Category Archives: dye painting

Is there a way to dye a white rayon dress different colors without having them bleed into each other too much?

Name: Raileena

Country or region: USA

Message: I bought this white rayon dress that I thought might look really cool if it was all different colors. It also has small flowers that can be colored in, so I was just wondering if there is a way for me to dye it without having colors bleed into each other too much how would I do that? Would I add the sodium acetate to make the dye paint-like and apply it? Also would I have to add one color at a time, and wash it and everything before adding another color to avoid too much bleeding? Thank you!

You can easily dye a washable rayon dress many different colors, without the colors bleeding together, if you use the right kind of dye. If you use a good tie-dye type of dye, which is called fiber reactive dye, you can apply many colors at once. The key is to avoid all-purpose dyes. Don’t use Rit dye! All-purpose dyes, such as Rit, always bleed together every time the garment gets wet, for the life of the garment. Better quality dyes avoid this problem altogether by bonding tightly to the fabric where you put it.

Rayon is a reprocessed cellulose fiber. It can be dyed like any other cellulose fiber, such as cotton, as long as you are careful not to damage it. The one problem with rayon is that it is fragile when wet, so don’t let it get into a washload with something heavy like jeans, and do consider hand-washing or putting it in a mesh lingerie bag for washing. (The question of washing is relevant to your question because you will have to do a lot of washing after you dye the dress, to remove all of the unattached dye.)

What you need to do is get some good fiber reactive dye, such as Procion MX dye. You can find these dyes in any good tie-dye kit, such as the Jacquard tie dye kits, which are often available at local crafts stores and fabric stores. Avoid hot water dyes. If you want a wide choice of dye colors, and access to more helpful products, order online from a dye supply house such as Dharma Trading Company, Colorado Wholesale Dyes, or PRO Chemical & Dye. Dharma is also a good source for additional dyeable rayon dresses.

You will not need to use sodium acetate in dyeing your rayon dress. Sodium acetate is used when dyeing protein fibers, not when dyeing cellulose fibers like cotton and rayon. But I think actually you may be thinking of sodium alginate, which is a thickener. (See “Sodium alginate, Superclear, and other dye thickeners”.) Its use is completely optional, but it can be helpful depending on your style of dye painting. You can use a dye thickener if you want your dyes to have a more paint-like consistency and apply it with a brush or sponge, or you can use your dyes unthickened in a watercolor style and apply it directly from a squirt bottle; even unthickened colors will creep only a short distance along the fabric. Order alginate from a dye supplier such as Dharma Trading Company or PRO Chemical & Dye. (See “Sources for Dyeing Supplies Around the World”.)

Once you have your good Procion dyes, mix a cup of sodium carbonate (soda ash or washing soda) with a gallon of water and soak your rayon dress in it. After fifteen minutes to let the sodium carbonate soak into the fibers, remove the dress from the mix and squeeze out extra water. You can apply dye directly to the wet dress, or you can line-dry the dress, which will leave the dry soda ash in the fibers, ready to react with the dye.

DIssolve the dye in water, either following the directions on the package (for a tie-dye kit) or following instructions for how to tie dye (see “How to Tie Dye” and “Hand Dyeing – basic recipe for Procion MX dyes on cellulose or silk”). Put the dyes into the pointy-tipped squeeze bottles sold for use in tie-dyeing. Lay the dress out flat on a surface that won’t be damaged by the dyes (such as a plastic table protected by a plastic tablecloth with some old towels or paper towels on top), and dribble the different colors of dyes where you want them. If you only want bright colors, avoid placing opposite colors immediately adjacent to each other, such as purple next to yellow, red next to green, or blue next to orange, as these color combinations combine to make muddy browns.The wet dye on the dress should be darker in color than you want, because not all of the dye will attach; some will be washed away, which results in a lighter color than you see during dye application.

After you have thoroughly covered your rayon dress with as many colors as you want, cover it with plastic and leave it alone in a warm place (70 degrees F or above) at least overnight, for the dyes to react with the rayon in the presence of the soda ash. Covering it with plastic is to help keep it moist, since the dye reaction stops once all moisture has dried up. It is better to leave the dress to react longer than necessary, rather than less time than necessary, because the extra time makes sure that all of the dye molecules have reacted, either with the fabric or with the water. The means there will no longer be any active dye present to cause staining with colors in the wrong places, when you wash out the excess dye.

