Gimmee a Reaction to this!

September 21, 2008 at 12:48 pm Leave a comment

Wool, silk, mohair, cashmere — all those lovely animal-based fibers are primarily made of proteins, and dye deliciously with acid dyes.  Not horrible nasty acids that burn and corrode, but milder everyday acids like vinegar and lemon juice.  Easter egg dye, powdered drink mix, food coloring — all are examples of acid dyes that work the same way that acid dyes for textiles work.  Now, we all know that these everyday kitchen colorings wash out of our cotton and linen dishtowels easily, but stain our hands (’cause we are biologically animals just like those fibers that dye with acid dyes).

So, if you’ve got cotton or another plant-based fiber and want to dye it, whatta ya gonna do?  The acid dyes will wash right out.  These plant, or cellulose-based fibers, call for a different solution.  These fibers require an alkaline environment for the proper chemical reactions resulting in permanent dyeing to occur.  They types of dyes used for these cellulose fibers are called FIBER REACTIVE dyes. 

A few years ago I was fortunate to stumble upon a source for 100% cotton children’s fabric remnants from a boutique line of children’s clothing (now defunct) that silkscreened their prints on the fabric, which was left white.  The white fabric could be dyed without effecting the colors in the printed designs.  You could even tie-dye it.  It was a lot of fun – my children got some unique home-sewn clothing out of it, and I also sold the fabric on ebay.  So I got a fair amount of experience dyeing fabric with fiber reactive dyes in the washing machine.  So, I recently decided to get those dyes back out and try my hand at handpainting some cotton yarn.

First, fiber reactive dyes need high alkalinity to react and become permanent with the fabric or yarn you are dyeing.  For this purpose, soda ash is added to the dyebath.  If you want a uniform color (as in most of the fabric yardage I used to dye), you add this after the fabric has absorbed the dye uniformly.  If you are tie-dyeing or handpainting something, you want the dye to immediately grab the color, and so you soak whatever you’re dyeing in the water/soda ash solution first.  That is what I did with my yarn.  I then squeezed out the extra water, laid the skeins out on plastic, and applied the colors with my trusty turkey-baster.  Then, to give the dyes time to react with the fiber, I wrapped it all up and set it aside overnight.

The next day I unwrapped the skeins, which looked perfect, and began to rinse out the excess dye.  The yarn should have taken up and reacted with most of the dye, but alas, I found that there was more dye to rinse out than I expected, and my final yarn was not as vivid as I hoped.  I did some more reading on the topic, and I discovered that soda ash, if not in a tightly sealed container, will absorb moisture from the air and lose effectiveness over time.  Aha – my soda ash was stored in a bag that was not well sealed — that would explain it!

I also found in my reading that the soda ash I bought through a dye supply house is chemically the same as PH-UP sold in pool supply stores – it’s sodium carbonate (not to be confused with sodium bicarbonate, which won’t work).  So, a trip to the pool supply store is in order before my next cotton dyeing day.  In the meantime, those first skeins, while not as vivid as I intended, aren’t half bad:

Don’t you think they would make pretty decent market bags?


Entry filed under: dyeing. Tags: , , , .

Maybe “Daily” was too ambitious… Milkweed!!

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