How to Dye Your Own Fabrics – Dyes and Chemicals

When I dye my own fabrics, I use Procion MX dyes, which I find really easy to use. If you’ve never dyed before, here’s some info on the dyes and chemicals you’ll need to get started.

The Dyes

Procion MX fibre reactive dyes are synthetic dyes that are intended for use with natural plant-based or cellulose fibres. They are easy to use, easy to mix and provided a range of light-fast, clear bright colours. They are available from suppliers around the world and come in a range of great colours.

dye close up

The best thing about them though, in my opinion, is that with just three primary colours – red yellow and blue (and black!) you can make a whole range of beautiful shades. Of course, these primaries also come in various forms. Those that are not mixed with other colours will produce the purest shades.

Red can be cerise, intense red, scarlet and magenta

Red can be cerise, intense red, scarlet and magenta

Blue can be royal, navy, cobalt and cerulean

Blue can be royal, navy, cobalt and cerulean

Yellow can be acid, golden and marigold

Yellow can be acid, golden and marigold

So by just sticking to these three primaries, in their particular variations, you will never run out of new combinations to discover!

Varying Primary Colours

Varying Primary Colours

Letters and Number s of Procion MX Dyes

When you go to your dye supplier to purchase your first selection of dyes, you will be faced with a dizzying array of letters and numbers which signify the properties of each dye. Each dye name usually comprises:

  • The brand name – Procion for example.
  • A colour name – Golden yellow or Cerulean Blue
  • A prefix which signifies the type of dye – MX stands for Dichloritriazine
  • A dash.
  • An optional number – indicates how much more of a colour is in a dye. For example 8B is bluer than 5B.
  • A letter, usually, G, R or B. These signify the following German colour names:

o    Gelb for Yellow

o    Rot for Red

o    Blau for Blue

Sometimes a dye may just have a letter after the dash rather than a number and a letter. Examples of these are Blue MX-R, which, by virtue of the red component, may have a purplish cast and Blue MX-G which, by virtue of the yellow may appear slightly green.

If you intend to purchase all your dyes from the same supplier, you will soon get to recognize the various colour names which are associated with the various codes and will be able to order by name. If you buy from various suppliers, you may find that different suppliers call dyes of a particular code by a different colour name than your previous supplier. In this case, it is better to order those dyes you require by code rather than name to ensure you get the colour you are expecting.

Chemicals

There are a wide range of chemicals on the market which can be used in dyeing. I only use two, Synthrapol, a strong detergent, and Soda Ash, a dye fixative. Many home dyers also use urea in their work. This is a wetting agent which can help your fabric absorb more dye and it can be useful in very dry climates. As I live in the UK, with its constantly changing climate and plentiful rainfall, I have never had any need of urea.

Synthrapol

Synthrapol is a strong, non-alkaline detergent which is readily available from dye suppliers. It is very useful for washing fabric that is not PFD(Prepared for Dyeing and Printing) as it will remove any sizing or other treatments that the fabric may have been subjected to. It is also incredibly useful for washing your fabric after dyeing and rinsing as it gets rid of any loose dye particles which have not bonded with the fibres. This will prevent bleeding in the future and boost colour-fastness.

Soda Ash

Soda Ash is used as a dye fixative in that it helps the dye molecules permanently bond to the fibres during the curing (or batching) process. It is available from dye suppliers and I had been buying it for some years, at considerable expense, in 5KG tubs, until my kindly dye advisor told me that I could use washing soda instead. It is just as effective, available at my local supermarket, and considerably cheaper.

This post is an excerpt from my new eBook ‘How to Dye Your Own Fabric’. If you’d like to get the book for yourself I’ve given you the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/How-Dye-Your-Own-Fabric-ebook/dp/B00K5VCUAW/ref=sr_1_6?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1399575598&sr=1-6&keywords=dyeing+fabric

Revisiting The Secret (or Not so Secret) Photo

This is not, strictly speaking, a new post.

Just lately some of the embroidery and sewing pages that I follow have had a few requests asking for help in printing photos on fabric for memory quilts.

So I thought it might be helpful to drag out this old post and update it in the hope that it might be of some help.

Hope it’s of use, but if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

We crafters are a savvy and often financially-challenged bunch and usually like to tackle things in the most cost effective way possible – even if it does mean a lot of hard, time-consuming work. So it is with printing photos on fabric.

A Photo of my Mum in the 50s Printed onto Fabric

I particularly like old black and white photos printed onto fabric. The texture of the fabric emphasises the graininess of the photo and adds a wonderful sense of antiquity.

A Photo Quilt made by one of my Students

So here’s how to do it.

For a good image you need a good tight weave fabric. I use a pre-shrunk mercerised cotton that has been prepared for dyeing and printing – that means any sizing or dressing has been washed out.

I then cut out however many pieces I need a little larger than A4 (8 1/4″ x 11 3/4″), to allow for any further shrinkage and to allow you to trim the pieces cleanly before printing. I find 9″ x 12 1/2″ is adequate.

Cutting the Fabric

The next stage is to soak your fabric to prevent the photo from fading. Now I used to use Bubble-jet Set for this, but it is rather expensive for a bit of formaldehyde and water and doesn’t go very far. So a short trawl on the internet revealed a marvellous recipe for home-made photo set.

You will need:

  • 2 1/2 cups of hot water (not boiling but quite hot)
  • 2 1/2 oz of Alum (potash) – available from chemists in the UK and, I’ve been told, drugstores in the US.
  • 2 x tablespoons Soda ash or washing soda – available from supermarkets or hardware stores
  • 1 x teaspoon of fabric conditioner

Dry Ingredients for Home Made Photo Set

Add the dry ingredients to the water in a large jug or bowl (at least twice the size of the amount of water) and stir until the alum crystals dissolve. It will bubble up but fear not, the bubbles will subside after a few minutes.

