At what point should I add the dye: to the cold water, or after the water is hot?

Name: Ann
Country or region: US
Message: Thank you for your wonderful website. I am going to attempt to dye a piece of beige wool fabric to black. I understand that I need to put the wool in cold water and gradually heat to a simmer. At what point should I add the dye- to the cold water, or after the water is hot.

As a general rule, you should dissolve wool dyes in a small amount of boiling water, then, after they are completely dissolved, add them to the dyebath before heating it. Dye dissolves more easily in hot water than in cold water, and with acid dye you don’t have to worry that heat may inactivate the dye (as can happen with many fiber reactive dyes). You will want to add the wool to the dyebath while it is still at room temperature, and the dye must be mixed into the dyebath before the wool is added.

What kind of dye are you using? You should find a recipe that is specifically intended for that particular dye, and follow it closely.

Maybe you haven’t chosen your dye yet. If not, then now’s an opportunity for me to encourage you to choose a high quality dye. Better dyes give longer-lasting results, which are much less likely to ruin other garments if they accidentally get wet, and which do not require as much care in cleaning.

Lanaset Jet Black is felt by many to be the very best black dye for hand dyeing wool. It is a good rich black color, produces very smooth even colors when used with the recommended auxiliary chemicals, and is extraordinarily washfast. Most dyes require that wool dyed with them must be washed only in cool water, or dry-cleaned, because they tend to wash out in warm water, but Lanaset Jet Black is so resistant to bleeding that you can wash it even in hot water, at 140 degrees F, without fading the dye. You can order Lanaset dye from several good dye suppliers, including PRO Chemical & Dye, Earth Guild, and (in Canada) Maiwa Handprints. Earth Guild has a smaller minimum package size than ProChem does, while ProChem has lower prices for larger quantities.

ProChem’s recipe for using Lanaset dyes [the link is to a PDF] says to dissolve the dye powder in two cups of boiling water, then add that to 3.5 gallons of room temperature water, along with citric acid, sodium acetate, salt, and Albegal SET (which is for Lanaset dyes only). You add the wool to the room-temperature dyebath, then gradually increase the temperature to a boil. Earth Guild’s recipe [PDF] advises you to mix the dye powder with a tablespoon of hot water first, before dissolving it in a cup of hot water; this “pasting up” step is helpful for avoiding lumps.

For half the price of Lanaset dye, you can buy a black acid dye called Colour Index acid black 172, which is actually one of the two dyes that make up the formula for Lanaset Jet Black. Obviously, it, too, is extremely washfast. It can be purchased from Pro Chemical & Dye as their Washfast Acid Jet Black WF672. The same method of dissolving in a small amount of hot water before adding to a room temperature dyebath is recommended in ProChem’s instructions for WashFast Acid Dyes [PDF].

Even Rit Dye, which unfortunately is a rather low-quality dye, so that materials dyed with it are prone to bleeding badly when wet, is supposed to be dissolved in very hot water. I imagine they specify hot water, rather than boiling water, for the sake of convenience. The Rit Dye instructions do not specify whether you should start your dyebath with cool or hot water. Surprisingly, Rit dye is significantly more expensive, per pound of fabric dyed, than higher quality dyes. The amount of Lanaset dye needed for dyeing each pound of fiber costs less than one dollar, if you buy a half-pound at a time from ProChem, while the amount of Rit dye needed for the same weight of fiber costs over two dollars. The only advantages of Rit dye are that it is more likely to be available locally, instead of having to be bought online, and it comes in single-use packages, so your initial investment may be lower.

For dyeing solid colors with any dye, always add the dye to the dyebath and make sure that it is thoroughly mixed in, before adding the fiber you want to dye. The only time you should add the dye after the fiber (yarn, fabric, roving, or whatever you are dyeing) is when you are trying to get uneven, variegated colors. In that case, you would use a much smaller amount of water.

Be sure to use a lot of dye, when you are trying to get black. Using less dye will often result in surprising colors instead of black. I have many times seen complaints about Rit black dye producing brown wool or purple cotton, but most black dyes can produce off colors if you do use too little dye. As a general rule, it takes twice as much black dye as one would use of a lighter dye color. Follow the upper limit of the recommended amount of dye in whatever recipe you use, for black.

(Please help support this web site. Thank you.)

-Paula

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