After my unplanned and extended blogging sabbatical, I’m back (!), with a fabulous new project: Dyeing! Yes, you’re right, I’ve written about dyeing my jeans, among other things, but at the risk of using Famous Last Words… this time it’s different.
Aside: Ironically, following my last post (In Re-Covery: The Great Pillow Makeover!), I spent the next several weeks slowly recovering from a serious illness. For a while, I couldn’t even read, let alone write, but when I could, I started studying about the dyeing process, which progressed rapidly into actual experiments, to the extent that I now resemble not so much a color enthusiast as a mad scientist. Think Pantone inadvertently wanders into Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. End of aside.
How, you ask, is it different? Primarily because now, instead of simply dumping a box of dye into the sink and throwing my hapless jeans into it along with a cavalier, come-what-may attitude, I’ve actually taken some time to learn about the dyeing process. (Great concept, right?) And I think it’s about time I pass what I’m learning on to you, particularly because, as long as I’ve worked with fibers, fabrics, yarns, and colors, most of what I will be sharing with you here is, quite surprisingly, new information to me.
Going back to the beginning of my learning process (less than 4 weeks ago!), the first revelation was about the different types of dyes, and what each type is used for, thus:
- Acid dyes
- Fiber-reactive dyes
- Natural dyes
- Union dyes
Note: There are other dye types out there, such as a specialized formula that’s used for leather and other skins, but for now, I’m just going to focus on these 4, since they’re the most widely available for the casual user, and also the most commonly used for fibers, fabrics, clothing, and accessories.
Here are brief summaries what I’ve learned about these four dye types:
- Acid dyes. Contrary to what this term conjures up (nightmare visions of caustic chemicals burning skin off my hands, but maybe that’s just me), these dyes do not actually contain acid; acid, usually in the form of either vinegar or citric acid, is added during the dyeing process, which causes the pigment (color) to bond with the fiber. (Also contrary to the implied harshness: when I’ve tested my dye mixtures with pH test strips, I’ve found that they are not any more acidic than your average vinaigrette. Which we eat.) Acid dyes are used to dye protein fibers (animal fibers: wool, alpaca, silk, mohair, angora, camel hair, etc.) and somewhat surprisingly, nylon.
- Fiber-reactive dyes. Unlike acid dyes, these dyes require alkalinity to bond pigment to fiber; soda ash is commonly added to the dye bath to accomplish this part of the process. Fiber-reactive dyes are used for plant-based fibers (cotton, linen, rayon, bamboo, etc.).
- Natural dyes. Despite the rather benign association we have with the word “natural”, what I’ve read about using natural dyes is that, while the material used for the color (flowers, roots, etc.) may not be harmful in itself, the dyeing process requires use of mordants, which are the fixatives that bond the color to the fiber— and many commonly-used mordants have been taken off the market because of unacceptable toxicity levels. Natural dyes can be used with a wide variety of animal-based and plant-based fibers; the mordants required will vary depending on the fiber.
- Union dyes. Rit dyes, along with others commonly found in craft stores these days, are usually union dyes; the term refers to the dye formula containing both acid and fiber-reactive pigments, so you can successfully dye either animal-based or plant-based fibers (or both at the same time); however, if you’re dyeing, say, cotton jeans, the fiber-reactive part of a union dye is the only part that will bond with the cotton fiber, leaving a lot of leftover dye.
Please understand that I’m not trying to encourage or discourage using any of the above types of dyes; I’m simply pointing out that, in order to make an informed decision about what type is appropriate, it’s good to know not only the uses for each, but also the advantages and disadvantages of each. I could probably fill a year’s worth of blog posts just exploring these areas in more depth, relative to all of these four dye types, but for now, I’m going to concentrate on acid dyes***, since that’s what I’ve been using up to this point.
Next time, I’ll plunge into the exciting world o’ color, with maybe a little basic color theory, more about the acid-dye process, and a lot of pretty pictures. Oh, speaking of which, here’s a look at the results of my very first day of dyeing, including lots of mini-skeins, and a few full-size ones:
Coming up on CYC: Because this has become an ongoing research project, you can expect many more posts on the general topic of dyeing here at Changing Your Clothes (and you can also find these posts and much more on my color-centric blog, a Musing). I do think this subject is relevant to CYC, since dyeing is one of the simplest ways to change your clothes. And it certainly can’t hurt to learn more about how your clothes (and the yarns, fabrics, etc., thereof) are produced.
Also, I think I should tell you that the aforementioned future CYC dyeing-related posts will most likely be heavy on the puns. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
*This lovely mohair/wool/nylon yarn is available (undyed) at Dharma Trading Company. (The link will take you to the listings of all their undyed yarns; this mohair is Yarn #6 Toaga. As of 2/13/14, it says it is temporarily sold out.)
**The Superwash wool yarn I’m using for my mini-skeins is also available (undyed) at Dharma Trading Company. (The link will take you to the listings of all their undyed yarns; this wool is Yarn #39 Kona Worsted.)
***The acid dyes I’m using are also from Dharma Trading Company, their own brand of dyes; their extensive selection also includes other brands. (The link will take you to the page for Dharma’s acid dyes.)