Fabric dying is a lost art. We don’t depend on this skill any longer for our clothing, because it costs much less to just buy your clothes already made. Although in the past, sewing and working with fabric was a skill that was required and passed down from generation to generation. As a homemaker you needed to be good with your hands, as your family depended upon it.
In the past everything from onions, to coffee was used to dye fabric. In this process of using organic materials was easier than you think. Food was chopped up into tiny pieces, where in a 2:1 ratio of water to food was boiled in a pot. The mixture was boiled for approximately an hour. The food was strained out, and the liquid was returned to the pot. Salt and vinegar was added, and pre-soaked fabric was added to the dye for up to an hour and a half. The fabric was washed in cold water, and detergent twice, and hung to dry, or laid flat. Onion skins, strawberries, cherries, lavender, cabbage, flowers, beets and all sorts of berries were used for dye.
Ruth at Twenty First Century Lady Blog, put together a fantastic post in which she experimented with small fabric samples and natural garden vegetables used as dyes. The results were absolutely beautiful. Who knew turmeric could produce such a lovely shade of yellow, and red cabbage a shade of lilac?
Tumeric has become one of my favorite colors, after looking at many of the natural dyes. Heidi, over at Elegance and Elephants gives us a formula to work with. With only 1 tablespoon of tumeric, and 8 cups of water, you can easily produce a vibrant shade of yellow. She used coffee and tumeric to make a beautiful dress for her daughter.
Jen from Hey Jen Renee blog experimented with dying wool yarn with Kool-Aid, and the results turned out quite saturated. She tried a number of flavors such as black-cherry, lemon-lime, strawberry, orange, grape, pink lemonade, and yellow lemonade. She noticed that wool works best for dyeing; other fibers won’t take dye well. She simply poured the packet of juice mix into individual bowls, and added warm water. She put each bowl in the microwave for two minutes to set the dye, with the yarn still in it, and after most of the water was absorbed, she rinsed it with warm water. She then hung it on a rack to dry.
Jessica Jones at She Knows created a botanical print that was produced using leaves collected from the yard and the sun. Inkodye, which is a new, water-based dye that produces permanent color on natural materials like wood and cotton. Areas shielded from the sun remain uncolored. Areas of the fabric which have the dye when exposed to light, changed gradually within 5 minutes. Her finished print was used for upholstery for an accent chair.
My Experience Dying Fabric
In the past I have dyed everything from lamp shades, clothing, drapery, and upholstery fabric. Some projects turned out fantastic, while others had blotchy stain marks from the dye, which had to be thrown out. There is no doubt that dying fabric is an art that takes practice. With larger pieces of fabric, dying can become more complicated than small swatches.
Before coming to the States, I mostly used Rit dye. This was one of the few products I had access to before learning about ebay and all the other products that are available online now.
Dylon Dyes have been around for a number years, and contain a number of lovely shades to pick from. The color I was most attracted to was China Blue, which was used to dye a heavy piece of duck canvas fabric shown in the first picture. Other Dylon Shades include Amazon Green , Goldfish Orange, Tropical Green, Navy, Olive, Poppy Red, Ocean Blue, Sunflower Yellow, and Turqouise
When we moved into our home, I had a bunch of lamp parts, and dozens of lampshades that I purchased before our move, so I decided to make my own set of lamps out of the parts I had left over. I also had a set of 4 accordion plain white shades that I bought from Ikea. I loved the accordion pleats, but wanted something more vibrant for the shade of my lamp. Rather than just settle for white, I wanted to experiment with a shade of green. I figured as long as they went with my mint walls, I would be happy what ever I got as a result.
I started out using 5 gallon buckets, which I submerged each lamp shade into. I let them sit for several hours, pulled them out, and let them air dry.
Along the way, I stumbled into problems is where I needed more dye. As I reached the last lampshade it was significantly lighter in color than the three shades.
What end up happening was as each lamp sat in the dye, a little more dye was removed from the pail. I had to then figure out, or just randomly guess how much more dye to add to the existing water. If I was smarter, perhaps I would have started out with 4 buckets of dye, and pulled out all the lamp shades at the same time.
So instead of ordering in more dye, or making the long drive to the craft store, I used some Rid dye that I had, and painted the dye on to the shades. That idea didn’t turn out well. What happened is the dye ran down the shade, and didn’t dye the fabric evenly.
I ended up soaking them in water diluted bleach, and started again from scratch.
The second time around, the shades took the dye nicely, I just had to have more dye on hand. When I first submerged the lampshades into the pail of water, I left them for a couple hours. After I was happy with the color, I took an old black towel, and let them air dry in our garage. I found as the lampshades dried, the color wasn’t dark enough, so I soaked them for another full day. In the end, all the lampshades matched up quite well, and I really love the color. Not all lamp shades will take dye correctly. It really depends on the material on the shade. Natural cotton, or linen usually takes dye quite nicely. As you can see, it is an inexpensive way to update a lampshade.
A Couple Things I have Learned From Dying Clothing…….