The next day, wash the dress once in cool water, to remove the soda ash and some of the dye, then wash two or three times in the hottest water available. To avoid unnecessarily abrading the rayon fiber, which is very weak when it is wet, you can soak the dress for a while in extremely hot water (even boiling water is okay for washing out Procion dyes), then wash out by hand and then repeat.

If you prefer, you could dye the entire dress in multiple colors for the background, wash it afterwards, and then start all over again, line-drying the dress after soaking it in soda ash again, applying just the colors inside the flower patterns. This will reduce the amount the colors small patterns blend with the background color, and is a particularly good idea if the background color you apply contrasts strongly with the colors you apply inside the flower patterns. If the dye seems inclined to spread much more than you like, either apply less dye, or thicken this dye with sodium alginate.

You can produce a really fantastic dress in a unique color pattern. Note that synthetic trim, such as the white stitching that holds the seams together, and any edging or lace, will almost always stay white, after washing out the excess dye, though sometimes a turquoise dye will stain it.

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Use a better dye to make a camouflage design on clothing

Name: Billy
Country or region: USA
Message: I bought a pair of white cotton bib overalls and dyed them tan with rit dye according to directions. The tan set, then I sprayed them with dark green, dark brown, and black from spray bottle to camoflauge them. When I washed them, all but the tan washed out. What happened?

This is pretty much what you would expect to happen. Rit All Purpose Dye is meant to be applied by boiling the garment in the dye in a big pot for an hour. Warm water is not as good for Rit as extremely hot water, but it will work to some extent, as you saw with your tan dye. It will not work at all well when simply sprayed on the garment at room temperature.

What you need is a better type of dye. Fiber reactive dyes, such as Procion MX dye, can be applied directly, by spraying them on. These are the dyes that are popular for tie-dyeing, because they work so much better than all-purpose dyes. Instead of being set with high heat, they are set with washing soda or soda ash, a common laundry chemical.

There are many advantages to using Procion MX dye instead of Rit dye. The dye is far more permanent, and won’t run in the laundry to ruin other clothing like Rit dye does. You don’t have to ruin a cooking pot by using dye in it (you should not plan to reuse a dyeing pot for food). You have many more options for how to apply the dye. It even tends to cost less, since Rit dye is packaged with a lot of salt and detergent in little boxes that will dye only up to one pound of clothing each.

To use the Procion dye for your camouflage project, first soak your cotton overalls in a gallon of water in which you have dissolved one cup of soda ash, then remove them from the water, squeezing out as much of the excess liquid as you can, and spread the overalls out on a waterproof surface. Dissolve Procion MX dye in water, using about four teaspoons of dye powder per cup of water for dark colors. Wear a dust mask while working with the dry dye, so you don’t breathe any of the dye dust, because it can cause allergies. you can apply the dye (wearing waterproof gloves) by dribbling it onto the fabric with a pointy-tipped squirt bottle, or by dipping a sponge in it and applying it to the fabric, or by placing the dye mixture into spray bottles and spraying (wear a dust mask so you don’t accidentally breathe any dye mist). Keeping in mind that the dye will be lighter in color after you wash out the excess, be sure to apply enough dye to make the garment much darker than you want.

The wet dyed items then need to remain damp overnight in a warm place, 70 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer. If you live in a dry climate, you’ll need to do something to keep the overalls moist while the dye reacts overnight. You can place them inside a plastic bin with the lid on—a camouflage pattern will probably not be spoiled by having wet dye from one part of the garment bleed onto another part where they come into contact—or you can wrap them in plastic wrap, or, instead, you can mix urea into your dye mixture, because urea in the mixture attracts moisture and helps keep the garment damp enough for a long time, even if it feels pretty dry.

After you’ve left the dye to react, the next day (or a day after that, if it’s more convenient), you should wash the overalls once in cool water to remove the soda ash and the largest part of the unused dye, than wash it twice in the hottest water you can to remove the rest of the excess unattached dye. It’s best to turn up the water heater to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for this washing out step, but if you use cooler water you just have to take more care to wash the garment separately the first few times, since there will be some excess dye that can transfer onto other clothing if it is left lying around damp at some point in the wash. Of course the original tan Rit dye is apt to run when wet, and it will tend to wash completely out after a while. If all of your tan dye washes out, you will want to get some tan Procion dye to replace it with.

