problems with tie-dyeing denim

Name: Bruce


Procion MX Fiber Reactive Cold Water Dye
Procion MX
Fiber Reactive
Cold Water Dye

the best dyes for cotton, rayon, and silk
ideal for tie-dyeing, LWI, batik, and many other methods of dye application

Dylon Permanent Fabric Dye Burnt Orange

Dylon Permanent Fabric Dye

Dylon Permanent Fabric Dye is a permanent dye that gives vibrant colors that won't run or wash out. Specially designed for use by hand in warm water. 1 pack dyes 1/2 lb dry weigh fabric. Dyeing larger amounts will give a lighter color. For cotton, linen, ramie and rayon.

Dylon Cold Water Dyes

Dylon Cold Water Dyes

Dylon Cold Water Dyes include 26 vivid, permanent colors for use on most natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, canvas, jute, and viscose rayon. One small tin makes a solution sufficient for dyeing six to eight ounces of dry weight material, or about the size of a hand towel. The Black will dye four ounces.

Message: I couldn't find any information on your site about the following, so I figured I would ask. I'm messing around with a pair of 100% cotton jeans (that's what the tag says at least) and they aren't coming out at all like I want them too. I'm getting better at making patterns on them, but the colors are coming out extremely faded - they look like I took a dim highlighter to the jeans, if you can imagine. I've kept them outside as long as 12 hours, I'm trying again now for 24. What's more is there arent any white spots between the colors - do I need to bleach them in order to have the non-dyed area of the jeans white? would this also help with the colors coming out brighter, and non icky? Finally, I was looking to dye very specific portions of the jeans, leaving chunks of it completely untouched by dye.

What kind of dye are you using? Is it Procion MX dye, or is it Rit brand all-purpose dye, or what?

Are you using any auxiliary chemicals, such as soda ash?

I've been following the process on your website fairly closely. I start off by using a soda ash/water mixture and soaking the part of the jeans I will be dying. After about an hour I heavily squirt on the dyes (I squirt enough so that it leaks off the jeans). For the dyes I've been using squirt bottles with several teaspoons of Procion MX dye mixed with water and several teaspoons of urea. After squirting I let the jeans set for a while (I've tried up to a whole day), rinse them in cool water and send them to the washing machine on a warm cycle.

When they come out the colors look like there mixing with the color of the jeans (which I'm sure they are) leaving them very dull and ugly.It looks like I took a highlighter to the jeans. I picked out a fairly light pair. Its not stonewashed, but its certainly lighter than most. Do I need to bleach the area to get pure-er colors? I sort of assumed the whitening and brightening of the fabrics was somewhere in the tie-dye process itself (like during the soda ash phase).

Ah, there's the problem. Yes, you need to bleach the denim in order to have white regions and brighter colors.

Dye is transparent. You will get the listed colors only if you start with a pure white background. When you apply dye to blue jeans, the color you get will be the same as if you mixed in that shade of blue dye with your liquid dyes. There is nothing about the dyeing process that will whiten the original color of the fabric.

What you need to do is start with white fabric, as much as possible. Ordinary household chlorine bleach, the stuff whose main ingredient is hypochlorite, will probably be your best bet for removing color from your jeans before dyeing them. An alternative would be Rit Fast Fade for Jeans or Dylon Easy Bleach, both of which contain a chemical called dichloroisocyanurate. They can be hard to find, however. Be very careful to avoid exposing yourself heavily to chlorine bleach. Wear thick reusable rubber gloves if you might get bleach on your hands, and be sure you get fresh air instead of breathing a lot of bleach fumes. Excessive bleach exposure can me you sick. (Don't use Rit Color Remover on indigo denim.)

If you use chlorine bleach, you should "stop" the action of the bleach afterwards. The most economical way to do this is to buy a product called "Anti-Chlor" from PRO Chemical & Dye; a little goes a very long way. An easier-to-find chlorine bleach stop agent is the 3% hydrogen peroxide sold in the drug store as a disinfectant. After washing the chlorine bleach out, pour peroxide over the fabric to stop the hypochlorite from eating away at the fibers. On the other hand, if you want raggedy-looking jeans, skip this step; chlorine bleach gradually eats away at the cotton fiber, leaving worn fabric and, eventually, holes.

See "How to Tie Dye on Dark Fabric".

A warning about starting with colored jeans and bleaching them out - the polyester stitching will not bleach. 100% cotton garments are usually sewn with polyester thread. No matter what color you dye your jeans, the stitching used to hold the garment together at the seams will stay the original color, usually orange in the case of blue jeans, neither bleaching nor dyeing. If this is a problem, find a source of white jeans and use them. Their stitching will stay white when you dye the garment. It's just a matter of what looks best with whatever you are planning to do. The only way to get clothing whose thread dyes properly is to buy special PFD (Prepared For Dyeing) garments that have been sewn with cotton thread. 

Yet another warning - the special look of blue denim is the result of weaving white threads in one direction with blue threads in the other direction. The "warp" is white and the "weft" blue, or maybe it's the other way around. Dyed denim is a solid color, same for both directions of threads. It's more like a colored twill.
example of partly dyed jeans
My other question deals with targeting specific areas. Ive attached a crude photoshoped picture of what I want the finished product to look like (circles spotted up top turning into an orange random that gets darker as it progresses footward). I was wondering how possible that design is, while leaving the upper-jeans untouched, and what I would have to do to achieve it (maybe dying/drying the jeans while there hanging from a clothesline?)

Start with blue denim jeans. In a large bucket, mix bleach with water, perhaps 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Place the jeans so that just the bottom sections are bleached out. Watch carefully until the desired degree of whiteness is reached, keeping in mind that excessive bleach exposure will damage your fabric. Do not do this to any fabric that is not 100% cotton, as other fabrics are much more vulnerable than cotton to the destructive effects of bleach. When the jeans look as white as you can get them, wash them, douse them with Anti-Chlor or hydrogen peroxide, let soak, then wash again. Then presoak in soda ash and apply the dye directly where you want it.

Another method is to buy a Clorox bleach pen and draw lines with bleach wherever you want. The bleach in the gel is thickened, so it's easier to work with, but there's only a small amount in each pen. Wash out and stop the bleach as above.
shirt with discharge-dyed circles
Also, I attached a picture of a shirt that had the kind of circle designs I wanted for the knee section, and wondered if there was any special technique to getting circles like that instead of the run-of-the-mill circles.

Those look like pretty run-of-the-mill ordinary circles to me. Study the different examples in my gallery on this page. Buy some cheap 100% cotton (but not stain resistant!) t-shirts and try some different tests to help you learn how to do it the way you want it. 

I was wondering how to go about that, and if its possible to buy a 'finish' to spread on the area and keep the dyes from touching it. I know, three questions in one, but I'd appreciate guidance - thanks in advance

You can thicken your dye with alginate. See "Sodium alginate, Superclear, and other dye thickeners ".

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Posted: Friday - August 18, 2006 at 01:03 PM          

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