How can I print my own fabric with dye, so that it leaves no texture on the fabric at all?

Name: Rachel


Procion Dyes are ideal for hand-painting fabric

This kit includes 3 small jars of dye, plus soda ash, which is used to permanently fix the Procion dye to the natural fiber

Large 8-ounce jars of Procion dye are more economical; don't forget to purchase soda ash and urea, as well! Procion mx fiber reactive dye warm black 128 8 oz.image-1910599-11487684

Procion MX Fiber Reactive Dye warm black 128 8 oz.image-1910599-11487684

Soda ash dye fixer 1 lb.image-1910599-11487684

Soda Ash Dye Fixer 1 lb.

Soda ash is a mild alkali that promotes the chemical reaction between Procion MX fiber reactive dye and cellulose fiber. Soda ash is also known as sodium carbonate, washing soda, or sal soda. One pound of soda ash is required to activate and "set" Procion dye for approximately 15 T-shirts.


Urea 1 lb.image-1910599-11487684


Urea is a humectant. Humectants attracts moisture from the air, keeping the fiber damp longer allowing a greater reaction time for the dye. Urea is used with sodium alginate thickener when printing, painting or directly applying Procion dye to fiber or is added to Procion dye for super intense color.


Sodium alginate 2 oz. shimage-1910599-11487684

Sodium Alginate SH

A derivative of seaweed, this is the best thickener for Procion MX Dye . A thickener is used to control spreading when painting or screen printing. Sodium alginate is used to thicken the dye to a paste consistency for printing and hand painting. Use Sodium Alginate SH for cotton and other cellulose fibers. It may also be used for silk when fine line definition is not required. Use Sodium Alginate F for silk and synthetics when fine line definition is desired.


Country or region: USA

Message: Hi Paula,

I hope this question wasn't answered, but I did look through the site pretty thoroughly first. I have been wondering about printing my own fabric, but I really don't want to use fabric paints - I don't want to have any texture - what I want is more to paint with dye, or something like watercolors. I was even wondering if there's a way to make high quality artists' watercolors permanent. I use fabric paints on small areas, but I want to more make a repeating print of my own on a bolt of cloth to then cut and sew. Do you have any ideas? Thank you for all your helpful information here!

There's no way to make artists' watercolors permanent on fabric that will be washed, but the right materials will do everything else you want.

You can use good fiber reactive dyes to print or paint on cotton, silk, or rayon fabric. If you want them to be very thin, simply mix Procion dye with water, and, optionally, urea (to help keep the dye wet longer, which helps in making strong colors). If you want them to be thicker, use sodium alginate to thicken up the paint, either by a little or a lot. You will need to add soda ash to fix the dye, either by soaking the fabric in it first and then line-drying it, or by mixing the soda ash directly with the dye immediately before use, keeping in mind that the dye will start to go bad in less than an hour after it is combined with the soda ash.

Using dye is much better than using fabric paint, if you want no feel at all to be left in the fabric. You can mix any color you like. You can start by mixing just the basic three colors, lemon yellow, magenta, and cyan (turquoise), but for best results you will want to have a few other colors, including navy blue and orange, and probably a premixed black; see my page, "How can I mix Procion MX dyes to get specific colors?". You can also buy many different colors of dye powder premixed, from a good mail-order dye supplier. When mixing dye, you do not add white to make lighter colors; instead, you add water, or use less dye. For a pale pastel, you will need your dye paint to be diluted several times over, compared to a dark intense shade of the same basic color.

You can make up enough dye paint to last you for several weeks, especially if you store it in a refrigerator. (If you use your household refrigerator, seal the dye bottles up in a box so that there is no possibility of confusing dye with food, or of spillage.) After two or three weeks at room temperature, the dye will start to be a little weaker and paler, but refrigeration will extend the lifespan of reactive dye much longer, to a couple of months, at least, as long as the water used to mix the dyes is of neutral pH and no soda ash gets into the dye bottles.

When you do your painting, always pour out just enough dye from your dye bottles to use in one session. Even if you are painting on dry fabric, with the soda ash dried into it, each stroke of a paintbrush will carry a bit of soda ash back to the container in which you are dipping your brush. You probably won't want to use up all the dye you've mixed in one hour-long painting session.

You will need to buy Procion dyes in several colors, soda ash powder, urea, and a water softener called sodium hexametaphosphate (unless you choose to use distilled water for mixing your dyes). You may be able to find most of these at a local crafts or fabric store, but you will find much better selection and prices if you order from a good dye supplier, such as PRO Chemical & Dye or Dharma Trading Company.

There are other fiber reactive dyes that can be used in exactly this way, too, such as Procion H dyes (G&S Dyes in Toronto sells a huge variety of colors pre-mixed and ready to use) or Remazol dyes (also known as Vinyl Sulfone dyes). They have their own advantages and disadvantages, but the basic procedure is the same. It is usual to use heat to set the dye reaction on Procion H and Remazol dyes, but the more common type of Procion dyes, which are Procion MX dyes, will react at room temperature, thus removing the requirement to steam the painted fabric.

After you apply your dye paint, using soda ash in one way or the other, you will need to keep your damp fabric in a warm place (at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit), overnight or longer. The dye should be kept moist during this phase, while the dye reacts with the fiber in the fabric. If you include urea in your dye paint mixes, the dye will stay moist enough without covering; otherwise you will want to cover it with plastic, as the dye-fiber reaction quits happening once the fabric dries out completely.

Devote a little thought to your setup for doing the painting, too. For some effects, it is necessary to stretch the fabric out tightly while applying the dye. This allows a thin liquid dye to flow in a predictable manner along the fabric, as in watercolor painting on paper. For other effects, especially for printing, it is sufficient to lay the fabric out flat on a plastic-covered worktable. If you have painted a six-foot length of your bolt of fabric (assuming that's how long your table is), you can carefully cover the length with plastic so as to be able to roll it up, without wet dye transferring from one part of the design to another, so as to move on to the next six-foot stretch of fabric on the bolt, without having to wait for the dye to react and dry. If you want to stretch your fabric out tightly, look into the stretching systems that silk painters use.

You will need to wash the fabric before painting, unless it is specifically sold as being "PFD" (Prepared For Dyeing), and you will need to wash it after dyeing, because not all of the dye will react with the fabric. Some will react with the water, and this unattached loose dye must be removed. You will notice that your colors are lighter after washing out, since the unattached dye makes the design look darker; allow for this when mixing your colors, and do several small test pieces with the same sort of fabric, before you ever start working on a big piece.

This should be enough to get you started, but I also recommend that you seek out some books on the subject of dye painting. Ann Johnston's book, Color By Design, is extremely valuable for this purpose. Holly Brackmann's book, The Surface Designer's Handbook: Dyeing, Printing, Painting, and Creating Resists on Fabric, is another excellent choice. For reviews of other books on dyeing, see my page, "Reviews of Books and Videos on Hand Dyeing and Fabric Painting".

For more information, see the following pages on my site:

Posted: Friday - June 20, 2014 at 10:03 AM          

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