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.

First Dyeing Project: Yellow iDye on Flax/Silk Fabric

This week I did my first fabric dyeing. A few years ago my sister and I dyed some alpaca yarn with Kool-Aid (which I later knit into a rather adorable hat), but otherwise I’m a dyeing newbie. I plan to dye, print, or paint the clothing items I’m designing, and this is my first attempt with a flax/silk blend fabric I recently purchased from Organic Cotton Plus.

Hand-dyed yellow flax/silk fabric

Dyed yellow fabric drying in the sun.

For the dye, I used a packet of Jacquard’s iDye in Bright Yellow. I’m actually planning to do most of my dyeing, at least as I start my business, with low-impact fiber reactive dyes, and then hopefully learn to work with natural dyes when I’m done with the initial clothing design and production (for reasons I’ll have to discuss in a future post). I had a couple of packets of iDye on hand, though, and it’s supposed to be relatively low in toxicity and easy to use for immersion dyeing, so that’s what I chose for my first dyeing attempt.

Basically, the process involves heating a giant pot of water, dissolving the dye, adding the fabric, adding salt or vinegar to fix the dye into the textile fibers, and then heating and stirring for 30 minutes. After the dye has set, you rinse the fabric in water and then wash in the washing machine.

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The finished fabric was an incredibly deep, bright yellow with a hint of green in it. I have a trench-style rain jacket in almost the same color, and friends have said they can pick me out in a crowd 150 feet away. Yellow is one of my favorite colors, but this one is unusually bold and stunning.

Done Dyeing

Fabric, done dyeing in the pot. The photo looks over-saturated, but I assure you, the yellow is nearly that bright in real life.

However, I found the near-constant stirring over heat and copious amounts of water usage a bit annoying, beside the fact that I’m not too keen on messing around with permanent dyestuffs in my parents’ impeccable kitchen. Fiber reactive dyes (like these from Dharma Trading) apparently don’t require heat and so don’t have to be used in a kitchen, which is just one of the reasons I’m choosing them over something like iDye.

I think I’m going to use the finished yellow fabric to try out a new dress design I’m working on, and then probably keep it for myself. In the meantime, it’s just lovely to look at.