Tag Archives: Reactive dye

Shibori Dyeing


  Arashi shibori is a type of Japanese resist dyeing where fabric, usually silk, is wound around a pole or pipe, then bound, then dyed by immersing the fabric wrapped pole in a dye bath.  The end result is a beautiful diagonal ripple stripe.   A few modern adaptations of arashi shibori include wrapping and dyeing fully made garments, direct application of the dyes and the use of pvc pipe for the wrapping pole.  Sheer cotton, rayon, gauze, and other light weight fabrics of plant origin can be successfully used for this form of resist dyeing along with fiber reactive dyes. For intense multicolored shibori, my preference is for direct application, rather than immersion dyeing.

Supplies needed:

  • Sodium carbonate pre-soak solution:  one cup of sodium carbonate dissolved in one gallon of water.
  • Fiber reactive dyes in squeeze bottles, or small cups.
  • Cylinder– I often use a large clear food canister, so I can see both sides of the bound fabric.  Wine bottles, plastic tubes, PVC pipe, two liter soda bottles, 5 gallon buckets, are all cylinders that can be used successfully.
  • Cord,  elastic, or sinew for binding.
  • 1 yard or more of white or pastel light weight rayon or cotton fabric 45 inches wide, or a light weight garment, washed and dried omitting fabric softeners and dryer sheets.
  • Masking tape.
  1. Soak the item to be dyed in a solution of 1 cup of sodium carbonate dissolved into 1 gallon of warm water for about 30 minutes.
  2. Wearing gloves, wring the fabric or garment out over the pre-soak bucket until just damp. Spinning in a washing machine is recommended.
  3. The cloth is wrapped on a diagonal around a cylinder.  Depending on the size of the cylinder, the fabric can folded, or over lap several times.  The cloth can be secured with tape at one end and the cylinder turned to wrap. GE DIGITAL CAMERA
  4. This is a XXL Tee shirt folded diagonally.
  5. The cloth is very tightly bound by wrapping thread, or cord or sinew up and down the cylinder.  Here the binding cord  is a rubber band at one end.  
  7. Usually at this point the bindings are wrapped around the fabric.  My Tee shirt is so thick and damp, it will cling to itself with only binding either end with a rubber band  to hold the shape of the pleats, once scrunched.
  8. Next, the cloth is scrunched on the pole.  It should be a snug fit.   The result is a tightly pleated cloth with a design on a diagonal.
  10. Dye is applied with squeeze bottles, or sponges, or brushes.
  12. Batch for 12-24 hours.
  14. Unband, washing out excess dye in hot soapy water.
  15. Machine launder.



Cotton fabric is 36 inches wide  by 108 inches long, dyed in four colors.  The above photo is from the middle layers.


The outermost layers have the darkest, least distinctive dye pattern,


 while the inner most layers have the tightest and lightest dye patterns.


The two ends compared.

A technique frequently used in shibori is over dyeing with black or other very dark color.  This can be accomplished by over dyeing the first dye application 20 minutes into the batching process.  Or, more commonly, the entire binding and dyeing process is completed twice.  The first time the dyeing is done in pastel or light colors.  The second time the dyeing is done in dark colors or black, sometimes going in different direction.


Twice dyed using shibori technique, 36 x 36 linen, 2011, by Ruth Cooper

Another fun variation is reverse shibori, where dark fabric is wound around a cylinder, bound, scrunched, then treated with a discharging agent for about an hour.  The fabric is then unbanded and the discharging agent is neutralized.  Work in a well ventilated area when discharging, please.

There are many variations to explore with shibori, from how the fabric is folded before wrapping, to how the wrapping is done, to how the binding and scrunching are done, to where the dye is placed.  The combinations of variables is endless! My studio was once located next door to a restaurant that received shipments of condiments in tall square 3 gallon pails.  Using those  square pails as  wrapping poles created several unusual shibori dyed fabrics.  Who says the pole must be a cylinder??

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Color Blending with Procion Fiber Reactive Dyes

 color wheel

There is a point in every tie dye workshop that I ask the group to name the three primary colors.   The group members usually bumble around and eventually come up with the right answers, only mildly embarrassing themselves when someone says “pink”.   In the world of fiber reactive dye the primaries are lemon yellow, fuchsia red, and turquoise.  All the secondary and tertiary colors are blended from the three primaries.  In the Beginner Tie Dye Workshop this discussion of colors and their relationship to each other on the color wheel leads to an exercise with white paper towels.  We drip out the three primaries dyes in a triangle and observe the colors bleed together forming the three secondary colors.  Using that color wheel concept, the students dye rainbow spiral Tee shirts.  Nice lesson for the beginner.


Tie Dye Rainbow Spiral Tee Shirt in three primaries and three secondaries.

In the Advanced Level Workshop, we explore color blending in greater detail. Still using paper towels as  test palettes, we experiment by controlling the value, or depth, of color as  we blend.  Plan extra time when next you mix up a dye lot for the creation of a color mixing chart of your own.

