Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In The Studio: Dyeing With IDye

         Recently I have had a number of folks asking questions relating to dyeing fabric and wool- mostly friends who want to dye old clothes- either to cover up a stain or with an eye to a customized wardrobe. What ever the reason behind the dye questions a running theme keeps coming through- folks want to learn how to dye textiles but are intimidated by the process- so much so they often don't even try. I totally understand this intimidation- unsure about what dyes to chose, what pot to use and what the heck is a non- iodized salt! So in an effort to lesson the veil of mystery surrounding textile dyeing I thought I would introduce my readers (and friends who want to dye) to a few basic, commercially available dye options. Today we are talking about IDye- and easy to use, no mess dye- an excellent starter dye for someone dipping their toes into the dye pot!

           To start with- when dyeing any fabric- including pre existing garments it is necessary to wash textiles in a pH neutral detergent- I used Synthrapol. This removes any impurities from the textile- including grease and starches from the production process- allowing the dye to bond properly and evenly to the fabric. For wool I would suggest using the detergent as more of a pre-soak- do not put your skeins of wool into the washing machine- that would be a hot mess. Pre- wet all fabric before placing textiles in the dye pot- again this allows the dye to bond the the fibres more redly and evenly.

         Follow the directions on the Idye packet- they actually are very straight forward and easy- place the tablet of dye in a non- reactive pot along with enough hot water to cover textiles- add a cup of non- iodized salt and dissolve- before adding fabric- very straight forward.

          When it comes to the cooking time- this is where a bit of experimenting is needed- as you can see I managed a variety of shades of grey from the same dye pot- using both the boiling method and dip dyeing a range of finishes can be achieved. The darker colours were created following the packet instructions- I placed my textiles into the dye and simmered the pot for about a half an hour- stirring frequently. The lighter shades came about by twisting the fabric slightly(sort of tie dye but not really) and simply dipping both the wool and the t-shirt into the dye pot for less than five minutes- it was all about experimenting.

             I think the key to successfully getting started with textile dyeing is to be open to experimentation- be open to the unknown. Some things to think about- not all fabric is created equally- some cottons will dye differently than others- natural fabrics by their "nature" often have imperfections which tend to show up more so when dyed. When choosing a dye make sure to chose the correct dye for your fabric type- for example IDye makes a dye for natural fabrics- which I used here- and synthetic fabrics- if you use the incorrect dye it will not attach properly to the fibres and come out blotchy or possibly ruin your garment.

      When dyeing a pre-made garment consider what the thread used to sew the garment was made of- for example a cotton t-shirt sewn with polyester thread is very common- the dye will bond the the cotton t-shirt fabric but not at all to the polyester thread- leaving behind stitching that is a different colour. If over dyeing a garment to cover a stain often the stain will still show through- make sure to try a dye that is darker than the stain- protein stains- like baby formula and blood- are incredibly difficult to cover.

   You may still be scratching your head over what non-iodized salt actually is and why it's needed in the dye process- non- iodized salt is simply salt with no iodine added. Pickling or canning salt are both pure salt with no iodine in it. The salt is used in the dyeing process to help drive the dye into the fibres creating a more vibrant colour- not all dyes call for salt- follow the manufacturers suggestions.

    One last health and safety tidbit- when choosing a pot and utensils for dyeing please excersise caution- these dyes are chemicals so please do not use any pots or utensils that will be used for cooking. I have a separate set of pots and wooden spoons just for dyeing- they are never left on the stove or in the kitchen once I am finished dyeing so there is no confusion. I would suggest hitting your local thrift store for a second hand pot- look for stainless steel or enamel.

    So friends now that you have the ins and out of a very basic dye I hope to hear of a few of you jumping into the dye pot! Commercially available acrylic dyes like IDye are great for beginners- really accessible with fairly good results. While I still prefer natural dyes as they are a bit gentler on our environment- as well as being straight up magic- this was a fun little experiment. I have a few more dye projects I'm working on that I will bring you soon- including what I am doing with all this fabric thats been dyed over the summer!


  1. Thanks for this post, Sharilyn! I have been wanting to try, or dip my toes in so to speak, dying for awhile now.

    Where do you get your supplies locally?

    1. Yay! Thats super exciting Melissa! I got my Idye from Opus Framing and Art Supplies- they have a great selection of synthetic dyes. I either collect in nature or purchase my natural dyes from Maiwa on Granville Island.


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