Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Let's Dye Some Fabric - A Tutorial on Fiber Reactive Dyes



Guys, I have such a love/hate relationship with dyeing fabric. It is so fun but so picky! Remember my very first post about it? And remember how that project turned out so beautifully?

Since then I've done a heck of a lot more fabric dying and figured it was time to do another post - this time a proper tutorial in using Fiber Reactive Dyes.

So here is the very first thing. USE FIBER REACTIVE DYES. I've tried Dylon. I've tried Rit. It's so tempting to just pick them up because they're right there at JoAnn's and just $3 a pop and...

No.

Just. No. They do NOT hold the color well. Dylon is a bit better than Rit, especially if you're doing a shade of green or blue, but red is laughable. Seriously. Save yourself the headache.

Dharma Trading Company is THE source for your Fiber Reactive Dyes. Yes you have to pay shipping, and yes paying $4-$8 for a few ounces may seem a headache, but trust me, this dye goes a LOT further and lasts forever. It's beautiful stuff. Furthermore it will work on most natural fibers! For trickier fabrics like wool and polyester they have other options, but I haven't explored those yet. (Here's some more about that) Their website is VERY informative and although I have not used their customer service myself, I've heard it is quite good.

(If you only need a few colors, ordering three of the small sizes will allow them to ship first class, which is cheaper than priority mail. So order small unless you need a lot of stuff!)



I recommend getting their starter kit if this is your first time, as you will need the soda ash for sure and it's a good color melody. However you could skip this and just get the colors you want and the soda ash, and stock up on rubber gloves and a mask at the hardware store. (Go with disposable gloves. Rubber breaks down over time with these chemicals and you will protect your hands better with a new pair each session rather than investing in sturdier workgloves).

You'll also need some measuring cups, stir sticks, and at least one plastic tub/garbage can/storage bin. All of these need to be things that will not be coming into contact with food. I got all of mine at Goodwill, Dollar Tree, or JoAnn's using coupons.

Finally you'll need salt. LOTS of salt. More salt than you could imagine. Thankfully it's cheap. Stock up. (No iodine, please).


The Dharma catalog has a lovely set of instructions right in the front. As you can see, mine is much loved! I found them pretty intimidating the first time, and marked it up heavily to make sure I wouldn't forget a single step! But don't worry, I'm going to give you plenty of pictures.


First off, you need to wash your fabric. Doing in the machine with the Dharma detergent is best, but I didn't have those luxuries this time so regular detergent in the bath tub! If your garment is already clean, just soak it all the way through with water. This helps the dye cling evenly.

Note on bathtubs. Ideally you'll be working in a laundry room tub where a little staining won't matter. HOWEVER, if a bathtub is your only option, let me assure you that Fiber Reactive Dyes are really easy to clean off of porcelain. Wipe dots and drips down as you go, and spray everything with cleaner at the end and scrub it up. Any stains that remain should be sprinkled with a product like Barkeeper's Friend, left to sit, and then wiped up.



Salt time! I did not have enough salt for this project, which kept the color from getting quite as deep as I wanted. Make sure you have enough salt! It's important! (The Dharma instructions lay out clearly how much salt per gallon of water.) You'll be adding the salt straight into your dying tub, which should contain warm water by now.


The instructions will tell you how much dye to add per gallon of water, and how much water you need per pound of fabric. A scale is nice, but they'll also tell you useful things like "a t-shirt is half a pound" and "one tablespoon of dye per half pound of fabric."

You need more dye if you are doing darker colors, which is another thing I skimped on here, resulting in a lighter shade than I originally wished. Oops.

Also. Safety precaution. This is a good step to wear your face mask during. You don't want to breath in this powder!



But can you blame me? Look at how dark that is!


It is important to mix your dye into the water really, really well before adding the fabric. I like to measure it into a glass jar of really hot water, shake that up so it's really mixed, then pour the jar into the dying tub of warm water. (Pay attention to the temperatures. They are important!)


Now it is time to add your fabric! Use the long handled stirring utensils to work the fabric evenly into the dye and stir it around.


Then stir, stir and stir again! You'll want to stir constantly or at least every 3-4 minutes for the next half hour or so. If you don't stir consistently and frequently you'll get streaky color setting.


Look at that lovely fabric! After the half hour, you'll follow your instructions to mix up the required amount of soda ash into REALLY HOT water. You'll need to pour this mixture into your tub over the next fifteen minutes or so. Wear your mask again while measuring and mixing the powder! I mix it the same way I do the dye in the same (cleaned!) jar. This will cause the dye to set. Keep stirring.


You can really let the fabric sit as long as you want, just don't forget to keep stirring. 30 mins is the minimum wait time, I usually let the soda ash have at least an hour to do its work. Then it's time to put on those rubber gloves and rinse out the dye!

Note: The color the fabric is now is NOT the color it will be once you wash and dry it. It will be a lighter shade - perhaps even a MUCH lighter shade.


Rinsing is the most backbreaking part of the process, and it's kind of cold too since you have to rinse out each garment in cold water until it runs clear. This can be up to a half hour, depending on how much you are dying and what color you are using. (Red or colors containing red are the worst).


Then it's time to throw your pieces into the washing machine and wash them out! Follow the Dharma instructions for temperatures. (I handwash mine sometimes. That works too.)



And then, at long last, you have your new clothes! As you can see, the socks didn't take color at all, and the blouse and skirt remained light. The blouse definitely shifted from gray to lavender, and the skirt is a darker purple,but not as dark as I hoped for. Another round is due eventually!

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