  • Create a stock solution of the three primary colors of concentrated dye solution, carefully measuring or weighing the dye powder and measuring the warm water. Add salt or urea as needed. Use the dye distributor’s recommendations for yield to determine dye powder to water ratios.
  • Dilute the stock solution with water to one half strength for medium values of each color.
  • Lighten stock solution  in 4 ounce increments, making at least three values of each color, light, medium and dark.  Make cotton color swatches, or a paper towel journal.
  • Blend small amounts, 4 ounces at a time, until the desired ratio is achieved.
  • Write down the proportions!
  • Adding dye from lightest to darkest is the preferable mixing sequence when blending new colors.

 advanced color wheel

  • Adding black or weak black in small increments can deepen many dyes.  A light touch is required when adding black.

I found these color wheels by Googling “color wheel”. And you can probably find better ones, but I highly recommend you make your own, with your dyes.  Label with the formula you created.     Your own color wheel will become the corner-stone of your favorite color combinations.   Dye is too expensive to waste making mucky looking colors and odd combinations due to poor planning of color and color placement. Learn which colors provide harmony, blending well and which ones provide pleasing contrast.  Explore ‘warm’ verses ‘cool’ colors.  Practice for hours, all on the safety of  paper towels before making final selections  on a project.  A well recorded history of your dye mixing experiments provides a valuable reference for future projects and ideas.

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Filed under How to, Using Fiber Reactive Dyes

Batik for Beginners


“Everyone’s Rainbow”, 2012-13 R. Cooper

Vintage Bedsheet made into Batik Fabric made into a Whole Cloth Art Quilt

Of all the art forms I have sampled thus far  in my life–and there are many– the ancient art of wax resist dyeing known as batik is my very favorite.  There is the aroma of the molten wax, the magical way the dye flows around the hardened wax, and the mysterious science of blending waxes for specific results plus the timing and controlling of the final dye bath.  I love every phase of the process!  Each finished piece is an exploration in color layering.  As a production artisan, I work on several batik projects at one time.  The process is slow, with long periods of waiting for dyes to batch. Having several pieces in progress simultaneously is much more profitable and time efficient than completing one item at a time from start to finish.  For the purpose of our discussion today, however, the steps described are for a single item project.


Wax hot enough to effectively penetrate fabric is hot enough to burn and blister the human flesh.  Over heated wax can emit toxic fumes, even burst into flames!!  Only heat wax in a thermostatically controlled vessel.  Do not heat wax for batik in the microwave oven, toaster oven, or conventional oven, or on a stove top.  Any vessel or tool used in the batik process should never be used for food preparation again.  Work in a well ventilated area. Have a tight-fitting lid for any vessel used to heat wax. Have a fire extinguisher handy.  Use the same safety precautions for handling the procion fiber reactive dyes that are described in the May 29, 2013 blog regarding Dye Application and Batching.


  • Natural bristle brushes
  • Clothes pins–wooden spring clasp style
  • Metal objects for stamping with wax, such as cookie cutters, hardware, forks, kitchen tools, carpentry tools
  • Tjanting (optional—a traditional Indonesian batik tool that is a tiny metal funnel, with a long wooden handle, for scooping up hot wax and creating uniform lines).
  • Tacks
  • Wooden frame. I use retired picture frames and embroidery hoops for small pieces, and have built large frames for yardage.
  • Wax thermometer
  • Dish pan, or bucket
  • Electric iron, and ironing board
  • Large stock pot
  • Wax melting vessel with thermostat

Dharma Trading Company offers several appliances for melting the waxes.  In my studio, we use a 1 quart crock pot for soy wax.  For the high temperature waxes, we use a retired electric wok.  An electric skillet is ideal, because several smaller metal pans can be used simultaneously.  An old muffin tin is useful with an electric skillet.  Which ever appliance is used, it must have a temperature gauge.


  • Paper towels
  • Old newspapers
  • Fabric, suitable for use with fiber reactive dyes
  • Fiber reactive dyes
  • Sodium carbonate
  • Laundry soap
  • Wax

A Comparison of Waxes

Bee’s Wax: All natural. Comes from bees.  Relatively expensive$10-$15 US per pound .  Melts at a high temperature 145 degrees F.  flammable. Creates a smooth wax line, with little or no crackle. Usually blended with paraffin to give crackle.  Must be removed by solvent or boiling.

Paraffin: Synthetic. Comes from petroleum. Dirt cheap $1 US per pound. Melts at a high temperature 145 degrees F.  flammable. Creates a heavy wax line, with lots and lots of heavy crackle.  Must be removed by solvent or boiling.

Microcrystalline Wax/Synthetic Bee’s Wax: Synthetic.  Comes from petroleum.  Moderately expensive $6-8 US per pound. Melts at a high temperature 175 degrees F.  flammable. Creates a smooth wax line, with little or no crackle.  Can be combined with paraffin.  Must be removed by solvent or boiling.

Soy Wax: natural.  Comes from soy beans.  Inexpensive $3-5 US per pound.  Melts at lower temperature 120 degrees F.  Creates a smooth wax line , with undependable crackle.  Washes out in hot water and detergent.

Re cycled Wax of unknown origin, aka old candles and crayons: Probably paraffin.  Free.  Melts at high temperature 140 degrees F.  Creates  various  effective resists.  Must be removed with a solvent or boiling.

