Dyeing 101: Not

Dyeing 101 instructions.

1. Use fresh dye solutions. When the label on the solution says Mar 26, 2007, and it’s March 28, 2010, throw it away — or adjust your expectations.

Don’t ask how old the dye powder, which went into making up the solution, was on March 26, 2007; it will just discourage you.

But if you happen to have a dye fridge full of old solutions, and you aren’t very fussy about the results, knowing that you can either start over, over-dye, or over-paint, well then,

2. Use up the old dye solutions.

The thing about dye solutions is they always look brilliantly dark when first applied:

This is what Pro Chem (or maybe Dharma) calls “Forest Green” and it looked very good applied generously in a leafy pattern. Then I applied “Emerald” (rather bluish) and “Olive” (yellow and black undertones) and “Golden Yellow,” of which I only had a bit, so I threw some “Ivory”:

The results, after setting and washing out, were, as I rather expected, anemic.

However, the color will do very well for my purposes, particularly as I think I’ll be overpainting it with some Setacolor fabric paints (also old, but acrylic based, so not so fleeting.) It will also have a lot of imagery painted and appliqued over it, so the bits that show could be charming. I have learned from painting with oils and acrylics that starting with a base color or colors allows for much richer results — less sharp, perhaps, but having more depth and potential for unusual effects. Painterly, if you will….

And I remember now what a love-hate relationship I have with dyeing large batches of fabric. The hate comes with the sheer physicality of the work, not enhanced by the necessity to lug stuff to the studio outside because the basement is the staging area for the bathroom renovators‘ equipment and materials. And then to lug the dye-dripping fabric and plastic back to the muck-out sink and washer in the basement.

The love is how I felt when I woke up thinking about pulling the clean wet fabric out of the washer and seeing how the dye spread itself organically, and discovering how the colors combined and mixed. Even anemic bits are pure pleasure. The dye “took” well, if in a subdued fashion, and came through the iron-while-wet test with no trouble. I will probably over-glaze it with a UV medium to preserve the color that’s there, since I suspect it might have a tendency to fade. And of course, I’ll be over-painting most of it anyway.

Now all I have to do is dry the big plastic sheets used for the dyeing — the basement clothesline is lost over the saws and generator and shop vac, so it’s the textile studio (AKA the living room) that gets the wettish plastic. It’s a good thing we have no couch.

For the curious among you, I was using Ann Johnston’s Color by Accident. The dye solution was from her dye painting recipe (in the index pages) without the thickener; I’m sure she doesn’t recommend holding the solution for 3 years. I also learned in the process that any dyes that had red in them were definitively unusable after 3 years. In fact, all that old dye is now gone — while I was happy to make use of some of it, it had truly outlasted its virtues.

Textile art, or at least my kind of textile art, requires a lot of steps, but some of it, like dyeing the fabric, is so much fun that I might have to do more — next year, after I get my basement back. After I get this piece finished. After I forget how much I hate the mess. –June

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2 Responses to Dyeing 101: Not

  1. June says:

    I think the dye powder lasts a very long time indeed, particularly if it’s kept in a cool dry place. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I don’t try to replicate results, ever, and if something is wan and pale, there’s always a chance to try again. Nothing that I do with paint looks like low-water dyed fabric, not even the soy painting. I’ve tried with oils and acrylics and watercolors, but the organic mingling of color is unique with the dyes. And so — I pursue, even when I think it’s a bit crazed.

    And yes, the waste not is what got me to try those 3 year old solutions. But I did throw out the reds — and the blacks which contain a great deal of red.


  2. Sheila says:

    Yes, the darker more intense version would have been stunning, but I like this version too. I don’t have any old dye solution hanging around, but I do have a bit of Prochem indigo dye powder I’ve been hauling around with me for 10 years. I know it will color the fabric at least a little, if I ever get organized enough to get out the rest of my dyeing supplies, and so can’t bring myself to toss it. That “waste not, want not” depression era mentality my parents instilled in me. It’s that adjustment of expectations that allows “failure” to be “success.”

    Looking forward to seeing where this piece goes…


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