How can I fix the dye in floss after I have already embroidered with it?

Name: Grace



Retayne sets all-purpose dyes, such as Rit. It will not work on indigo denim.

Rit Dye Fixative

Rit Dye Fixative is very similar to Retayne.

Find Craft Supplies at
Jacquard Flowable Extender 2.25 oz. jar flowable extender

Jacquard Flowable Extender
Clear Fabric Paint

Flowable Extender is a medium-bodied clear acrylic fabric paint base.

Message: I am embroidering on a waffle weave undershirt popular with the apre ski wearers and wanted to contact you daughter regarding fixing the colours AFTER I embroidered the item. In my limited experience, it did not occur to me that the colours would run when washed, and I know the recipient is not a careful laundress. Can I 'fix' the colours in a cold water bath with some additive before I commit the item to avoid disappointment after the first wash?

The first thing you need to do is test whether the dye in your embroidery floss is washfast or not. Take some of the floss from the same skein and dampen it, then place it between two white cotton cloths (if the material you are embroidering is cotton). Using a hot iron, press until the floss is dry. If no dye transfers from the floss to the cotton fabric, then you have no problem.

If, however, the dye does run significantly in this test, then you may have a problem. One option is to mark the item "dry clean only" because water-soluble dyes do not bleed as much in dry cleaner's solvent. That's not very practical for cotton underclothing. Another option is to wash the floss in hot water before using it, until no more dye transfer occurs. It is too late, in your case, to use this option.

It is best to fix the dye in floss before using it. You can do this by immersing the floss in hot water with a cationic dye fixative called "Retayne", which you can mail-order from a dye supplier, such as Dharma Trading Company or PRO Chemical & Dye. (See my page on "Commercial Dye Fixatives".) The company that makes Rit dyes has recently introduced their own version of this product, which they label "Rit Dye Fixative". Unfortunately, I have not yet seen it in stores. You can mail-order it directly through the Rit Dye website or through Amazon.

You cannot set the dye in embroidery floss by using salt or vinegar. Both of these are based on old wives' tales, and do not work after dyeing is complete. Salt is useful during the dyeing process, depending on the method being used, but it is of no use after the dyeing process is complete. Vinegar is useful when dyeing wool or nylon, but it is of no use in dyeing cotton, and it does not work as an after-treatment. See my page, "Is there any way to "set" dye in purchased clothing or fabric?".

Unfortunately, you cannot use Retayne or Rit Dye Fixative to set the dye in floss if you have already used the floss in embroidery. These dye fixatives are applied in HOT water. To apply them, you must immerse the dyed material in a gallon or more of water, at a temperature of 140°F or higher, and soak for half an hour. (I have not yet seen the instructions for Rit Dye Fixative, but they are probably very similar to those for Retayne and Dharma Dye Fixative, another brand of this type of fixative.) Obviously, if you have a problem with floss whose dye will run onto fabric, you will not be able to immerse it in hot water long enough to use the dye fixative. The dye may bleed as soon as you immerse it in the bath of dye fixative.

If you have used floss that runs badly as soon as you immerse it in water, there is only one option left to try. You can buy a colorless transparent extender for fabric paint. This is essentially fabric paint without the pigment added. IF you carefully paint enough colorless fabric paint binder on to all of your embroidery floss, this will probably prevent problems with dye bleeding. You must pay close attention to the manufacturer's instructions, and heat set the binder with an iron if instructed to do so. There are several different brands of colorless fabric paint extender that could be used for this purpose. Jacquard Products sells an Extender for their Neopaque line of fabric paints. You probably will not be able to find it in your local crafts store, but you can mail-order it from Mister Art or Dharma Trading Company.

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Posted: Saturday - November 29, 2008 at 02:30 PM          

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