Ingredients: appropriate cloth or clothing;
MX dyes or other fiber reactive dyes; sodium carbonate (soda ash or "pH Up"). Rubber
bands, synthetic sinew, or
dental floss for tying (optional). Plastic
bottles with which to
hold the dye (4 to 8 ounces [125 to 250 ml] is a good size).
Choose the right fabric, first. Fabrics that are at least 80%
cellulose fiber--cotton, rayon, linen, tencel, or
hemp-- are best for dyeing. 100% is better.
50% cotton/50% polyester makes nice pastels. Cotton clothing
is often sewn with non-cotton thread, which stays
white, but this is not usually a problem. Avoid 100%
polyester or nylon. Silk is the only protein (animal) fiber
that can be dyed with this recipe.
Next, wash your fabric.
This can be done days in advance.
Unwashed fabric may not dye well.
Next, if you're planning to tie-dye,
tie the dry garments in advance. It's
easiest that way.
(Tying wet garments that contain soda ash is a total pain, because you should always wear gloves when handling soda ash, but gloves get caught in the string or rubber bands; it's okay to moisten the fabric with plain water to tie, and then soak in soda ash.) See the next page for more information on tieing.
Mixing the dyes may be done
up to one week in advance. (Longer storage requires
Dissolve urea in water....1 tablespoon (15 ml) per cup (250 ml).
Urea is harmless, easy to measure, and it dissolves readily--a
chemist's favorite. Make enough at one time for every color you're going
to prepare. (Urea may be omitted in
low water immersion dyeing.)
Next, dissolve dye in urea solution. The best
dye to use on cotton is a good fiber
reactive dye such as Procion MX, Sabracron F, or Drimarene K (buy from one of the companies listed at Sources for
Supplies). (Do not
use all-purpose dye such as
Rit® brand dye in this type
Use about 4 teaspoons of dye per
cup...unless the dye is or contains
turquoise MX-G, in which case you should
double the amount for similar brightness, or black, in which case you
must use 2 to 4 times as much.
you are mixing primaries to make other
shades, note that the powder
dissolves much more easily after it's
been mixed in dry form.
Put the dye solutions into squirt
or spray bottles for applying the
dye - buy plastic bottles specifically
for this purpose.
careful when you measure out the
dye...leave the jars open as short
a time as possible, and use a face
mask. Don't breathe dye! The stuff
very toxic, but you can become
sensitized to it, which would put an
end forever to your dyeing.
Pre-soaking the fabric.
Just before dyeing, pre-soak the fabric for fifteen minutes to one hour in
a solution of sodium carbonate, mixed one cup per gallon of water. This stuff
is also known as soda ash, and is similar to, but three times as strong as, washing soda.
The kind sold for swimming pools - one brand is "pH
Up" - is excellent. (Do not use sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda!)
Applying the dye. I like to
lay the fabric nearly flat, or pleated loosely, and
drip with squeeze bottles directly onto the fabric, or
spray it on with a spray
bottle. This part is easy and fun, but always more
tiring than I expect. Be
sure to wear gloves! The sodium carbonate is slightly
caustic and must be washed
or at least wiped off of your skin
immediately after contact. (Not to
that the dyes themselves look very odd on
your hands for a couple of days
afterwards--while a special hand cleaner,
ReDuRan, is sold for cleaning up after
dyes, it really doesn't work as well as
you'd like, so you end up waiting two or
three days to look normal again. Also, no fabric dye has been fully tested for safety when spilled on the skin.)
Reaction time. Make sure that
the fabric stays wet, for the reaction to take place,
than two hours, but preferably eight to twenty-four
hours. The amount of time required depends
on the temperature, which should be at least 70°F (21°C).
In our humid climate here,
we just leave the clothing outside, trusting the urea,
to keep our fabric sufficently damp, but in drier
climates you may need to use plastic
wrap or plastic bags.
Wash the clothing.
Many dyers prefer to
detergent in the wash water, to help prevent
dyes from mixing in undesired ways. You still need to
isolate very light colors
(especially yellow/orange); the problem with
transfer of unreacted dye from dark to light
reduced by waiting a full day or more before
washing out, as dye which has not reacted
with the fabric will tend to react with the
water, if given enough time. I like to dump the dyed items directly into the washer without rinsing first, but many prefer to rinse by hand before machine-washing. I wash first in cold, once, then twice in the hottest water available, using
Synthrapol in each wash, and end by
double-rinsing. You may need to wash the clothes
separately the first few wearings, but pretty soon
they are 100% colorfast and safe
to wash with anything, in my experience.
Heat setting is NOT necessary
with Procion MX dyes. The only
reason to use a hot water wash is to rid the cloth of
the last bits of unreacted dye. It is important to use
cold water before using hot water, as hot water may,
in the presence of the sodium carbonate, encourage
some excess dye to become a little too closely
associated with the fabric, resulting in dye that
gradually rinses out over the course of many