic dyes are used to get a good shade on acrylics, but require more safety precautions than many other dyes.

Natural Dyes
Natural dyes include a range of plant and animal based dyes.  In general, natural dyes give better colors on wool and silk than on cotton or cellulose fibers.  The light and washfastness of natural dyes varies tremendously, and in many cases a 'mordant' is needed to help the dye bond to the fiber - some of these mordants are quite toxic. Some foodstuffs such as tea, turmeric, and onion skins can be used without a mordant (but may fade with time).

Various other dyes

devore dyes: Devore dyes are meant for silk/rayon blend fabrics that can be chemically etched (the rayon fibers removed) in areas to make a design. Velvet and satin are the most common types. These dyes consist of a dye that colors only the silk, and another dye that colors only the rayon, so that you can create a two-tone fabric. AlterEgo is the brand name of commercial dye marketed specifically for this purpose, and requires the use of a fixative. You can also try to mimic this effect yourself by careful combination of acid dyes (for the silk) and direct dye (for the rayon).

Overdyeing and dye mixing:

Dyes are transparent, not opaque like paint. This means that they add to an prexisting colors - if you dye a yellow shirt with red dye, it will turn some shade of orange, and if you dye a black shirt any color, it will stay black. There is no such thing as a white dye.

Dyes mix based on the CMY (cyan-magenta-yellow) color wheel, not the red-yellow-blue color wheel. One example of this is yellow and blue, which are complements on the CMY wheel, but members of a triad on the RYB wheel. If you mix blue and yellow dyes, you are likely to get a muddy sludgy color and not a nice green. CMY mixing wheels can be found at various art supply stores and also online.

Dye removal and bleaching:

Dye can be removed from some fabrics with various chemicals, including bleach and chemical color removers.  Bleach should not be used on some fibers, such as wool and polyester, because it is very damaging. Bleach-stop should be used on bleached items to prevent progressive damage - a vinegar bath will give off toxic gases.  Different fibers react differently to bleach and other dye removers, giving a variety of colors - black may fade to white, or rust, or some other color entirely, or it may not be affected at all.

Some frequently asked questions with short answers:

I want to dye X black?

Black is very hard to get as a good color. Black dyes are really made up of many colors, all very concentrated. Dyeing things black requires a lot more dye than usual. For best results on cotton and celloluse fibers, use a black fiber reactive dye - there are several available that have slightly different characteristics - and use a lot of dye (up to 4X the usual amount, as well as lots of salt). For best results on silk, use a special silk dye; for best results on wool use an acid dye. Mixing your own black dye is difficult and requires a lot of trial and error.

I tried to dye X and it came out all splotchy.

You can get better results by:
presoaking your item in water with a little detergent for a while (20 minutes-1 hr) before dyeing
adding salt to fiber reactive dye baths
using agents like calsolene oil in the dye bath
stirring more and using a big vat
If your item is a blend of fibers, splotchiness may just be a result of the fiber content.

Can I dye my old shirt?
Maybe, depending on the fiber content. Also, most garments are sewn with polyester thread even if the fabric is 100% cotton - the thread will not take your dye and will remain the original color.

More links:
coming soon!

These are primarily external links, as there is already a lovely sticky in this thread with organized linking to dye topics within craftster.

Food Icing/KoolAid Dyes:
pieknits blog :  http://pieknits.blogspot.com/2006/02/dyeing-with-wiltons-icing-dye.html
Paula Burch : http://www.pburch.net/dyeing/fooddyes.shtml
KoolAid: http://www.thepiper.com/fiberart/koolaid/basic-howto.html
KoolAid color chart: http://www.thepiper.com/fiberart/koolaid/images/colorchart-max.jpg

Natural dyeing:
« Last Edit: June 10, 2008 06:31:20 AM by ptarmic wumpus » THIS ROCKS   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: October 09, 2007 05:53:20 AM »

Great information!
I got a well priced stainless steel stock pot for dyeing from Ikea, it was well worth the money. 
Plastic buckets with lids (they are available at hardware or painting stores) are great for Fiber reactive dyes.

http://peachymanaangel.livejournal.com/ for blog fun
http://www.flickr.com/photos/kylacrawford/ pictures. When words only get in the way
http://kylaslab.etsy.com Shop for fun felted jewelry and other fiber arts
« Reply #2 on: October 09, 2007 05:58:33 AM »

Wow!  Thanks for the information!

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« Reply #3 on: October 09, 2007 09:31:36 AM »

Dear Ms. Wumpus,

Thank you Thank you Thank You!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think this might be the post of the day for me, thanks for all the info!

« Reply #4 on: August 21, 2009 10:27:08 PM »

I've only just found this info after being craftster for over a year - what on earth have I been doing with my time???

Thank you so much for the info and links!!  Grin

« Reply #5 on: July 27, 2011 06:22:00 PM »

This is just what I needed! Could someone please pin this up top of Dyeing: Discussion and Questions?
« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2011 04:35:06 AM »

This forum is very useful.I like so much.I was in search of dye method.
You solve my problem.
Glad to be a part of this forum.
Thanks for sharing.
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