Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Common Problems with Procion MX Fiber Reactive Dyes

There are a number of things to make your dyeing experience less than positive. As time permits, I will try to discuss a few of the things I have learned along the way. Sometimes just keeping things organized in your dye area can help. I am constantly amazed by the amount of misinformation there is about these dyes floating around the internet. I am certainly not an expert but have about 20 years of dyeing under my belt and know when I am in over my head!!

First, my list of five things you need to make the dyes work:
  1. The dye powders. Preferably these are less than 2 years old but I have used many that were much older. The results are not as predictable but they still can work if they have been kept in a cool dry area, tightly sealed. Be cautious about the ones you might find at your local art supply store in very small jars as these can have quite a bit of age on them.
  2. Water. This needs to be warm but NOT hot. I have seen a number of dyers recommend hot water to dissolve the dyes. These dyes will will react with water quickly and become much less reactive with the fibers. So keep the water between 80 and 90 degrees if you can. The exceptions to this are turquoise and ProChem's basic blue (the only blue that tends to red) which can tolerate (and even like) a warmer temp.
  3. Soda Ash (also known as sodium carbonate and often found as pH+ in your local pool supply store). This is needed to provide the environment in which the dyes can attach to the fiber. The reaction requires a "basic" environment to react.
  4. Environmental Temperature above 70 degrees. These dyes will behave very sluggishly below 70 degrees so especially when doing direct dye applications, the ambient temperature needs to be above 70 degrees.
  5. Prepared For Dyeing (PFD) Fabric or Fiber. This means that the fiber contains no fillers or finishes. I very much prefer mercerized cottons to those that have not have this process. It makes the colors appear to be much clearer and brighter and darker. However, I have used non-pfd fabric and even fabric with finishes. If you are dyeing something with just a hint of color, these seem to work just fine but don't expect those showy pieces!

Given that you have put a check mark to all the above, these are problems (or opportunities) that seem to come up:

  • Splotches of color on the fabric -- this is usually from two causes: (1) the dyes have not fully dissolved in the water and (2) transfer of dye from one surface to another. There are three ways to improve on the first which are to (a) use urea as an additive to the water into which you are dissolving the dye powders. Best to do this by dissolving the urea in the water ahead of time and then dissolving the dyes into this urea water. Urea water is made with 5 1/2 tbsp urea to one cup of water. (b) make your dyes a few hours before you want to use them to make sure the powders are dissolved. The solution should look clear and not cloudy. Cloudy means undissolved dyes. Keep adding urea until the dyes fully dissolve. (A friend uses rain water and it is so soft that she never has to add urea.) (c) if all else fails, strain the dye liquids through those old pantyhose that you will never wear again! The solution to dyes transferring from one project to another is basic. I am a sloppy dyer and I rarely if ever have that problem anymore (but I used to). I now always have a bucket of fresh water next to me and I rinse my gloved hands constantly when moving from one thing to another or before I pick up a piece of fabric.
  • The fabric looked great until I washed it - There are several causes of this but the most prevalent is that you forgot to put the soda ash in. Make sure you are using sodium cabonate instead of sodium bicarbonate. Some pool stores are now using sodium bicarbonate as their pH+ so make sure you check the labels. A second set of causes is that you didn't let the fabric stay in the soda ash long enough or the water was too hot or too cold. Another problem occurs if you are using large amounts of water as in vat or washing machine dyeing. You have to use uniodized salt equivalent in weight to the fabric in the dye bath. Otherwise too much of the dye reacts with the water instead of the fabric. Lastly, the dyes may just be exhausted and have no more umph so save them for coloring paper. I have also found that some pfd fabric has been mislabelled and is not really pfd so I get a pale result instead of the brilliance I expected.
  • The colors are not what I expected - The biggest culprit here is mixing fuchsia with just about any blue and expecting purple! This is most pronounced with the combination of fuchsia and turquoise. If you are doing vat dyeing and you are stirring like a madman, you might get some decent results. Using low water immersion with fairly hefty percentages of dyes will result in fabric that is mostly fuchsia, a few spots of purple and lots of blue filling in between. Fuchsia does not play well with others in low water immersion applications. Turquoise compounds the problem by being very slow to react as it does like the warmer environment. I have found results more to my liking by doing two things -- for fuchsia I rarely use more than a 1% or 2% concentration and I usually up the concentration of the turquoise by 2 and use warmer water. I also manipulate the fabric a lot more than I would normally.

To be continued.


Leigh said...

Hi. I've just started experimenting with Procion MX dyes (I usually use acid dyes on wool) and found your blog via google. Very helpful tips! Thanks!

マヤ (Maya Haslett) said...

I'm making a list of resources for my college's Fibers program. We have so many frustrations with our dyes. I think this will help us end those! Thanks so much for sharing!!!!

Esther said...

I'm just learning about dyeing & Shibori techniques. Thanks for all the info.

Anonymous said...

i think this blog post is of great help to me..i am learning on fabric dyeing.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing - I've just started dyeing the last year and found this very helpful.

Victor said...

I dyed a cotton denin jumpsuit teal and got a yellow stain on the front. I re-dyed it but the stain is still there. Any suggestions?

Elizabeth said...

I suspect that the dye you used was a mixture of hellow and turquoise and that the turquoise didn't hit that spot. My only thought would be to use an extra intense concentration on just that spot rather than the whole comment. Pretreat that spot with soda ash and let sit for 24 hrs. Good luck. That is a problem with dyes that are a mix of more than one dye.