Like many of you, when I began working with fabric I used printed commercial fabric. As my vision grew in regards to what I wanted to do with fabric, I realized I wanted to learn to hand dye my own fabric and my search began.
I own and have read many books on the topic but after experimenting with many processes I have settled on one that suits me and gives me great results. This process uses many standard mixes and processes but perhaps not in the exact way that you will find in print.
My Process and Materials
Kaufman Prima Cotton fabric - Kaufman no longer manufactures this fabric so I'll be fabric shopping soon. You will want to purchase 100 percent cotton fabric which is PFD which means it has no surface treatments such as permanent press. Scour the fabric by washing it in hot water with 1 tsp synthrapol and a 1/2 tsp of soda ask. You can was several yards at a time.
Soda Solution - A mix of 1 gallon warm water and 9 Tbs of soda ash. Place this in a bucket with a lid as it will keep and be used many times.
Dye Concentrate - 1 Cup Warm Water + 2 -4 Tbs Granular Urea + 2 Tbs Dye Powder (double this for Black) Make your concentrates and store in plastic bottles. Unused concentrates can be kept in the fridge for sometime before it loses it's potency.
Chemical Water - 1 cup warm water + 7 tsp urea. Place this in a plastic container. It also can be kept and used as needed and it is not necessary to refrigerate.
Dye Solutions - I am not going to cover exact dye mixes here - but using your dye concentrate and chemical water you make the quantity of dye solution you need for each piece of fabric you plan to dye. Example: 1/2 C dye concentrate + 1/2 C Chemical Water = 1 Cup dye solution for 1 yard of soda soaked fabric.
Painters Plastic Pail + 1 Baggie per piece of fabric you will be dying
Scour the fabric and then immerse it in a bucket of Soda Solution to soak for a minimum of 10 minutes. When it has soaked, remove from the soda solution and squeeze most of the liquid out of the fabric. Place the fabric in a small holding pail.
Prepare enough dye solution for each piece you will be dying. Each will be in it's own small container.
Using a 3 gallon container, place the fabric loosely in the bottom.(remember, the fabric has already had most of the soda solution squeezed out) Pour the selected dye solution directly onto the fabric and squeeze, swab, press, swirl, etc. the fabric in the dye solution. This is not a gentle swishing of the fabric, it is a workout on the fabric to make sure the dye gets into the fabric.
When you have really worked the dye into the fabric, squeeze most of the dye out of the fabric and place the piece into one of the baggies and then into one of the pails. The pail is placed outside in the sun to batch. If it isn't sunny, put the fabric in the bag without the pail in a heat box which consist of a 30 gallon storage container with a lid and a 60 watt light bulb inside the box. The fabric is allowed to cure for at least 24 hours.
When the fabric has cured, give it a rigorous hand washing in cold water and synthrapol and then hot water and synthrapol until the run-off is mostly clear. The fabric is then washed in hot water in the washing machine.
This process does not produce perfectly flat color. There will often be dark areas but it does eliminate heavy texture. Some dye colors are more prone to making the dark areas than others.
I do not know Ann Johnston but I recommend her two books on dying. The information is very clear and in both books she presents many options for dying fabric.
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