Dye Job

I’ve had some crafty energy lately, but haven’t been successful at finding very practical outlets for it. What I really want to do is purchase a sewing machine (the one I already own  is in Florida, boo hoo!) and finally learn to use it properly.

I also thought about carving wood into chess pieces, finishing that quilt I promised to hand-stitch, or making seed bead bracelets. See? I’m all over the place.

Fortunately, there’s a few crafty places here in Vancouver to focus these kinds of episodes into actual, usable results. My favorite it called Dresssew and, yes, it does have two Ss.

Everybody loves Dressew because it sells literally everything you could ever need in the way of fabric (stacked to the ceiling), leather, costumes, buttons, zippers (there’s like four isles of zippers), yarn and knitting things, hats, sequins, and belt and purse making supplies.  Among other things. Many other things.

It’s also great because it has a vibe like it’s from another time. Take the fabric dye I got there, for example. It’s like I went there in a time machine. Price? 49 cents each.

Supplies from Dressew (a place hard to describe. Am I right, Vancouver peeps?)

Supplies from Dressew (A place that’s hard to describe. Am I right, Vancouver peeps?)

With that kind of deal I had to do some dyeing. Over the winter I joined some good buddies in a tie dye experiment, so I was sort of out of white items in need of funky color. What I did have was an old linen blouse that was getting a bit dingy. It’s in good shape and is still a good looking shirt, but I hardly wear it anymore because it just kinda looks old. As it seems to be one of those colors of the moment, I thought I’d try a dose of light pink to see if that made it into a more relevant summer shirt.

The process for dyeing is pretty simple but I’d suggest that you follow the packing instructions. Different materials take different dyes, well, differently, so it’s good to do a little research on the materials you’re using.

This particular dye claims to be able to color everything from dried flowers to plastic toys. Linen takes dye easily so I started in earnest.

First, you soak the material to be dyed. Do this right in the vessel in which the garment will be dyed. In this case, my bathroom sink. You can also use a big bowl or pot depending on what your dye needs (some of them need to be boiled, for example.) If you are using something that looks like you could eat out of it, it’s probably a good idea to keep that item somewhere else besides your kitchen afterwards. No one wants to eat noodles or whatever made in the fabric dyeing pot!

Soaking in cold water helps the dye distribute evenly when it's applied.

Wet the garment first.

Then you assemble your dyes. It’s good to have gloves for this because the dye is usually pretty powerful on your clothes, your skin, the carpet, the sink, you get the idea.

ingredients assembled.

Ingredients assembled.

This one needed both hot and cold water and salt to be stirred in a particular order. Do check your package instructions and follow as closely as possible. You also need to follow the guidelines for the weight of the fabric. For someone like myself (no scale, no real patience for measuring accurately) this can be tricky. I usually just opt for adding extra dye just to be safe.

For the next part, it’s really important that you can hang around for at least ten minutes and not be disturbed. Like I said about making risotto over on my kitchen adventures blog, this can be a good thing. How often in your life do you set aside 10, 20 or even five minutes to do one simple, meditative task? I find jobs like this a pleasure if I’ve taken the time to arrange things correctly. No phone, no guests, no distractions. My full attention on the one thing I’m doing at the moment.

You need to stir it for at least 10 minutes. Why? Because the dye needs to be distributed in your fabric evenly and you just can’t rush that.

Lots of stirring!

Lots of stirring!

Here’s the sink after about ten minutes of stirring with a metal spoon. The color looks good-awful here, doesn’t it? At this stage it’s hard to tell what the results will be. A little like dyeing your hair, the color you paint onto your locks isn’t what you wind up with. This is meant to rinse into a lovely light grape-fruity pink. Fingers crossed!

The next step is rinsing. This also takes a long time and is, again, really important. If you leave dye in the wet fabric, it will pool and cause all kinds of drip-dried color effects. If that’s what you’re into then go for it. For this, I want a even color so the rinsing took about 20 minutes.Hang your garment evenly (no we parts sticking to each other, no laying it over something with a ridge or bump like the bathtub wall – the color will pool around the edges leaving you with weird areas of darker color). You might find that it’s still dripping colored water. If that’s the case, take it down and rinse again.

The last thing you need to do is clean up. Dye is obviously quite good at coloring up your things, so wipe it off counters, sinks, the floor, or anywhere else it might have landed in the process. I’ve had to bleach my counter tops after dyeing before and you might too. Stirring carefully will help, but this can be a bit messy!

The alternative to this process is to dye in your washing machine. This is easier in plenty of ways, but does require you to rinse the machine afterwards. I’d also not suggest it for machines with a lot of white plastic parts inside.

My last house in Florida had a machine with a stainless steel basin which made for a great dyeing vessel. Ours laundry situation here is a few machines shared among the building and I don’t want to initiate the bad karma that will almost certainly accompany leaving remnants of pink dye in the machine so my neighbors can ruin their laundry. It’s also a pay service so I’m happy to use my arms instead of my $2.00+ to achieve a newly-pinked shirt. If I were dying loads of things I might try to use the laundry machines. For one item, my own labor works just fine.

Whichever way you dye, it’s only really after your garment is dried that you can assess the results. Sometimes you might realize you want to dye the item again for a deeper color. Or, you might want to dye it again in another color for a blended effect. My grapefruit shirt ended up a nice, faded pink just in time for summer, my need to make something is somewhat quelled, and I don’t have to throw out something I can get more use from. Not bad for an afternoon’s work and a $1 investment.



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