After a few years of mixing dyes by hand, I splurged, purchasing a submersible blender, AKA a cocktail blender. This handy little appliance costs about $10 and can be found at most department stores. I am on my fourth one, which I bought in the after Christmas clearance at Walgreens for $3. Friends, it is worth the investment!! I have several traditional blenders gathering dust in the studio, because a submersible is so much faster, easier, and clean up is minimal.
Begin by assembling all the equipment and supplies needed.
- Deep, wide-mouthed containers, one for each color. I am partial to retired peanut butter jars.
- Measuring implements.
- Procion fiber reactive dyes
- Urea (optional)
- Dust mask
- Latex or vinyl gloves
- Squeeze bottles, syringes, eye droppers, or pipettes. I now use squeeze bottles exclusively due to arthritis.
- Old newspapers
- White paper towels
A word or two about Procion Fiber Reactive Dyes
The dye is sold in a powdered form and can be purchased from several sources on-line. All of the dye distributors have their merits and similar products. I do not recommend kits from craft stores or department stores. Dharma Trading Company offers kits for the beginner in a variety of sizes that are very affordable. I was a long time customer of Dharma Trading Company, until discovering CustomColours based in North Carolina. Although I still maintain an account with Dharma for purchasing many items, CustomColours offers the lowest prices for bulk dye purchases.
Once mixed with water, the dye has a limited shelf life, thus should be used within a few days. If not used up quickly, the color intensity (yield) is greatly diminished. Unfortunately, the yield can not be determined until the final washout phase is completed. So, only mix as much dye as you estimate is needed for the current project. More on how to arrive at that estimate later. It is easy to mix up more dye to complete a project, but heart breaking (and expensive) to pour old dyes down the drain.
SAFETY FIRST. Work in a well ventilated area. Before even opening the canisters to view the powdered dye, please put on a dust mask, or better yet, a respiratory mask. Keep it on until all the mixing is completed and every canister is re-sealed. Why? In its powdered state the dye is very light weight and easily airborne. Inhaling the particulates is a serious health hazard. The lung is like a wet sponge. When the particulates are inhaled, they can not be exhaled. Follow the distributor’s safety warnings to protect your self and your work area. Never mix dyes with children or pets present, and never leave canisters open longer than necessary to scoop some out.
Let’s get mixing! I make a ‘stock solution’ of each color that is very concentrated. I dilute the stock solution as needed to achieve the desired hue as I am working. This saves time, energy, and gives flexibility with a broader color range available.
- Cover the work area with newspapers.
- Pour 16 oz. warm water (slightly above body temperature) into each of the mixing jars. Fill one jar for just plain water. I mark my jars with Sharpie at the 1 cup, 2 cup, and 3 cup intervals, avoiding constant measuring.
- Put on gloves and mask.
- Measure 4 Tablespoons of dye into the waiting warm water. Double the amount for turquoise and colors containing turquoise, Triple the amount for black. This seems like a lot of dye, but remember it will be diluted later.
- Add 1-2 TBLSP of urea, if you wish. Urea is a nitrogen compound harvested from animal urine. (Vegans be aware) It is odorless and colorless. It assists in the yield of some of the darker colors, especially reds, and is a moisture drawing agent. It functions to keep the materials damp longer during the batching time. Because I live in a humid climate, I do not normally use urea.
- Add 1-3 TBLSP of salt to blacks and navy blues.
- Use the submersible blender to mix each color for about 30 seconds. Rinse the blender between colors in the jar of plain water you prepared in Step 2.
Note: Some of the mixed dyes will have a foamy ‘head’ from the action of the blender. Allow a few minutes for the foam to disperse before bottling.
Using a funnel, fill each applicator bottle half way, or less, with the stock solution. I use 12 oz. bottles because they fit my hands best. Completely fill the rest of the way with warm water. Test each color by dripping a spot on a white paper towel. After 30 seconds the drip spot will be an accurate representation of the final color yield on the fabric. Desire a lighter tint? Use more water and less dye stock solution. Desire a darker shade? Use less water and more stock solution. Want it even deeper? A smidgen of black stock solution can be added to deepen some colors. Experiment! Remember what you have done in a notebook to recreate at a later date. My apprentices keep the paper towels in a binder with formulas for the colors they produce. Cover the jars of stock solution until the bottles need refilling, as evaporation can occur.
We are ready to dye.
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