Thursday, 10 April 2014

Extra: Dying



Oh dear, I got side-tracked and I’ve been dying, which is not one of the tasks in the Embroidery Taster Module, but I am  so thrilled to be using some of ‘my’ threads’ in my Resolved Samples that I thought I would record what I’ve done!

It was all the fault of that stitching exhibition at the NEC, and chatting to one of the students from Kim Thittichai’s Experimental Textiles course, who assured me that dying small quantities of fabric and thread is dead simple, and not to bother with buckets and things, just use re-sealable plastic bags.

Anyway, I thought I would have a go, so I treated myself to Procion dyes (red, yellow, blue and black), as well as the necessary urea and soda ash, and I bought Calgon because we live in a hard water area, and Stergene (soap-free and detergent-free) to wash the fabric and threads.


Procion dyes
Soda Ash (or washing soda)
Calgon water softener
Stergene (soap-free, detergent-free washing liquid)
Pipettes or small spray bottles
Plastic dishes to mix dyes
Measuring spoons
Old scales
Washing up bowl (not to be used with food dishes!)
Brown bottles
Newspaper (lots – this was messy)
Vinyl Gloves (essential if you don’t want to dye your hands!)
Re-sealable plastic bags
Broken crochet hook (to mix dyes)
Face mask (on health & safety grounds one should use this, but I don’t have one)


Basically, I followed the instructions from Art Van Go (see attached sheet, together with Health and Safety Guidelines) but I used ordinary washing soda rather than soda ash, and used less dye than they suggested, because I was only dying a small quantity of fabric and threads, and I had no idea how strong the colours would be, especially as I as trying to use polythene bugs, rather than a bucket of water.

Once mixed, the ‘chemical water’ (water, urea and Calgon) and the washing soda solution were stored in brown plastic bottles (purloined from my husband’s beer making stuff!), securely stoppered, and clearly marked, so they couldn’t be drunk or used for anything else.

I used some of the white/cream/natural threads from the big bag of mixed yarns I raided for my ‘Stitchery from Rubbings Sample’ (Section 7), adding in a bit of raffia, some tubular knitting yarn, string, and some narrow strips of suede and a couple of pieces of material – scrim and silk to tear into stripes for embroidery, and cotton and calico, just to see what happened! 
In the beginning... To start with I had white threads...
The end result... Coloured threads!
Everything was washed first in the Stergene (to make sure it was clean, and to get rid of any stiffening or surface treatments) and rinsed well, then I dried them, but I could have dyed them without drying – in the end I damped it all down again because the colours seemed to merge and spread more effectively. I just shoved the materials and yarns into strong, re-sealable plastic bags (just a few things in each bag), and used pipettes to drop black, yellow and blue dyes in splodges over everything before sealing the tops of the bags Then I kept squishing, squashing and manipulating the contents. I left the bags standing in an empty ice cream container for 24 hours, but went back every so often to squidge everything around.

Finally, a good rinse, another Stergene wash, yet more rinsing, drying… And hey presto, fabrics and threads all ready for use, in pearly shades of grey and green!


This was fantastic – absolutely magical. Like everyone else my age, I’ve tie dyed T-shirts, with a plastic bucket and tin of Dylon, producing somewhat erratic results, but I’ve never done anything like this before, and I just love being able to use materials and threads where I’ve created the colours myself, so I’ll definitely be doing this again. I'm not sure if I've done everything correctly - all I had to go on were the instructions that came with the dyes, and what the woman at the NEC said, but it seems to have worked OK. And I read all the health and safety notes very carefully they were pretty scary), and stored everything I used in a labelled container in the utility room, and cleaned up very thoroughly. However, I didn't wear a face mask, because I don't have one. 


I wish I’d dyed more thread (I only used a little bit - I kept the rest for a rainy day), and I wish I’d used slightly stronger colours. I like what I’ve done, but I didn’t realise how much paler they would come up, especially after rinsing. And I wonder if I should have left them for longer than 24 hours, or put them in a warmer place. Also, next time I’ll keep a more detailed record of how much dye I use.

Bags of threads.

Dyed, but not rinsed, washed or dried. 

Silk and scrim, ready to be torn into strips for embroidering.

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