Smoky Hemp/Silk Fabric: Low Immersion Dyeing

I’ve found a new favorite fabric: a hemp/silk blend woven. I’ve ordered it twice so far, once from EnviroTextiles, a sustainable textile manufacturer and distributor based in Colorado, and a second time from Hemp Traders, where it’s a little cheaper. It’s similar to the flax/silk blend I used to dye my yellow fabric (which I ended up being unable to source reliably, even for my very small scale of production), but is a little lighter weight and has even more drape. I love how it feels both utilitarian and luxurious, which is exactly what I’m looking for with Sunday Shift clothing.

black fabric drying

I’ve been surprised by the quantity of water the dyeing process takes, so I decided to try a low immersion dyeing process. Rather than dissolving the dye in enough water to allow the fabric to be stirred or agitated, low immersion dyeing dissolves the dye in just enough water to get into all of the fabric wet.

In addition to using less water, it takes much less effort: you scrunch up the fabric in a large plastic zip-top bag or other small container, and let it sit overnight. The result is an amazing mottled setting of the dye, sort of like tie-dye for the very lazy.

I followed instructions from the blog Bloom, Bake & Create, more or less. Rather than going for bright colors, I decided to do kind of the opposite: I used Procion’s jet black dye in the hope that I’d get a subtly variegated black color. Dye processes that involve imprecise techniques like “scrunching” are unpredictable, which makes them exciting but, you know, hard to predict.

The result was more charcoal gray than black (I understand a true black can be difficult to achieve with fiber reactive dyes, so I’m not surprised), but an incredible variation of tone. The finished fabric not only varied in intensity, but different colors showed through in the black: in some spots almost purple, greenish in others.

black immersion dyed fabric

It reminds me of  silver process black and white photography, something I used to do a lot of: depending on the photo paper, the temperature of the water, the type of developing chemicals you use, a black and white photograph can have tones of green, blue, or yellow in it.

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Two black and white photos I made some time ago using solarization and non-standard developing processes, but no actual toning.

3 thoughts on “Smoky Hemp/Silk Fabric: Low Immersion Dyeing

  1. Hi. Glad you found my blog for the tutorial. Your dyeing turned out great. You are right. Black is really hard dye and get a true black. Thanks for dropping by my blog and hope to see you again. I’ll check back on what you’re doing too.

    • Hi! Thanks for reading, and thank you so much for the tutorial – 90% of what I know about sewing and textiles I’ve learned from kind people like you who share their knowledge.

  2. Hi! I also use procion mx dyes. The black is really hit or miss for me — but I like it! It makes it interesting 🙂
    I want to check out the EnviroTextiles. Do you have a materials exchange near where you live? sometimes you can get some interesting natural fabrics at great prices

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