My question is how to dye silk cocoons without heat, as it softens them too much

Name: Linda


Jacquard tie dye kit

Jacquard Tie Dye Kit

Dye up to 15 adult-size T-shirts, with vivid, electric colors that are so colorfast they can be washed with the daily laundry.


Procion mx fiber reactive cold water dye

Procion MX Dye

ideal for cotton, rayon, and silk

When mixed with soda ash, Procion dyes are permanent, colorfast, and very washable. You can easily create a palette of brilliant colors ranging from light pastels to deep, vibrant hues.



Jacquard dye-na-flow fabric colors

Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow Fabric Colors

Dye-Na-Flow is a free-flowing textile paint made to simulate dye. Great on any untreated natural or synthetic fiber.


Message: Thank-you so much for your blog and site--I am always learning.

My question is how to dye silk cocoons without heat, as it softens them too much. I am doing a very large hanging of over 2000 and have already removed the worm. Each cocoon is in excellent condition and I want to keep them that way.

I have tested a few with dynaflow --I quickly dyed them, put them in a salad spinner and then under a heat lamp--this all worked great but it does seem more tedious than I expected.

Any ideas are greatly appreciated.

There are four possibilities for dyeing silk cocoons without heat, with different drawbacks. You will want to test to see which is the best method for you:

1. You can use a cool water fiber reactive dye, such as Procion MX, so that you don't have to heat the cocoons at all. This is the method recommended by Jacquard Products.

Procion MX dyes can be used on silk at a room temperature of 70°F or higher, if you use a high pH. The usual method to raise the pH of the dye is to add soda ash, either directly to the dye immediately before use, or by presoaking the material to be dyed in dissolved soda ash for five to fifteen minutes. The latter is the standard recommendation for tie-dyeing and dye painting; to get started, I recommend that you buy a good tie-dyeing kit, such as the ones sold at local crafts stores under the Jacquard Products name. (Avoid the Rit tie-dye kit, which contains only hot-water dyes, dyes which happen not to be at all suitable for most tie-dyeing.) You can put the dyes into squirt bottles and apply them directly to soda-ash-soaked cocoons in a wide range of different color combinations, if you like, or you can dye a large number to exactly the same color using a bucket dyeing recipe, in which the soda ash is added gradually only after the dye has had some time to soak into the cocoons, for solid even colors. Salt is needed for the bucket-dyeing recipe, but not for the direct dye application recipe.

2. If the first method doesn't work out for you, you can use the same Procion MX dyes, but with a mixture of baking soda and soda ash to produce a lower pH.

The high pH of soda ash in the first method may soften the cocoons. Please do a test to see whether this happens to a sufficient extent to be a problem. If it does, you can compromise by using a somewhat lower pH. The reaction between the dye and the silk will not be as efficient at a pH of 9 as it is at the usual pH of 10.5 or 11, so the colors may not be quite as intense, but it will still work; just allow a nice warm room temperature, use a high concentration of dye, and allow lots of time for the dye reaction to take place, perhaps leaving the cocoons damp with the dye for a couple of days. The way to get a pH of 9 is to use baking soda mixed with soda ash or washing soda. Baking soda alone will produce a pH of 8, which is less efficient still, though better than a neutral pH.

Since water supplies vary, you should buy some pH paper to test what pH you get with a given mixture of baking soda and soda ash or washing soda, but I found that a wide range of mixtures of baking soda and soda ash (sodium bicarbonate and sodium carbonate) produced a pH in this range. Our water here is very neutral in pH; when I mixed 5 grams of baking soda and 5 grams of soda ash in 250 milliliters of water (about half a teaspoon of each in one cup of water), I got a pH of 9. So, that's a good place to start, even without pH paper.

3. You can use acid dyes, which are available in a wide range of types. The mild vinegar used as an assistant with the acid dyes has a low pH, which is kinder to silk than a high pH is. Unfortunately, all acid dyes work best with heat. Heating helps in the formation of the hydrogen bonds that attach the acid dye to the fiber. There are some recipes that call for using acid dyes without heat, by extended soaking. I expect this method to be less successful than using Procion MX dyes at a pH of 9.

4. The fourth method is a variation on the one you've already tried, using a fabric paint. Dye-na-flow is a paint, not a dye, which is why it can be set by dry heat, instead of moist heat like acid dyes. Instead of the heat lamp, you can choose to add an acrylic catalyst to the paint, immediately before use, to make it set without heat, which would make the method a little less tedious. The catalyst product is called Jacquard Airfix. It's not easy to find, but one source is Jerry's Artarama, which does business by mail-order.

Please let me know how your tests work out, and which method turns out to be the best for your silk cocoons.

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Posted: Friday - January 28, 2011 at 09:05 AM          

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