Can I dye cotton slipcovers using a cool water dye, so they don't shrink?
Country or region: New York, NY / Rome, Italy
Message: Greetings from NY! You seem like such an authority on the subject of cold water color dyeing, I should like to introduce myself, as a school of architecture drop out with a keen sense of aesthetics and colors, who has gone back to doing what she loves most, interior design work, posing the following problem to you: here I am with two sets of slip covers for my very expensive sofas from Italy, a 100% cotton weave of chenille and threading, currently in a mauvish tone, which no longer works. Replacing them anew would be an even more expensive proposition, was hoping they could be dipped in a black/brown dye, couple local names I consulted with ruled it as impossible, because of the shrinkage factor associated with the dye temperature requirements. but what about cold water color dyeing, might that not be a possibility? Would be grateful for your second opinion and guidance. I would have a large enough swatch for testing.
You certainly should be able to do this with Procion MX fiber reactive dyes, since they react well at temperatures as low as 21°C (or 70°F), though slightly warmer temperatures are preferable.
Normally, we use hot water to wash out the excess unattached dye afterwards, but you can substitute repeated washings at the warmest temperature the fabric can tolerate without shrinking. It's probably best to keep the temperature below 41°C (105°F).
If you have access to a top-loading washing machine, that will be the most convenient way to dye these slipcovers a smooth, even color. (See "How can I dye clothing or fabric in the washing machine?".) If they will not all fit into one load in the washer, then you will have to be very careful to weigh the amount of fabric in each load, and calculate the exact same concentrations of dye, soda ash, and salt per pound of fabric, so that they will all end up the exact same hue.
You can also dye in a five-gallon or larger bucket, but you must stir the fabric in the bath for a long time, ideally an hour. This can be quite tiring, especially if you have to repeat it several times. It is very important to keep the fabric in the dyebath moving, so that you can get a single solid color, instead of a tie-dyed effect.
Alternatively, you can try low water immersion, which is a tremendously easier method that does not require stirring. It will result in variegation of light and dark colors, and usually also of different hues. The results can be very beautiful. Yu can scale this method up to any quantity of fabric. (See "How to Do Low Water Immersion Dyeing".) Since you are in New York, you can buy your Procion Dyes and soda ash from Aljo Mfg, which has a store located in New York and also sell their dyes by telephone. You will also need a large quantity of ordinary salt. Get some of the water softener sodium hexametaphosphate while you are buying your dyes. There are several other very good sources for ordering these dyes online in the US. I do not know of a source for Procion dyes in Italy, so it is convenient that you are asking this question from New York, instead. A warning: dyeing will not work well if the fabric has been treated with a stain-resistant finish such as Scotch Guard. You should also know that the stitching that holds together different parts of the slipcovers is almost certainly made from undyeable polyester. Other than that, I think you will have no problems. The fact that your slipcovers are 100% cotton makes this a perfectly reasonable project.
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Posted: Thursday - November 17, 2011 at 08:33 AM
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