Dye Clothing In A Washing Matchine– Dying large pieces of fabric can work out nicely in the washing machine. A girlfriend of mine alters large scale drop cloths with a tint of green /gray dye in the washing machine and uses them for her upholstery. In fact, I have used drop cloths as drapes, as they are heavy and thick. Add a nice pinched pleat at the top and you have a good looking heavy drape that looks all natural.
Now that we have a front loader in our new home, I haven’t tried this technique yet. The beauty of the older machines is you could stop them half way through the cycle, and let the dye penetrate the fabric. You could turn it on in, to move the fabric around, and turn off the cycles for as long as you need. In addition, cleaning the old machines was a lot easier, than all the plastic components that come with the newer machines. Fabric dye will dye the plastic parts of the machine, and it is hard to remove it, without the massive fumes of using bleach.
When hand dying fabric , you want your fabric to have the freedom to move around in the water, and with a washing machine, moving the fabric around gives an even finish. This is especially the case for large fabric pieces.
You can buy a large tub, or a large plastic garbage can that will allow you to dye larger pieces of fabric. You just need to remember that if you don’t move your fabric around, the overall dye finish will look blotched or uneven.
Clean Your Machines With Bleach And A Load Of Used Towels- After using the washing machine for dying fabric, be sure to run a load with bleach with a load of towels that can collect any extra dye. The last thing you want is your husband to come down with a load of whites afterwards. You can also maintain your front loader by buying professional washing cleaner available on Amazon
– Fabric Needs To Be Moving In Order For An Even Dye Job– You need a large container which your fabrics can have enough room to be moving around in. Less fabrics in the tub the better. Folds happen when your fabric doesn’t have enough room to move around in the water. I have learned over the years with dying fabric, that you need to be there turning and stirring the fabric until the color sets, otherwise, the overall dye will be blotchy.
– Warm Water, NOT Hot Water, Works The Best- I really don’t know why it is, but it sets the dye nicer than cold water. When I first stumbled upon this fact, I figured if I used the stove and made the water boiling, it would set up faster. In fact, it only scorched the fabric with lots of the dye in areas that were submerged first, than evenly all over. You have no idea how many pieces of fabric I have thrown away!
– Forget About Dying Jeans I love how dark jeans can look, and in the past I have taken my old jeans hoping to darken them up. I must have tried about 10 pairs over the years, and with the money I spent on dye, I could have bought a brand new pair. Some pairs of jeans turned a horrible blue, while others didn’t make one bit of difference. In our old condo, I laid out saturated dyed jeans in our sun room for days hoping for the color to soak in darker, but this didn’t help what so ever. Spend the money on the right pair, than fixing up old jeans.
-Adding Salt To Your Dye Can Set The Color Better– Dissolve salt with boiling water first in a glass container, and then add the mixture into your luke warm water. Don’t just add the salt to the dye mixture without making sure the salt has dissolved before adding it. Be sure to mix your dye in a separate container before adding it to your buckets of water. The crystals in Rit dye, or any dye for that matter need to be dissolved in boiling water first, otherwise you will end up with specks of saturated color on your fabric. Stir the dye around in a glass before pouring it into your container. In the past, many items would come out with specks because I simply didn’t know.
– Be Careful When Opening A Package Of Rit Crystal Dye– I have learned to open the packages WITH GLOVES outside, not in my house. I have a measuring cup of boiling water, and I bring out a plastic bag which I can throw away the package and the box of dye. The box of dye, along with the package often contains small air fragments of dye that get everywhere. This has stained my tub in the past, and counter tops. Be sure to wear gloves. Elbow high gloves that you clean your oven with work fantastic.
-Don’t Even Think About Dying Fabric In Your Bathroom Tub! – Years ago, I experimented dying fabrics in my bathtub in an rental, and it may have permanently stained the tub if I didn’t scrub my hardest to remove the stains. This is especially true if your tub’s enamel has been worn away. Purchase a large container that can be used over and over again. I cringe to think of the many times I have taken AJAX to the tub frantically scrubbing. It simply isn’t worth it. Spend the money on a tub.
– With Each Fabric That You Submerge, The Overall Dye Color Will Be Less Saturated– You may start out with a cobalt blue, and end up with a sky blue after several fabrics have been in the water. Keep this in mind.
– If You Are Working With Multiple Fabrics, Have An Extra Tub As A Waiting Area For Finished Fabrics. – In the past if I was dying multiple items, I would have a washing machine filled up with cold water which my rinsed fabrics could sit in until the whole load of fabrics were complete. The last thing you want to do is finish dying a fabric, and then lay it crumpled in a ball. Any left over dye that isn’t rinsed will create fold lines. I found using a washing machine filled and standing is the best way to store fabrics until the entire lot is completed. This has been more complicated for me, since buying a front loader.
– If You Don’t Like The Color, Run It Through A Cycle Of Bleach– If a piece of fabric was dyed badly, don’t fret, running it through a cycle of bleach will fix any mistakes. The bleach will even out the dye on the fabric. It will be a lighter shade, but it allows you a workable canvas to re-dye or leave as a lighter tone.
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