Photo Set Bubbles

For the next part, ideally, you will need a large flat tray, about 3-4″ deep, but if you’re only doing a few pieces, a washing-up bowl will do.

Pour the photo set into the tray and check there are no undissolved alum crystals (if there are just pour back into the jug and stir a bit longer).

Lay your fabrics in the tray and press to submerge – you should wear rubber gloves for this.

Soaking the Photo Fabric

Leave the fabric for 5 minutes. then place the tray under a clothes line or clothes horse and lift each piece out one at a time and hang at an angle to drain for a minute or so.

Then hang all pieces up to dry overnight – leaving the tray in place to catch any drips of your carefully prepared photo set!

The next day, decant the photo set into a sealable bottle and store in a cool place to re-use for the next project.

Cut some sheets of freezer paper (this, I’m told is readily available in retail outlets in the US but is not so easy to find in the UK being deemed more a craft than a kitchen item – I, of course get in on the internet…), the same size as your soaked fabric and iron them onto the back of the fabric.

Now lay these pieces face down either under a large cutting mat or between the pages of a large book until completely flat. If you try and put them through the printer curled up, you are asking for a smeary paper jam.

When flat, usually the next day, place a piece of A4 paper (or whatever size you want to print) on top of each fabric/freezer paper combo and trim carefully to the exact size. Ensure there are no loose threads or frayed edges.

The next bit depends on your printer. I use an HP and it gives me the option to choose ‘other speciality papers’ in the paper option menu which works fine. I always print on ‘Normal’ quality rather than ‘Best’ as it gives the best image.

Only place one piece of fabric in the printer feed tray at a time.

While printing, keep a very close eye on the passage of the fabric as the corners do tend to flip up and get caught in the roller resulting in a smeared image.

Of course, the alternative is to go out and spend good money on  a pack of those ready soaked and backed printer fabric sheets – but where’s the fun in that?

The Secret Photo

A few days ago, a friend emailed to ask me how she could print her photos onto fabric – what kind of fabric I used and what processes I followed.

As I wrote the long reply email, I realised what a complicated process it was and one I would like to share.

We crafters are a savvy and often financially-challenged bunch and usually like to tackle things in the most cost effective way possible – even if it does mean a lot of hard, time-consuming work. So it is with printing photos on fabric.

A Photo of my Mum in the 50s Printed onto Fabric

I particularly like old black and white photos printed onto fabric. The texture of the fabric emphasises the graininess of the photo and adds a wonderful sense of antiquity.

A Photo Quilt made by one of my Students

So here’s how to do it.

For a good image you need a good tight weave fabric. I use a pre-shrunk mercerised cotton that has been prepared for dyeing and printing – that means any sizing or dressing has been washed out.

I then cut out however many pieces I need a little larger than A4 (8 1/4″ x 11 3/4″), to allow for any further shrinkage and to allow you to trim the pieces cleanly before printing. I find 9″ x 12 1/2″ is adequate.

Cutting the Fabric

The next stage is to soak your fabric to prevent the photo from fading. Now I used to use Bubble-jet Set for this, but it is rather expensive for a bit of formaldehyde and water and doesn’t go very far. So a short trawl on the internet revealed a marvellous recipe for home-made photo set.

You will need:

  • 2 1/2 cups of hot water (not boiling but quite hot)
  • 2 1/2 oz of Alum (potash) – available from chemists in the UK and, I’ve been told, drugstores in the US.
  • 2 x tablespoons Soda ash or washing soda – available from supermarkets or hardware stores
  • 1 x teaspoon of fabric conditioner

Dry Ingredients for Home Made Photo Set

Add the dry ingredients to the water in a large jug or bowl (at least twice the size of the amount of water) and stir until the alum crystals dissolve. It will bubble up but fear not, the bubbles will subside after a few minutes.

Photo Set Bubbles

For the next part, ideally, you will need a large flat tray, about 3-4″ deep, but if you’re only doing a few pieces, a washing-up bowl will do.

Pour the photo set into the tray and check there are no undissolved alum crystals (if there are just pour back into the jug and stir a bit longer).

Lay your fabrics in the tray and press to submerge – you should wear rubber gloves for this.

Soaking the Photo Fabric

Leave the fabric for 5 minutes. then place the tray under a clothes line or clothes horse and lift each piece out one at a time and hang at an angle to drain for a minute or so.

Then hang all pieces up to dry overnight – leaving the tray in place to catch any drips of your carefully prepared photo set!

The next day, decant the photo set into a sealable bottle and store in a cool place to re-use for the next project.

Cut some sheets of freezer paper (this, I’m told is readily available in retail outlets in the US but is not so easy to find in the UK being deemed more a craft than a kitchen item – I, of course get in on the internet…), the same size as your soaked fabric and iron them onto the back of the fabric.

Now lay these pieces face down either under a large cutting mat or between the pages of a large book until completely flat. If you try and put them through the printer curled up, you are asking for a smeary paper jam.

When flat, usually the next day, place a piece of A4 paper (or whatever size you want to print) on top of each fabric/freezer paper combo and trim carefully to the exact size. Ensure there are no loose threads or frayed edges.

The next bit depends on your printer. I use an HP and it gives me the option to choose ‘other speciality papers’ in the paper option menu which works fine. I always print on ‘Normal’ quality rather than ‘Best’ as it gives the best image.

Only place one piece of fabric in the printer feed tray at a time.

While printing, keep a very close eye on the passage of the fabric as the corners do tend to flip up and get caught in the roller resulting in a smeared image.

Of course, the alternative is to go out and spend good money on  a pack of those ready soaked and backed printer fabric sheets – but where’s the fun in that?