Monthly Archives: September 2014

What dye can I use for airbrushing handmade wool teddy bears?

Name: Heidi
Country or region: South Africa
Message: Hi Paula :)
I would really appreciate some help with a project I am working on please. I am knitting (and felting) artist teddy bears (made from pure non-superwash merino wool). I would like to know if there is a thin dye that I can use to airbrush parts of the bears? I cannot heat set it, so it would need to be set in some other way. The process is to make the bear, then felt it in the washing machine and dryer, then sculpt the eye sockets etc, then airbrush, then add eyes and other bits. So basically, the airbrushing takes place when the bear is completely dry after felting. I am also hoping to use this technique for non felted bears (simply knitted). I have considered a permanent fabric pen but I don’t know if these are really permanent or if they will run if the bear gets wet. Thank you for your time and help :)

Hi Heidi,

What you want is not, in fact, a dye, but instead a very thin fabric paint. These can be used without simmering in water, which seems important for your method. Remazol dyes, which are available in South Africa from Melanie Brummer, work well on wool, but the process of setting hand-painted dyes on wool is more complex, as it requires moist heat. Fabric paints will be permanent if you follow the manufacturers’ instructions. You can thin the fabric paint with water, but dilute it no more than the manufacturer says to; for even more thinner colors, you can dilute a fabric paint with a transparent medium sold in the same line of fabric paints. Some fabric paints need to be set with dry heat, using an iron or a heat gun (which is like a hair dryer without the fan), or a commercial clothes dryer, while others are permanent without heat-setting; again, check the manufacturer’s instructions.

For example, Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow fabric paint, which has been created to be thin enough to simulate the effect of dye, can be used for air-brushing fabric. Add up to 25% the volume of water to thin it; for thinner colors that still have enough binder to be permanent, dilute with any quantity of Jacquard Colorless Extender. To avoid the heat-setting step that this paint otherwise requires, buy Jacquard Airfix, which contains an acrylic catalyst that can be mixed into fabric paints before use so that they do not need to be heat-fixed.

There are many brands of airbrush inks that will work on fabric. Jacquard Airbrush Paints are made by the same manufacturer as the Dye-Na-Flow paints I described above. Again, they either require Air Fix to be mixed in before use, or a heat gun to set the paint. Dr. Ph. Martin’s Spectralite is used with a catalyst similar in function to Jacquard Airfix, called Dr. Ph. Martin’s Spectralite Catalyst; it can also be used with a Heat Set additive, but if used without either additive will not be permanent on fabric that is washed. If you cannot find any of these paints locally, they can be ordered online from Dharma Trading Company in the US.

Fabric markers will work well for your purposes, and many of them require no heat-setting at all. Like airbrush inks and other thin fabric paints, they contain pigments, rather than dyes, mixed with a binder to hold the pigment to the fabric. They are usually thin enough to leave very little feel on the fabric. Practice on scrap material first to get a feeling for blending colors. Some brands are easier to blend than others. Be careful about buying a permanent marking pen which is marketed for use on materials other than fabric. For example, ordinary Sharpie permanent markers can be used to color fabric, but, whether they are heat-set or not, they tend to wash out of the fabric after only a few washings. For an item that will not be washed, they are adequately permanent. They do not run when fabric colored with them is dampened with water; the only problem is that they tend to gradually disappear when laundered repeatedly.

There are many brands of fabric markers which are very permanent on fabric, including a relatively new line of Sharpie brand fabric markers which I have not tried yet. Just make sure that the label of whatever marker you buy specifically says “permanent on fabric”. If your brand has “fabric” in the name, it should be fine. My favorite markers are the fat Marvy broad point fabric markers, because they produce bright long-lasting colors, and they do not tend to dry up in the drawer. They do not require heat setting. Many other brands of markers tend to dry out by the next year, no matter how tightly they have been capped.

Even though you will be probably buying your fabric markers locally, you might want to take a look at Dharma Trading Company’s page of Fabric Markers, just to get a look at a number of different brands and their whether they have any heat-setting requirements.

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How much Procion dye powder should I use to get the shades I want?

Name: Abbas
Country or region: India
Message: Hi Paula- Thanks for putting up so much information regarding dyeing on your website. I’m dyeing for the first time ever and have bought some dye powder (Procion M) in India- they don’t call it MX here – but maybe it’s the same thing- the lack of technical info here is so limited at dye shops that one wonders how anything is done with such lack of technical information- !

