Have you tried dyeing fabric?

I (finally) have, and of course it was for a big project that I absolutely could not mess up on!
(Disclaimer: I did have a budget set aside for fabric just in case I did ruin it somehow.)

So, quite a few years ago I purchased 10 yards of a “french brey” (blue-grey) in a 3 dimensional stripe on Ebay. When it arrived, it was more of a pastel than it had looked in the pictures, and so it sat.  Based on the inspiration for my Teslacon dress, as mentioned in an earlier post , I thought I could have a use for a monochromatic stripe, if only it were a different color.  I could dye it (in theory), but I wasn’t sure of the fabric content.  A cotton blend… that’s what I remembered, and what a “burn test” indicated.

For those first entering this area: the fiber content of your fabric will determine what type of dye you’ll use & how well it will work.
*Natural fibers generally take dye more easily-  it soaks into the fibers. The most common natural fibers include cotton, wool, linen, bamboo and (surprisingly) rayon. Rayon is a reprocessed cellulose fiber (wood) so it takes dye as well as cotton. *However* it requires careful handling; when it’s wet it is very vulnerable to tearing and abrading.
*Synthetic fibers are generally more difficult to dye because the dye must stain the surface of the fibers. The most common synthetic dyes are polyester, nylon, spandex and acrylic.  dye baths with dyes for synthetic fibers (like iDye Poly) may require the fabric to be boiled with the dye.  This is why it’s important to know your fiber content- some fabrics would be completely ruined if you tried boiling them, and some will barely be affected by a dye not made for their fiber content. (You definitely don’t want to spend $50 on deep purple dye to end up with pale lilac colored fabric!)

So, once you know what type of fabric you have (if you buy it at the fabric store, write down the information on the bolt for later reference) and what dye you’ll use, you need to figure out *how much* dye to use to get the color you want on your fabric. This is sometimes referred to as a recipe. RIT29L_1

RIT Dye (disclaimer: I am not affiliated with nor receiving compensation from any company, website or product mentioned in this post) has a pretty extensive chart of formulas listing combinations and color results.
Generally, dyeing natural fiber fabric requires adding dye and salt to hot water, wetting your fabric thoroughly, immersing it in the dye bath and stirring it constantly for at least 45 minutes to two hours… the longer it soaks, the more vibrant your color will be.

I did 3 tests with squares of fabric in a cup of hot water, varying amounts of dye, and using my Kitchen Aid to mix it for an hour.  kitchenaid_standMixer

* SALT. Salt will help your fabric to accept the dye more easily. General consensus is 1 cup of salt per gallon of water.
I ended up with three swatches which gave me a pretty good idea of what my baseline results would be.

My burn tests indicated that there was a higher cotton content in the raised fuzzy stripes than in the background weave, so the stripes absorbed a little more of the dye.  The fabric would be slightly two-toned, but still monochromatic. My hope was that this would lend some depth to the color & actually be a good thing.

I did my research on how to dye large amounts of fabric:
* In large plastic bins
* In stationary tubs
* In washing machines

rpms++4-17-2012-14-43-17I chose to dye the fabric in 2 bunches in the stationary tub in my basement. Why two bunches? I read that if the fabric is cramped & doesn’t have the room to move freely as you stir, you can end up with uneven spots.  Because there was so much fabric, I pre-washed my fabric (you should always wash it to remove any sizing left from the manufacturer that could affect the dye, but also so that any shrinking is done *before* you cut out your pattern pieces) and cut out the pattern pieces before dyeing.  The result is less fabric to dye, but I’ll add a note here that, if your fabric frays a great deal, you’ll want to serge or zig-zag the edges of those cut pieces so you don’t lose your seam allowances during the whole dyeing and drying process.

For my outfit, the skirt of course included much more material than the jacket- and my dye amount calculations were based on fabric weight- so I put the center skirt pattern piece in with the jacket to even out the weight between the two batches.
*Note*You know, this makes less sense every time I go over it.  Benefit from my mistakes: If at all possible, do all your fabric in one load. You’ll be greatly reducing the risk of batches with slightly different colors.  As long as you keep the fabric moving around in the dye bath, it will be even. 

I used liquid dye to avoid the chance of powdered granules not dissolving, although I really have no idea if that is usually a problem with powders, but I had put so much time and effort into it already…

Some things to know:
– You need to wet your fabric thoroughly before putting it into the dye bath
– You need to use the hottest water you can get out of your tap- I turned the water heater up for several hours before starting, just so I could get more heat.
This also helps the salt dissolve into the water.

– You NEED to keep your fabric moving during that 1-2 hour stirring session. I turned on a movie & kept the fabric going with a long wooden spoon.
– You need heavy vinyl/rubber gloves. The dye will stain your hands faster than cotton!
– You need to rinse the dye out of your fabric at the end of the dye bath until it runs clear, or very close to clear. This WILL take a long time, but you don’t want your fabric staining other clothing or your skin the first time you wear it.


And resist the urge to toss in that last bit of dye in the bottle because you don’t want to waste it, or because this load is a little bit bigger, or for whatever reason; if you did your calculations the dye amount you use should be correct & more dye will just alter your results. That was my skirt load, which really wouldn’t matter except for the fact that my center skirt panel was actually in the other, lighter jacket load. Whoops.

So, I’m sure I’m being oversensitive to the color difference but I could just kick myself for not just doing one load, or keeping all the skirt pieces together. Other than that, it turned out beautifully, even and ever so slightly two-toned between the stripes.  I made a slight redesign on the front of the skirt to minimize the color difference, and it actually solves a design issue I was struggling with.

Final fabric results, before and after with the pale yellow silk that will be the accent color.

This will be my Teslacon dress

Before and after- from grey to deep blue.

* One more note: On using washing machines to dye fabric. If you’d like to use a wash machine you’ll have to be present to continually reset it to the agitation mode- you don’t want it going to “rinse cycle” after 20 minutes! You may need to scrub/bleach the inside of your machine afterwards as well.

Any questions?

In my next post We’ll start putting together the jacket & looking at flatting, linings and handmade piping!