I am trying to make dyeing easier and less time consuming for myself. Dyeing in a tub or vat, or the laundry sink as I do, has its inconvenience. You need to agitate the dye bath frequently, which means you have your hands in rubber gloves in the dye bath every few minutes or so. Your hands will sweat inside the rubber gloves, and taking them off to do something else, then putting them on again is very difficult, and certainly not at all practical at intervals of a few minutes. You wind up just hanging around the dye bath, hands in gloves, waiting for the time to be up. You can’t touch anything for fear of getting dye on it, so you just wait. Unfortunately it takes around one hour with light colours, and an hour and a half with dark. Tedious! In addition, there is always a little hole in the glove somewhere leaving you with one or two dyed fingers.

If you can dye in the washing machine, that is by far the better option. Unfortunately I now have a you beaut expensive European front loader and I am too much of a coward to try dyeing in that. One day I might feel confident enough, and there are instructions on the net, but for now I can’t see how I can open the door with the dye bath inside, or manipulate the wash programs to do what I need.

So I bought a small camping washing machine, which is essentially a drum with a watertight seal that can be tumbled with a hand crank.

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There are all sorts of models available, some electric that do the agitating for you, but this version is good enough. Once I have loaded the dye bath and fabric or garment, I can work in the kitchen and turn the handle every now and then until the time is up. I don latex gloves just to remove the garment from the machine at the very end and put it into the sink, and then into the washing machine to rinse, eliminating the dyed finger problem. It is all very neat and doesn’t leave any mess. My dyes for natural fibres will dye skin, but not the man made materials in my kitchen or laundry, or the plastic of the camping washing machine itself.

This is how I do it.

1. I put the small machine on the bench next to the sink in the kitchen. This gives me more room for my dye paraphernalia than my current laundry setup. You need room to measure out the chemicals, keep implements and your instructions on the ipad.

2. I fill up the machine with a 2 litre jug, measuring about 10 litres of luke warm or hot water, as necessary.

3. I mix up the dye in a plastic cup and any other chemicals needed such as the salt in a jug. Then I add them to the machine, mixing with a long handled implement such as a plastic cooking spoon.

4. Put the wet pre-washed fabric or garment into the drum and push down into the dye bath until it is well soaked.

5. Seal the drum and tumble for a few turns back and forth, then leave and tumble again every few minutes until the first 20 minutes are up.

6. Open the lid and add the soda ash solution. You need to push the fabric aside and put the soda ash solution into the dye bath away from the fabric. I dilute my soda ash quite heavily in a 2 litre jug of water to avoid it hitting the fabric too concentrated and causing dark botches. Put the lid back on the drum and agitate.

7. Continue to agitate/tumble every now and then for the prescribed time, between 30 minutes for light colours and 60 minutes for dark.

8. Drain the dye bath. My washing machine has a tube you insert. There is a little spillage of dye as the tube starts to open the valve and before it is properly locked in place. A few paper towels underneath catch the spill, but other models of washing machine may not have this problem.

9. Put on gloves and squeeze as much dye out of the fabric as you can inside the machine. Then pull out the garment into a bowl or other container to transfer to where you want to rinse. I use a stainless steel mixing bowl and transfer to the laundry sink because it is bigger than the kitchen sink.

10. Once you have rinsed your garment to the point where the water is only slightly coloured, you can put it in the washing machine and wash with detergent to get the last of the dye out. I use the 20 minute cycle on my front loader.

Here is a link to the Dharma website, to the page with the Procion dyes I used. The instructions are among the tabs at the bottom.

For my first try, I died a linen dress that was a dark orange pink, but looked quite washed out. I overdyed it with primary red and a little black, and got exactly the beautiful cranberry red I was looking for. Beginner’s luck I reckon. Of course the top stitching didn’t pick up the dye and is a couple of shades lighter now. It looks ok and I will wear it a couple of times and see if it is worth my while to unpick and re-topstitch.

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Fired with zeal I next dyed a silk crepe that had a vintage floral print in very unfortunate colours. I would never have worn it as it was. This time the result was not quite as good, silk is more tricky to dye with the Procion dyes. The advantage is that you don’t have to dye at a simmer or steam it afterwards. I used a teaspoon of turquoise with a third of a teaspoon of black. Too much black I think. The silk was originally a light apricot background with some bright green and purple flowers. I was hoping for a purple background with the flowers a darker purple and the leaves a darker green, hence the black added to the turquoise.

But the outcome is darker than I thought, and Procion black does not give you a good straight black with silk. The outcome was a blue grey colour with a green tinge. The bright green and purple were not muted as much as I had hoped. Still, it is much more usable than before, though I would not call it exactly inspiring. I think it will work well as an underdress or underskirt, but maybe not the main course of an outfit, so to speak.

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Or maybe it will, with the right lining. I have to see. But if I want to use it as a ‘supporting cast’ garment, not the main, finding something it will go with will be hard. When you dye your own fabric you very likely get one of the gazillion of colours somewhere on the spectrum that are right off the Pantone radar. Or possibly one they have never even heard of. Which means it is hard to find something that will tone in with it.

Which brings me to the Pantone riddle. When I first read people discussing online ‘what this season’s colours are’ I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. There was usually a link to the Pantone website showing a dozen colours or so that were ‘in’ in a particular season, but so what? Was I supposed to wear clothes in those colours to be fashionable? Worse, did it mean I was a frump if I didn’t wear those colours? How ridiculous, I wear whatever colour I please, as long as it suits me.

But I think I was missing the point. The colours were not for eager fashionistas to follow, but for the garment industry. If Mint is in or Marsala, then you will see lots of that in the shops. And not just any light green or dark red. This is where I think Pantone comes in. The colours are standardised. It must be from the fibre dyeing to the fabric mills to the places where fabrics are printed. All the colours used in a particular season are standardised so they all tone in. So when fashion buyers curate a collection, it all plays together nicely.

At least I think that;s how it works. I’d love someone to correct me if I have gone off on a flight of fancy here.

But to get back to dyeing, where this is of interest is if you want to match something with something else. Say you have a striped or floral top, and want to match this with a plain skirt in a matching colour, i.e. a colour from the print or stripe. Generally reasonably easy if it is RTW and you are dealing with a fashion colour, or of course black or white. But if you are talking about something that you dyed yourself, good luck to find a match. Ask me how I know. Only time will tell if I will find something to tone in with my overdyed silk crepe print, or any other dye job that did not turn out well enough to stand on its own.

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