Wednesday, March 30, 2011

To dye another day

Today was dyeing day.  This is a day when I play with colour.

Someone asked me, why do I do these experiments with different techniques.  I do them as part of the art process.  I might not see the relevance of a particular texture or colour now, but the samples become a reference so that when I am working on a project, I can choose the technique that fits in with my theme or which makes most sense.  I suppose Icould go trawling the net for ideas, but this interrupts the creative process and nothing beats actually doing, seeing and feeling the end product myself.
Sometimes, an experiment with a technique will actually suggest a piece of work to me, so for me experimentation is the key.
Above are my basic tools.  Dye, Gloves, protective surface and dye.  I use Rit Dye because It is freely available and I loosely follow their low water immersion technique.
Here are a variety of fabrics, soaking in warm water prior to dyeing. They include hessian (the aqua fabric, also called burlap), scrim, cheesecloth, cotton and batting scraps (cotton and bamboo).
I use glass jars for my dyeing, these are around 500ml or 2 cups.  I use glass, because I find the microwave step tends to melt plastic, and glass washes clean after dyeing.
I am accurate in my measurements in that I only use a teaspoon of the dye powder in these jars.
I also usually start with the three primary colours, red, blue and yellow.  This is firstly, cheaper and secondly allows for more experimentation with blending. I have added about 200ml of boiling water to the jars above.
Here I have split each dye between two jars, so I have some left to mix together later.
Here I am adding scraps of batting to the three dye baths.  You can see that the colour is being taken up already.  I microwave on high for 1 to two minutes depending on how many jars I put in the microwave.  After microwaving, I use the tongs you see (the fabric is very hot and so is the jar) to squeeze excess dye out of the fabric, rinse under cold water till the water runs clear, then dry the fabric.
Here I am mixing up orange, green and purple.  Orange is 1 part red to at least three parts yellow.  Green is 1 part blue and two yellow and purple is 1 part red to three parts blue.  What I have found, is that the red is very strong, whilst the yellow is very weak, so be prepared for this.

And here is my basic colour wheel in batting.  I like to dye batting to use in machine embellishing.  It does not always take the dye evenly and this gives it depth.
Now, I am adding cotton fabric, scrunched up.
I don't mix the fabric around, but just let the dye soak up from the bottom, then microwave.  This leaves undyed areas that can be dyed over later.
In this picture, I am doing the same with scrim, which is very useful in embellished and stitched collages.  It has some transparency, but takes up dye well.
So that is the basic technique, except of course for rinsing, drying and pressing.
So let's have the eye candy.
 Cotton, loosely bunched, dyed with red.  You will find that even though the red is stronger, it is not as colour fast.  If you know anything about quilt history, you will know also that the fastness of red has always been an issue.
 A selection of batting scraps dyed with straight colours, except for the taupe one in the bottom left, which was spotted with many colours of dye, then microwaved.
 A selection of batting scraps dyed several times with green, yellow, and a mixture of red, blue and yellow which makes brown (diluted).  In the bottom right corner are lots of tiny scraps, I use these in landscapes as grass, and tree trunks etc.
 Cotton, dyed with blue, loosely scrunched.
 Scrim, double dyed with blue and purple
 Scrim, double dyed with blue and red.
 Synthietic curtain lace and binding strip, dyed with diluted orange.  Synthetics do not take up the dye well.  I treated this sample with alum when the dye was washed out.
 Batting scraps dyed with blue.  compare them with the original dark blue batting scrap at the bottom.  The dyebecome more dilute as you use it.
 Scrim, dyed with purple and green.
 Hessian, or burlap dyed with blue and red.
 Cotton dyed with purple and green (my favourite mixture) Theone on the right used a more dilute purple mixture.

 Cotton dyed with red and yellow.  Sometimes, when dyes mix together, the dye can precipitate out, creating specks on the fabric.  This is what made the brown spots.  They make a nice texture and make it look rusted.
The final, pastel sample is using leftover green, red and yellow, now very diluted.  It is not spectacular, but I can see it in some needleturn applique roses in the near future.

I hope you enjoyed my little dyeing escapade.  As usual, this experiment simply gave me more ideas for further experiment down the track and provided a large stash of fabrics to use in collage. 
My actual dyeing time was only a few hours, but all the photography took a long time and as usual I am late posting.  But it was worth it.

The creation of art is in our own hands.


  1. What a wonderful demonstration of the art of dyeing. Have you ever tried dyeing with natural dyes?

  2. Hi Vicki great tutorial on dyeing. I love hand dyes myself and have only done this 2x's and that was with a party of about 6 of us so we could all share the cost. But I will refer back to your post often thank you. And welcome to our new group.

  3. Thank you both. After doing all that dyeing I went shopping with some friends and bought some more! You just can't have too much fabric.

  4. I am glad to have another dyer in the group! I love to experiment too, I just wish I had more time for it. Now that the weather is starting to warm up here, the dyeing bug is sure to follow!

  5. Vicki, I have just discovered you blog. Have had my Rit dyes for a while now I might really get motivated to do some dyeing. Thank you for the instructions and inspiration. Jeann

  6. Vicki I just discovered your blog through Stitchin Fingers. I am referencing your article on using Ritz dyes in my blog


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