Textile Dyeing Methods
Dyeing textiles on an amateur or cottage basis can be a fascinating hobby. We offer a range of natural and synthetic dyes for the amateur dyer. Below, you will find descriptions of the main classes of dye together with some easy starter methods to get you going. Remember, if you are looking for a specific dye or a specific colour and you don't see it here, you are welcome to ask and we will try to find it for you (remember to mention which material you are trying to dye, e.g. cotton, wool, silk etc).
Classes of dye
Acid dyes - suitable for wool and silk. Not recommended for cotton.
Mordant dyes - Suitable for wool.
Disperse dyes - Specialist dyes for acetates. Not suitable for the beginner.
Reactive dyes - Specialist dyes. Not suitable for the beginner.
Basic dyes - Suitable for wool and silk. Not recommended for cotton.
Direct dyes - Suitable for cotton.
Union dyes - Specialist dyes. Not suitable for the beginner.
Vat dyes - Suitable for wool and cotton.
Azoic and sulphur dyes Specialist dyes. Not suitable for the beginner.
Starter Methods for acid dyes
Wool - Add the required amount of dye to the dye-bath. Add ten percent of Glauber's salt and three percent of sulphuric acid. Add the wool to the bath and bring gradually to the boil over a period of about 30 - 45 minutes. Boil for up to a further 45 minutes.
Silk - use the same method but reduce the acid to one or two percent and do not heat the dye bath to more than 85C. Hold at this temperature until the dye bath is exhausted or the desired shade is obtained.
Starter Methods for Basic Dyes
Wool - If your tap water is hard, adjust the pH of the bath to 7 using acetic acid (you can use spirit vinegar but not the malt kind). Dissolve the dye and add to the bath. Add the wool to the bath and raise the temperature to 85C over 30 minutes, then maintain at this temperature for a further 30 to 40 minutes.
Silk - as for wool but keep the temperature to no more than 60C.
Starter Methods for Vat Dyes
Vat dyes include Indigo. The methods given below should be taken as applying to Indigo unless otherwise stated. With Indigo dyeing, it is important to remember that it is the reduced form, white indigo, which fixes to the textile. This is then oxidised to the permanent, blue indigo which gives the colour. For this reason much of the indigo dye process is concerned with creating the appropriate alkaline, reducing conditions.
Cotton wool and silk - For each litre of water, add a small amount of ammonia to make it slightly alkaline (if dyeing wool, keep the alkalinity to a minimum, for cotton this is less important), then ten grams of sodium hydrosulphite. Stir, allow to stand for 15 minutes to deoxygenate the solution then add 50g Indigo. Allow to stand for 30 minutes. The solution should be a yellowy green colour. If it is blue, add more hydrosulphite. The textile is dipped in the vat for a few minutes, then taken out, taking care not to allow it to drip into the vat as this will oxygenate. The blue colour will develop in the textile as it is exposed to the air. To deepen the colour, simply dip again until the desired shade is obtained. Fifteen of more dips may be needed for an intense shade. The vat may be kept for 14 days or until exhausted.
Urine vat method
Here is one for those of you who want to really experience the
heady world of the mediaeval craft dyer. Urine vat was historically used mostly by the wool dyeing trade but it can also be used for other textiles. Have fun.
Note: It is said that the urine of men serves best in this application, so ladies, you not only have a genuine traditional recipe here, you also have an excuse to socialise!
Store the urine for two weeks to allow it to go stale. Heat one gallon of urine to 50C in a pot with a lid. Place it on a hotplate to maintain the temperature at 50C throughout the process. Add one teaspoon of washing soda and 20ml of Indigo liquid. Stir it all together and leave in a warm place for one week or until the solution becomes greeny yellow. Add the textile to the vat, making sure the fibres are completely submerged for 20 minutes. Gently remove the fibres from the vat, taking care to minimise any dripping back into the vat, then plunge them into a bowl of clear water, then take them out and expose to air. This allows the colour to develop.
Starter Methods for Natural Dyes
Unlike the categories above, natural dyes are not grouped by chemical type so will be dealt with on an individual basis.
Annatto is a very simple dye to use. For wool and silk, simply soak overnight. For cotton, it may be necessary to warm the pot to 50C.
More starter methods will be available shortly..
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Revised: 23rd February 2022