Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dyeing at Home: Palliative Care for Fabric

Let me show you my little set up for dying at home. I use Procion MX dyes. They are cold water dyes that use salt and soda ash in the process.  I got them locally here in Vancouver, BC, at Maiwa on Granville Island.  I'm pretty much following Malka Dubrawsky's instructions from her book and workshop.  Check out her great book "Color Your Cloth: A Quilter's Guide to Dyeing and Patterning Fabric" for her complete instructions and great project ideas.

First there's the waxing.  I had started outside on the colonnade, then I moved into the kitchen under the stairs beside the hot water tank to be closer to the sink and less cold.  I use Kona PFD (prepared for dyeing) fabric.
You can see the electric frying pan with the melted wax, my potato masher stamp and the fabric pinned over a cardboard box.  Since it's a big box, I keep the rest of the potato mashers and cardboard stamps in it.

Then the table gets set up for dying.  The cooled wax in the electric fry pan goes into the box and slid under the table and the dye vats (by Rubber Maid) come out.  This one has about 2 yards of waxed fabric soaking up the grey dye before the soda ash gets added.  The soda ash has been dissolved in that container with the blue spoon in it.
 Here's a turquoise vat getting fixed for a couple hours after the soda ash has been added.
Then the fabric is rinsed well until the water runs pretty clear, then hung up on a curtain rod in the hall at the top of the stairs.  I put plastic sheeting on the floor and up the wall to the rod height and an old towel on the floor to catch the drips. There seems to be great air flow up the stairs because the fabric is dry in 90 minutes.
Here's the grey ones drying
Next I waxed what I wanted to keep grey, then discharged most of the grey out of the rest of the fabric so that the red dye that I did next would be bright.  If I hadn't discharged, the red over the grey would have created a very dark maroonish colour and I wanted bright red.
Then I boil the finished fabric in a big pot for an hour, then let it cool outside so that the wax floats to the surface and solidifies.  I pull the wax off the top of the pot and give the fabric a quick last rinse and hang it up again to dry.  Here's the finished red and grey fabric.  I made 4 16 inch strips that all coordinate.  On these I stamped them with: a cardboard diamond stamp, a potato masher, a paint brush, and sun glass frames.
Here's a shot of the discharging process.  The two vats are diluted bleach and diluted vinegar. You soak and agitate the fabric moving it from one bath to the other bath.  The star fabric was all royal blue and the blue discharges almost completely.  Here it's just a light grey and once it dried it was hardly coloured at all.  The yellow does not discharge much at all.
Red discharges a bit and is quite slow.  Turquoise discharges very slow, and ends up a light light-blue.  Brown discharges to orange, which makes sense as it's the red and yellow in it that stay.  I made a nice dark plum colour with red and royal blue and it discharged to red, the blue almost completely came out.

So the process is pretty much Wax, Dye, Discharge, Repeat, then Boil out the wax.  The discharge is an optional step, but without it, you'll have to always dye from light to dark and the second colour will usually be a mix of your first and second colours.  For example red after yellow will be orange, blue after yellow will be green.

The fabric that I used three colours on usually didn't turn out that great.  They end up dark and muddy.  Two colours and one discharge give you great results and that limitation actually makes me more creative and gets me thinking about what will work out and look great.  


  1. Wow....that's quite the set up you've got going there.

  2. Paul, all the fabrics look great.

  3. thanks for all of this info Paul - I really have got to do some playing!