Daily Archives: July 18, 2014

Will a fabric reach a saturation point after which it cannot take any more dye, or any more dye of a given colour?

Name: Momoko
Country or region: Canada
Message: Hi Paula,

Your website is an amazing resource! Thank you so much for putting it together and sharing it.

I have a general question about fiber reactive dyeing, and a specific example in my current project: Will a fabric reach a certain saturation point after which it cannot take any more dye, or any more dye of a given colour? In other words, if I go through the dye cycle (apply dye, wash out, dry) several times, should the fabric get successively darker with each cycle, or does it max out at some point?

Right now, I’m trying to dye 100% cotton jersey to reach a rich emerald green. I’m using a mix of lemon yellow and turquoise (both pure colours from Dharma Trading). After one round of dyeing, I liked the turquoise-yellow balance, but wanted more saturation, so I repeated the process. In the second round, using the same colour ratio, only the yellow seemed to fix (the rinse water seemed to contain only turquoise), making the overall green more saturated but too yellow. So I did a third round, applying only pure turquoise, which has only barely nudged the green back to toward the bluish emerald I want, and only barely made it more saturated or darker. I still want to get more turquoise on there, but decided to seek advice before wasting more dye, soda ash and water. Has my fabric’s capacity to receive turquoise dye reached a maximum? (Also, I know turquoise fiber reactive dye is more finicky than other colours; would the situation be different for another pigment?)

Here are some additional details: I’m using the direct application method (soda ash soak, then applying concentrated dye, then letting sit in a ziploc for 24hrs, then washing in hot water). I’m following Dharma’s instructions for direct application tie dye for mixing chemicals and dyes, including urea. I don’t think my problem is a shortage of pigment, because there is a lot of excess colour in the rinse water. Ambient temperature is around 29C (summer in Montreal without AC). My dyes are about 10 months old. I think my process is generally ok, because the first round of dyeing gave a completely reasonable result in terms of saturation and turquoise-yellow balance. Really, I’m nitpicking to get a colour that’s more special (deep and glowing!) than what might be found in commercially dyed fabrics.

Thanks again for all of your time and work! I’d be very appreciative if you’d have time to consider and respond to my query.


Hi Momoko,

It is possible to max out the dye receptors on a piece of fabric, but I don’t think that’s your problem here.

It often happens that dyers max out the dye sites when working with a fine sheer silk, simply because there aren’t that many there to begin with, due to the thinness of the material. You may be able to get only two or three layers of color on a very thin fabric. However, an ordinary cotton jersey has a lot more dye receptors, due to the much greater thickness of the fabric. It can seem as though you’ve used up all the dye receptors, but then the process of washing out the excess dye and drying the fabric exposes more dye receptors, just due to the physical manipulation of the cellulose fibers in the cotton. Different bits of the cellulose fibers can be exposed to the surface. You should be able to get a difference in color for each of six rounds of dyeing, if not more.

The problem in your case, I think, is that turquoise is such a pure, clear color that you cannot get it much darker beyond a certain point. This does not mean that all of the dye receptors are used up, because if you choose a duller blue for your next round of dyeing, you will see that it find more dye receptor sites and produces a darker color. It is not because your turquoise is refusing to bond to the fabric–it sounds like you are doing everything right in that respect–it is because of the nature of the color itself. The same is true of a few other colors of Procion MX dye, as well. For example, lemon yellow (Procion Yellow MX-8G or C. I. reactive yellow 86) cannot be used to make a dark yellow color, no matter how many times you reapply it, and cherry red (Procion Rubine MX-B or C.I. reactive red 6) will always produce a clear pink, not a bright red. These colors have a distinctive spike in their color absorption spectra, absorbing only a narrow range of colors in the rainbow, whereas duller colors absorb light over a much wider section of the rainbow. With these dyes, adding more of the same color of dye does very little to intensify its color, after a certain point.

What I think you should do next, to get a deep glowing emerald green, is stop trying to add more turquoise (Procion Turquoise MX-G or C.I. reactive blue 140) and instead use cerulean blue (Procion Blue MX-G or C.I. reactive blue 163). This is a lovely pure blue that is toward the turquoise side, but it is less green than the turquoise dye. It tends to be more expensive than other Procion MX dyes, but it is such a worthwhile color that I think you need to acquire some. Other blues, such as Procion Blue MX-R (sky blue or basic blue) or Procion Blue MX-2G (cobalt blue or mixing blue), will also make the color bluer and darker, but, since they are duller colors in themselves, they will not produce as glowingly bright an emerald green.

If you haven’t already, take a look at my page detailing all of the different unmixed single-hue Procion MX dye colors, “Which Procion MX colors are pure, and which mixtures?“. Generally, these are the colors you want to consider when mixing your own dye colors; you will want to avoid using pre-mixed dye colors as mixing primaries. Not all of the unmixed dye colors are available from any one dye retailer, though many of them are available from multiple retailers, sold under different names. The chart lists the different names used by the most popular dye retailers for the same dyes.

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