Years ago, in the infancy of my career in the art of batik, a revolution in the candle making industry occurred, and the use of synthetic microcrystalline wax created an alternative to bee’s wax, or paraffin.  Then about 15 or so years ago, soy wax became available for vegetarian candle making.  The soy wax behaves very differently from the other more traditional batik waxes. It is a weaker resist. Unlike those waxes, soy wax is easy to get rid of in the final stage of the process. In my opinion all the waxes have merit and I stock 3 or four combinations of waxes for different projects. Most traditional batik artist use various blends to achieve specific results, due to the diversity of fabrics used for batik.  For the beginner,  for ease of use, and price, I would highly recommend using straight soy wax. It is commonly sold in the candle making supplies in a flake form. The lower melting temperature  of soy wax reduces risk of serious burns, and fumes, or open flame.

  • Launder the fabric to be batiked, omitting fabric softener, and dryer sheets.
  • Iron the fabric using no starch, removing all wrinkles.
  • Tack the fabric to a frame, or pull tight in a large embroidery hoop
  • Heat wax to melting point.
  • Apply wax using the tool(s) of your choice–I recommend brushes for the beginner.  Tools must have heat-resistant handles.  Clothes pins are handy for dipping metal objects into the hot wax.
  • Test the wax on a pad of paper made by folding a paper towel several times.  Drip the hot wax on to the towel.  The wax should readily soak into the paper towel all the way through to the other side.  Test on a scrap of fabric or the edge of the fabric.  The wax should soak all the way through the fabric and be visible on the underside.
  • Apply the wax to the fabric using brushes, or metal objects dipped in wax and  stamped onto the fabric, or a tjanting.
  • When applying the hot wax, create the design with the thought in mind that everything covered in wax will remain the original color beneath the wax application.   Create enclosed areas of wax, for filling with dye later.
  • Allow the wax to harden.  This can be hurried along in the fridge or freezer, or cool spot in winter with a fan.
  • Prepare a solution of 1 cup sodium carbonate in 1 gallon warm water, or a smaller equivalent ratio, and place in a spray bottle.
  • Spray fabric with sodium carbonate solution until damp.
  • Wait 20 minutes.
  • Prepare procion fiber reactive dyes, with thickener added, if desired.
  • Using a small squeeze bottle or a paint bush, apply the dye sparingly, but fully filling each enclosed area.  A white plastic ice tray makes a handy dye holder when using several colors of dye. Use the lightest color(s) of the spectrum first.  The dye will not be able to penetrate the hardened wax.
  • Allow dyed areas to batch until completely dry.  Depending on several factors, that could as long as 24 hours.  Drying can be hurried along with a fan, or a blow dryer set on cool.
  • Apply more melted wax, covering the first dye color as desired.
  • Allow the wax to harden.
  • Lightly spritz areas to be dyed again with the sodium carbonate solution.
  • Dye with the medium colors of the spectrum, bearing in mind that a second dye color will impact the first dye application as the two colors mingle.   Do some testing on a paper towel to determine a pleasing dye color advancement.
  • Continue alternating wax applications and dye applications until the design is completed, dyeing in a darker color each time.
  • Remove the batik from the frame, handling with care.  Allow to cool and dry completely for 24 hours.
  •  The dark vein-like cracks that are filled with dye in the final bath, characteristic of batik are called crackle.   If little or no crackle is desired, handle with extreme care to avoid cracking the wax resist. If more crackle is desired, place the batik in a freezer, for 30-60 minutes.  Remove from freezer and crack the wax as desired.
  • Prepare a dye bath in a dishpan or small bucket.
  • Immerse the entire piece of fabric in a single dark dye bath.
  • Wait 12 to 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Wash out in warm soapy water. Line dry ONLY.

Removal of the Wax

  • Cover ironing board with several layers of newspaper.
  • Sandwich the batik between several layers of white paper towels, then more newspaper.
  • With iron on hottest setting, slowing heat the batik through the layers of paper, melting the wax into the paper.
  • If the wax application was very heavy, this process can be repeated, until most of the wax is removed.
  • Items batiked using soy wax can be washed in hot soapy water, several times, if needed, to remove the remaining wax.
  • Items using any high temperature wax must be dry cleaned with a solvent, or boiled in water to remove the remaining wax.  Note:  It is fine to leave the last of the wax in an item intended for a wall hanging.
  • To boil out residual wax bring a large stock pot of water to a boil.
  •  Submerge fabric, boiling for several minutes.
  • Allow water to cool.
  • Peel or skim wax from the top of cooled water.
  • Wash and dry batik.

NEVER pour wax or waxy water down the drain!  It will clog pipes. Theoretically, the wax recovered after boiling out could be used again, although I have never done so.


‘Treasure’, 2012 R. Cooper

Detail of Batik Whole Cloth Art Quilt Embellished with Charms, Buttons, Beads, Shells, and Other Cool Stuff

Sun and Moon Batik shirt

 “Sun and Moon”, 2011 R. Cooper

Batik Tee Shirt


“Moon-Sun”, 2012, R. Cooper

Extra Large Tote Bag

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