This is my favorite type of dye. This dye is suitable for all cellulose fibers (cotton, rayon, linen, wood, even tagua nuts). It gives brilliant, saturated colors. Its has a good rating for both light-fastness and wash-fastness. It also doesn’t require any heavily toxic chemicals. Although you have to be careful with the soda ash.
I first found these dyes at a local art & craft supply store. I was tired of the weak, fading colors I was getting with standard household dyes (the kind you can get in the grocery store). At first the procedures and chemicals required seemed daunting, but after trying it a few times, well hey, no big deal! Another great thing about procion dyes is that they are cool water dyes. When doing batik you can’t use dyes that require boiling (it would melt the wax). These days I usually order my dyeing supplies from Dharma Trading. They’re quick (typically 3 days), affordable, helpful, and have everything you’ll need.
- Procion dyes in the colors you need. While a wide range of pre-mixed colors are available, you can mix your own from a basic palette. A basic palette would consist of: lemon yellow, magenta, turquoise, and black. I also like to keep a couple of browns on hand as I find it hard to mix an attractive brown. I have this problem with paints too, so its me not the dyes.
- Soda ash. This is used as a “fixing agent” on the dyes.
- Non-iodized salt. It must be non-iodized or the colors won’t be as strong. Not all grocery stores carry non-iodized salt, but I didn’t have any problem finding it.
- A dust mask. You can pick these up at the hardware or medical supply store. You should wear one when measuring/mixing dye or soda ash. While the dyes aren’t terrifically toxic, you wouldn’t want to breath the stuff. And soda ash is very caustic; it can irritate your lungs. Maybe slightly less caustic than lye (caustic soda for you Brits out there). Again, its not going to dissolve your face or anything, but you probably don’t want to breath it.
- Rubber gloves. Same as for above. Safety first! And besides, you don’t want to walk around all week with multicolored hands. People would talk.
- A large bucket or pan. Plastic, glass, or ceramic only. No metal! I like to use those white plastic, 5 gallon buckets. You will also need another bucket or bowl for putting the fabric in after you pull it out of the dye bath. You don’t want that dye dripping all over the floor on your way to the sink.
- A long handled plastic or wooden spoon for stirring. I also find a pair of stainless steel tongs useful, but certainly not necessary.
- Measuring cups and spoons. Plastic or stainless steel. Don’t use ones that will be used for food preparation. Yes, I know its obvious, but I had to say it.
- Calgon or other water softening agent. We have fairly hard water and I find this helps me get more intense colors. If you have soft water don’t bother.
- These instructions are for dyeing approximately 5 square yards of fabric (or about 3 large t-shirts).
- Wet the fabric and squeeze all the excess water out. Then, if you want a pattern, tie, pleat, scrunch, or otherwise manipulate the fabric to get the pattern you want (see Pattern section below). Note: all fabric should be pre-washed before dyeing to remove any sizing, optical whiteners, or surface treatments.
- Fill your bucket with about 3 gallons of hot tap water.
- Don your old clothes, gloves, and mask.
- Add 11/2 c. non-iodized salt to the water. Stir to dissolve.
- Add 1 Tbl. of the dye powder and stir. The amounts may vary slightly. Some colors require more dye. Generally anything very dark, black, and most reds require twice as much dye.
- Add 1/2 tsp. of Calgon if necessary. Its important to add the Calgon after adding the dye. I once added it before and had a hard time getting the dye to dissolve. Stir some more
- In a separate (plastic or glass) container dissolve 1/4 c. soda ash in one quart of hot tap water. I usually remove my dust mask after dissolving the soda ash. All the powders are safely dissolved in water so it shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re concerned, leave the dust mask on, particularly if you have asthma or other respiratory problems.
- Put the fabric into the dyebath and stir again. Leave the fabric in the bath for 30 minutes, stirring it every 5 minutes. If its really important to get even color (e.g. you’re not doing a pattern) you should stir constantly during this phase. Make sure you move the fabric around. You want dye to get to all of the fabric. This is where I find the tongs useful. Particularly on heavy fabric its helps to actually lift the fabric and move it around.
- After 30 minutes you will start adding the soda ash solution. Add the soda ash solution in 3 parts at 5 minute intervals. Keep stirring. Note: don’t pour the solution directly onto the fabric. I usually use the spoon to push the fabric to one side then pour the solution.
- Continue stirring every 5 minutes for the next 50 minutes. (Well, I admit that I often stir only every 10 minutes when I’m doing a pattern).
- With your gloves on, place the extra bowl/bucket next to the dye bucket. Pick up a corner of the fabric and squeeze it into the dye bucket. I normally do this along the length of the fabric, feeding the squeeze portion over the edge of the dye bucket and into the extra bucket.
- Take the fabric to the sink or bathtub and rinse it repeatedly, until the water runs clear. Start rinsing in cold water and work up to warm water. If I’m rinsing a lot of fabric I will have the bathtub already filled with water. I swish it around in the tub until it looks like no more dye is coming out. Squeeze out the water.
- Wash the fabric in the washing machine using detergent. Synthrapol is a detergent made specifically for removing excess, spent dye. It works particularly well, but normal laundry detergent is fine. Run the fabric through a wash cycle and two rinse cycles. Add a little fabric softener to the second rinse cycle. Toss the fabric in the dryer or hang dry it, as you prefer.
- You’re done!
Two of my favorite patterns are the pleated-and-tied and the pantyhose method.
Pleated and Tied
Lay the fabric out on a flat surface. Accordion pleat the fabric. I find it works best with pleats between 1″ and 4″ wide. Using string or twine tie the pleated fabric at regular intervals. If you dye it twice (in different colors) using this pattern it give a plaid-like effect.
Panty Hose Method
This method gives a lovely mottled effect. Great for backgrounds. Looks like a cloudy sky when done in light blue on white.
While the fabric is dry scrunch it up into a ball. Try not to have any one part of the fabric entirely in the center, e.g. try to scrunch it evenly. Then stuff the scrunched ball loosely into the leg of a pair of hose. Tie a knot at the top of the leg. You don’t want the fabric packed too tightly or it will not dye well. Wet the fabric/hose bundle and squeeze it out. Then “fluff up” the fabric ball by pinching pieces of fabric (through the hose) and pulling.