What can I use as a substitute for sodium alginate to thicken fiber reactive dye?

Name: Ruth


Sodium Alginate
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Jacquard Sodium Alginate

Jacquard Sodium Alginate

Sodium Alginate

Procion MX Fiber Reactive Cold Water Dye

Procion MX Dye

ideal for cotton, rayon, linen, and silk

Procion MX dyes are the most popular fiber reactive dyes for hand dyeing.

Message: Hi, I would like to start dye-painting and while waiting for my Dharma order (I live in Haiti and it will take a month or so) and was wondering what can I use as a substitute for Sodium Alginate (what did dyers use before the invention of sodium alginate?) which I have not been able to find locally.  I will be using Dylon cold water dye which is "the" Dye sold here in Haiti. And, BTW, thank you for your website,  I have learned so much from it.

Dylon Cold Water dye contains good fiber reactive dyes, mostly Procion MX dyes. The only problems are the high cost per five-gram tin, compared to larger jars of Procion MX dye from suppliers such as Dharma, and the fact that all of the colors are premixed, so dyers complain about not having good primary colors for mixing their own choices.

Alginate is not an absolute essential for dyeing, though it is wonderful for making a thick dye paint. I almost never use it myself, because I tend to prefer the watercolor effect of having dyes blend into one another. However, thickening is very important for preventing contrasting colors from running together and producing a boring muddy brown color. If you do not use a thickener for your dye, you will need to be careful about color placement, generally avoiding putting red next to green, or purple next to yellow, or blue next to orange.

There is an alternative for dye painting, which is treating the fabric with an antidiffusant before you apply your dye. Fabric that has been treated in this way can be painted on with unthickened dyes, but they will not spread as usual. Unfortunately, most antidiffusants contain starch, which will react with fiber reactive dye and then gradually wash out; they are intended for use with acid dyes or basic dyes in silk painting, not with fiber reactive dyes. A traditional antidiffusant is gutta (natural rubber) dissolved in a solvent such as hexane; the only problem with this is that the solvents used are dangerous to breathe. The gutta can be removed by dry cleaning, or left in place.

The problem with other thickeners is that they all tend to react with the dye itself, which is very wasteful of dye. It appears that sodium alginate is the only natural gum that doesn't react significantly with fiber reactive dyes. The only other thickener I have seen recommended for use with reactive dyes is a product called Superclear, which is sold by some dye suppliers. Other thickeners, such as guar gum or xanthan gum, or solutions of starch, can work well for thickening acid dyes (which are used on silk, wool, and nylon, but not on cotton), but they are not recommended for use with reactive dyes on cotton or other cellulose fibers.

In their excellent tie dyeing videos, Tie Dye 101: The Basics of Making Exceptional Tie Dye, and Advanced Tie Dye Techniques: Making Shapes and Mandalas, Tom Rolofson and Martine Purdy recommend the use of powdered kelp sold at natural foods stores. This is logical, given that sodium alginate is purified from brown kelp seaweed. Their recipe calls for only one teaspoon (5 ml) of kelp powder per gallon of water, which is a much smaller amount than the two teaspoons of purified sodium alginate used in some other popular tie-dyeing recipes; you will need to use far more for dye painting.

The problem with kelp powder is that different sources may sell kelp that is unexpectedly strong or weaker. Some is very clean and white, while others are contaminated with pigmented material from the kelp plant which may be suitable for use in food, but is not ideal for dyeing. One user complained to me that her kelp powder turned her water an ugly green-brown color. This color will probably not affect the ultimate color the dyes produce on cotton, but it makes it harder to judge how to mix your colors. Even purified sodium alginate can vary in strength from one package to another.

Purified sodium alginate is widely used in the food industry, but it is rarely available for home use. If you know any source for food chemicals, you might look there. Another form in which sodium alginate has been reported to be available, at least in the Czech Republic, is as a soil humectant for gardeners, labeled as an anti-transpirant, brand name Agricol, made by Zeneca Agrochemicals. I don't know whether it is sold in this form anywhere in the Americas. A third and very likely place to look is a craft store that sells supplies for casting, or a dental supply company, because purified alginate is used for making the molds in which plaster casts are formed.

Whether you use kelp or purified sodium alginate, it is important to use only soft water to mix your dyes. The calcium ions found in hard water will form a difficult-to-remove gel when combined with sodium alginate, and presumably also with unpurified kelp powder. You can use distilled or deionized water if that is convenient for you, or you can add about one teaspoon per liter of the water softener sodium hexametaphosphate. This is sold by Dharma as water softener, by ProChem as Metaphos, and by Jacquard Products as Calgon T. Only the powder form of Calgon will do, as the phosphate-free liquid form we see in the grocery stores where I live contains polycarboxylates which are said to interfere with dye uptake by the fiber. It is wise to use this phosphate-containing water softener for both dye mixtures and for washing out after dyeing, even when you are not using alginate, because calcium in the water can cause problems in washing out the excess unattached dye, a problem completely separate from the calcium/alginate gel problem. Calcium combined with alginate can be very annoying and difficult to get out of your dye bottles, because the gel that is formed will not melt even when heated.

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Posted: Thursday - March 05, 2009 at 08:37 AM          

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