Anyway, I’m emailing you because I have no idea as to the amount of dye powder to use to get the shades I want- I took a picture of the shade that I bought in the Procion booklet and it had these %’s next to it- I couldn’t make sense of it. Would be great if you could give me some advice-

I don’t think you’ll have a problem, working with these dyes. Procion-type dyes are usually sold in standard concentrations, or with a notation that indicates how much more or less concentrated they are than the standard. Procion M dyes are the same as Procion MX dyes.

Take a look at my page, “How much Procion MX dye should I use?“. It discusses how much dye to use for solid-color dyeing, and how much dye to use for tie-dyeing. The general rule, as the subtitle for the page says, is to use more dye for darker colors, less for paler colors. You may need only one small spoonful of dye to color a pound of cotton fabric to a medium-light color, or twelve times as much to get a good rich dark black.

The percentages shown in your booklet indicate how many grams of dye you need to use for a certain weight of fabric or yarn. Weigh your fabric while it is dry. If you have 100 grams of fabric, and if the color chip is labeled as requiring 1% DOS (Depth of Shade) or OWG (On Weight of Goods), then you will need one gram of dye. (You can take DOS and OWG as meaning exactly the same thing.)

Whenever you see a percent sign, all you need to do is divide by 100. For 500 grams of fabric at a 2% DOS, you need 10 grams of dye. That’s 2 (the DOS) divided by 100 (for the percent sign), multiplied by 500 (for the number of grams of fabric). For 200 grams of fabric at a 2% DOS, you will need 4 grams of dye.

For example, look at the web pages where PRO Chemical & Dye, an excellent dye supplier in the US, shows their Procion MX type dyes, which they sell under the name PRO MX Reactive Dyes. Scroll down to the color chips on their first page of Procion dyes. If you click on a color chip, for example MX 108 Sun Yellow, they take you to a page which includes a note on what percentage of dye to use to get the same color intensity as the color chip, in this case 4.0% OWG. That is the same as using 4 grams of dye for 100 grams of fabric. One pound is the same weight as 454 grams, so, for one pound of fabric, you would need 4.0 divided by 100, times 454, or 18 grams.

Some of the dyes require larger amounts of dye powder for the indicated color, while others require less, depending on both the intensity of the color desired, and the density of that particular dye powder.

They also add that, for the dye powder that they supply, the volume of dye (in this case PRO MX Sun Yellow 108, or Yellow MX-8G) needed for that particular yellow is approximately 6 level teaspoons per pound of goods. One teaspoon equals 5 milliliters, so 6 level teaspoons is the same amount as 30 milliliters (or 30 cubic centimeters). This means that our 18 grams of this particular dye powder weighs 3 grams per teaspoon, or 0.6 grams per milliliter of dye powder.

Different lots of dye have different densities, though. Your dye powder might be denser, so that it weighs more per teaspoon, or it might be fluffier, so it weighs less. The dye strength is always standardized by weight, not by volume. When you want to precisely replicate what you see in a color chip, or to replicate a color you have made before, you will need to weigh your dye powder, instead of measuring it by the spoonful.

Do you have a scale that can measure 10 grams of dye? If you do not, you can measure by the spoonful and use trial and error to determine how much dye powder to use. Use the amounts specified by your booklet as a guide, but keep careful notes as to whether the color you achieved turned out as you planned, or whether it was more intense or less intense.

Note that Procion MX type dyes become weaker with time. They will usually stay good for at least one year after purchase, though sometimes they last for several years. As they become weaker, you have to use larger quantities of dye powder to get the same color. Protect your stored dye from air, moisture, and warmth.

Be sure to use fabric that is dyeable, either cellulose fibers, such as cotton or rayon, or protein fibers, such as silk. Do not try to dye polyester. Nylon should be dyed with other types of dye, as well, though there are ways to make this dye work on nylon. You will need a chemical that increases the pH, such as sodium carbonate (which is Na₂CO₃, sold as washing soda or as soda ash). You will need a pH around 10.5 to 11 to encourage the fabric to react with the dye.

Be careful not to breathe the dye powder, because it can cause allergies, which would prevent you from continuing to use the dye. Wear a dust mask while you are measuring out the powder, and keep the lids off the jars for as short a period of time as possible. Once the dyes are dissolved in water, you no longer need to wear the dust mask. Wear gloves to protect your hands from the dye and from the soda ash, which is irritating to the skin.

I hope you’ll let me know how it goes.

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