Can I dye silk obijime kumihimo cords black?

Name: John



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Message: I want to buy some solid color, dead stock japanese silk obijime kumihimo (that seems like a mouthfull!) and dye them black. If you are not familiar with them, they are small braided cords used as part of a traditional kimono ensemble. I am repurposing them as a strap. They are typically either round and about 8mm to 10mm (0.32") in diameter or flat and about 10mm to 15mm wide. A picture of a typical flat one can be seen at I would be removing the tassels at the ends.

What are the odds that I could successfully dye something like the obijime in that photo to solid black? I would want something that is colorfast and not irritating to the skin, since it would be in contact on occasion. It would be used outdoors and could possibly be exposed to small amounts of rain and I wouldn't want it to bleed onto a person or clothes.

If this seems it might be doable, would you recommend a method that is suitable for someone without experience in dyeing?

Thanks for your time and assistance.

This will probably not be at all difficult. Silk is an easy fiber to dye. The situation would be different if the cords were made of polyester or acrylic. Removing the tassels makes dyeing easier, because tassels tend to tangle badly if dyed while unwrapped, but leaving them wrapped as shown in the picture would prevent dye from reaching them fully.

There are many good dyes for silk that would be good enough for your purposes. Acid dyes are the best choice, but reactive dyes and direct dyes also work well on silk. Because it makes a very good black, and because it is exceptionally wash-resistant, I would recommend that you order some Lanaset dye. The Lanaset Jet Black is extremely satisfactory on silk, and easy to use. Unlike other acid dyes, Lanaset dye persists without fading even after multiple washings in hot water, and unlike dyes manufactured for use on cotton, the Lanaset dye reliably produces a rich dark black on silk, rather than a dark green or dark purple.

Sources from which you can order small quantities of Lanaset dye in the US include PRO Chemical & Dye in Massachusetts, Earth Guild in North Carolina, and Paradise Fibers in Washington state. You can find contact information for these and other dye suppliers on my page of Sources for Dyeing Supplies Around the World. Enough Lanaset Jet Black to dye a pound of silk cord costs $2.40 at Earth Guild, plus shipping and handling.

There's more than one way to apply the Lanaset dye. The easiest way, which would not require you to buy a special dyeing pot, would be to soak the cords in a vinegar/water mixture, then place them on a piece of plastic wrap and paint them with a dye paint made by mixing four teaspoons of Lanaset Jet Black dye powder per eight-ounce cup of water. Wear waterproof gloves when working with dye. Securely wrap the cords, still quite wet with the Lanaset dye, in multiple layers of plastic wrap, then set the dye by steaming for thirty minutes in just the same way as you might steam vegetables. (If you think you'd like to use your regular kitchen steamer, you must wrap the bundle securely enough that not even a single drop of dye can possibly escape; placing the bundle inside a ziplock freezer bag, with the air squeezed out before sealing, would provide an added layer of protection.) Allow the cords to cool to room temperature before unwrapping them and washing out the excess dye. ProChem supplies a detailed recipe for this method of dyeing; see "Rainbow Dyeing using Lanaset/Sabraset Dyes" [PDF]. In my experience the silk color that results is a reasonably solid black, in spite of not using any of the techniques required for a perfectly smooth even color.

For more perfection in the evenness of color, immerse the cords in a much larger volume of water with the dye, and stir throughout the dyeing process, heating the silk on the stovetop to a maximum temperature of 185°F. You will need to buy a suitable pot for dyeing in, large enough to hold two or three gallons of water. (That's the size needed if you'll be dyeing one pound of cord at a time: if you're dyeing only four ounces of cord, a pot that will hold one gallon of water will be sufficient, while two ounces of cord will require only a two-quart pot.) Your dyeing pot should not be made of aluminum, which reacts with acidic chemicals such as vinegar; stainless steel is the best choice. Don't plan to reuse this pot for food. In addition to ordering the Lanaset dye, also order the auxiliary chemicals recommended by the manufacturer: Albegal SET and sodium acetate. If you prefer, you can also order citric acid to use instead of vinegar. If the cords are fine enough to get tangled, you will need to loosely tie them in bundles to prevent this from happening. A good recipe to follow to dye silk in a pot with Lanaset dyes is ProChem's "Immersion Dyeing using Lanaset/Sabraset Dyes".

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Posted: Thursday - July 26, 2012 at 01:25 PM          

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