How to airbrush velour without changing the fabric's softness
Message: I would like to know if it would be possible to airbrush dye onto a cotton velour, or any other velour for that matter. I'm an artist, and I love to try new things! What type of dye could I use? Do you know if it would change the softness of the velour? I am hoping for something that won't change that great texture. Thanks so much!
Oh, yes, this is absolutely possible.
You can airbrush on almost any fabric using a good fabric paint, such as Jacquard Product's Dye-Na-Flow diluted with 25% water, but there will always be a slight but perceptible change in the feel of the fabric when you use a good fabric paint. There will be a massive change in the feel of the fabric if you use a poor fabric paint! Ordinary artists' acrylic paints will make the fabric very scratchy and rough.
If you want there to be no change whatsoever in the feel of the fabric after airbrushing, you must use a true dye, instead of a fabric paint. You will need to use a 100% natural fiber, such as cotton, or silk, or the regenerated cellulose fiber which is called rayon or viscose, which behaves exactly like a natural fiber. Avoid hard-to-dye fabrics such as polyester, acetate, or acrylic. You will get good results from a fiber that is 5% spandex plus 95% natural fiber, though.
Cotton velour is an excellent choice. Also consider the luscious silk/rayon blend velvets: the backing of the fabric is silk, while the plush pile is rayon. This blend dyes very easily with the same procedure as cotton, though you need to be more gentle with the fabric when you wash it, to avoid straining it. The best choice for any fabric will be to buy it "PFD", that is, Prepared For Dyeing; these fabrics are ready-to-use and are free of finishes that may repel dye. Excellent sources for fabrics by mail are Dharma Trading Company, Testfabrics Inc., and Silk Connection; the latter is part of the same company that makes Jacquard Products fabric paints and dyes.
The dye I recommend that you use for cotton velour or for silk/rayon velvet is Procion MX fiber reactive dye. A few good arts or crafts stores will carry this dye; if yours does not, you will find the same dye available in a bewildering array of color choices, for a more economical price, if you purchase it by mail-order from one of the dye sellers listed on my page of Sources for Dyeing Supplies Around The World.
In order to dye fabric with the Procion MX type dye, you need to activate the fabric with soda ash (also known as sodium carbonate, or washing soda), so that it will react with the dye. Note that this works only for fiber reactive dyes such as Procion MX dye; it does not work for all-purpose dyes, such as Rit or Tintex. There are several choices for applying the soda ash. It can be applied to the fabric before painting, or mixed in with the dye; even, afterwards, another high-pH chemical, sodium silicate, can be painted onto the dry painting to fix it. I recommend that you presoak your fabric in soda ash and let it dry on a line (not in a machine dryer!), so that the fabric contains the soda ash already when you apply the dye.
To use dye in your airbrush, you must first dissolve it carefully. Dissolve some urea (one tablespoon per cup, or one cup per gallon), to keep the dye moist after use, in water, and use this urea-water to dissolve your dye. (Urea is optional but helpful.) If your water supply is hard, use distilled water or softened water. Start by placing the desired amount of dye powder in the bottom of your measuring cup or mixing container; add just a tiny amount of urea-water, a teaspoon or two, and stir to make a paste. Gradually add a little more water as needed to make a smooth paste. Only after the paste is smooth should you add the rest of the water. Stir, then allow to rest a few minutes in case not all of the dye is yet dissolved, and then stir again. Now, there are some dyes that form tiny clumps, which will clog your airbrush, so you must filter out these clumps. You can use a paper coffee filter in a funnel. Many dyers use a bit of nylon stocking as a filter, which generally works well but will not strain out particles as finely as the coffee filter can. Do not add any salt to your dye mixtures, because it will tend to make them precipitate out of solution.
Not all of the dye you apply will be able to react with the fiber, so apply the dye to make a darker color than you want. Do a little trial and error on scrap fabric first to see how great of an effect this has. After the dye is applied, it must be kept warm and moist for long enough for the dye to react with the soda-ash-activated fabric. Urea in the dye mixtures will keep enough moisture in the fabric to allow the reaction even if you leave it uncovered, but if you do not use urea, or if you want to be certain of maximum brightness, cover your pieces with plastic wrap to keep them damp overnight. It's best to allow more time than is strictly required for the dye reaction, to prevent any risk of backstaining when you wash it out later. The next day, rinse the fabric with cool water to remove the soda ash and any other chemicals, then wash in the hottest water available to remove the unreacted loose dye.
You probably already know about how to maintain safe conditions while airbrushing with paint or dye, but I have to mention it anyway. When applying anything with an airbrush, you must be extremely careful not to harm yourself. There is no fabric dye or fabric paint that is considered safe to inhale. Even the most non-toxic fabric paints contain plastics which will gum up and permanently damage your lungs if you breathe the airbrush mist. Dyes which are considered entirely safe to work with while wearing gloves are not at all safe to breathe. Breathing a dye is almost the same as eating it, and most textile dyes have not been tested for safety when consumed by people. Also note that the tiny droplets of dye powder dry up to form particles of dye powder. As a general rule we are very careful not to allow any dye powder to get loose in our work areas or our homes. Do your airbrushing in a spraying booth or outside of the building, and wear a properly fitting dust mask or respirator, one which does not allow you to breathe unfiltered air around the sides of the mask.
Procion MX and other fiber reactive dyes are not highly toxic, but the fact that we do not know them to be safe to breathe means that it is important to act as though they are not. Furthermore, reactive dyes tend to be quite allergenic; breathing a little dye powder now may mean that you develop a serious allergy to the dye, which can be treated only by strictly avoiding working with the dyes you are allergic to, in any form. If you are careful to take precautions from the start, you are unlikely to have have any problems with these dyes.
I am sure that you will be able to get beautifully soft airbrushed dye designs on cotton velour or silk/rayon velvet. Good reactive fabric dyes produce excellent results on these fabrics, and airbrushing is a fine way to apply them. Be sure to get extra fabric to practice on first. As long as you are careful to prevent even a single drop of soda ash from contacting your mixed-together dye solutions in the bottles, they will stay good for at least a week at room temperature, or several weeks in the refrigerator, so you don't have to bother with mixing up fresh dye powder on every day that you are practicing your airbrushing.
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Posted: Monday - May 25, 2009 at 09:19 AM