Where can you buy Procion MX dyes? Most people who do a lot of dyeing buy their dye by mail-order from dye suppliers such as Dharma Trading Company, which also sells soda ash and urea, but you can buy Procion dye from many different sources in the form of a tie-dye kit. Jacquard Products (a dye manufacturer) makes this especially easy for your project by producing a Camo Tie Dye kit, which you can buy from many different art and crafts suppliers, or from Amazon, or even, depending on the time of the year, from stores such as Walmart. It contains premixed dye powders in olive, black, and bronze.

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Can Procion MX colour dyes be applied to dry cotton?

Name: Matthew
Country or region: Hong Kong
Message: Hello Paula,

With Procion MX colour dyes can this be applied to dry cotton? The reason I ask this is because I would like to use the dye to draw on to the cotton. Nothing fancy but just simple? I am more thinking that you cannot because the cloth needs to be damp in-order for the procion to be permanently applied? I know I could probably still achieve this but just worried about the dye kind of blotting when applied to the wet cloth?

In this case, which type of dye could I use to achieve this? I would prefer something that like soaks into the shirt like the above dye.

Many thanks


You can use Procion MX dyes to draw or paint on dry fabric. As always, you will need to use soda ash or another high-pH fixative, but there is more than one way to do this.

One method is to mix up your Procion dyes as usual, then place just enough for you to use up within an hour into another container. In this smaller container, dissolve one-half teaspoon (2.5 milliliters) of dry soda ash in one cup (250 milliliters) of dye solution. After an hour, throw away any that remains of this activated dye, and dissolve soda ash in a fresh batch of the dye. The dye itself will stay good for at least a week at room temperature WITHOUT soda ash, but as soon as the soda ash is added, it starts to go bad, so you need to mix only enough to use right away.

Another method is to soak your dry cotton fabric in soda ash, as usual, then take it out of the soda ash mixture, let it drip, and hang it up to dry. As it dries, the soda ash will stay in the fabric, ready to react with the liquid dye as it comes into contact with it. Be careful that you do not put your pen or paintbrush into the main container of dye color that you have mixed up, because some soda ash will inevitably be transferred from your brush to your dye container, and shorten its lifespan dramatically. Just pour out enough to work with for a while, throw it out within an hour, and then pour out a fresh amount to continue painting. Be careful when handling the dry fabric that has soda ash in it, because the soda ash is irritating to your hands, and, if it dusts up into the air, it is irritating to the lungs to breathe it. Wear gloves or a dust mask if needed.

A third method is to skip the soda ash, and paint your Procion MX dye liquid onto the fabric, then let it dry. After it is dry, you can paint on a liquid for of sodium silicate, which is also called Water Glass. The sodium silicate has a high pH and works as a fixative just the same way that soda ash does. As soon as you are done painting, cover with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out in the fabric. Do not allow sodium silicate to dry in fabric! It will be too difficult to wash out. Be careful not to get water glass on your skin or onto any glass or furniture. It is best to wear safety glasses in case it spatters. For more info on using silicate to fix Procion MX dyes, see my page, “Sodium silicate as a fixative for dyeing”.

Sometimes dyers place the soda ash, dissolved in water, into a spray bottle, and use it to spray onto the dry Procion MX painting. This can work well, but of course the dye lines on the fabric may soften and get wider. Another method is to place the soda ash mixture in a basin, and dissolve as much salt as can be dissolved in it, so much that a little salt remains at the bottom of the container. This saturated salt solution reduces the solubility of the dyes, so that they spread less when the fabric is dipped into it. Using a soda ash/saturated salt solution for spraying may help. You should expect some dye movement, however.

When using any of these techniques, be sure to try it on a quick test project, before using it on a complex piece that has taken you time to make. Testing your methods is always important. It would be sad to make a complex beautiful painting and then see it smeared by the fixation step.

For more information on using soda ash for fixing dye, see my page, “What is soda ash, and what’s it used for in dyeing?”.

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