Friday, June 27, 2008

Dyeing with Salts -- First of the Summer!

This is a two yard piece of fabric stretched out over two six foot long tables. There is another piece underneath and is separated from this one by a piece of fleece and some plastic. You really need to double click on these pictures to see the salt trails.

Well, I mixed up quite a bit of a number of dyes earlier this week awaiting a nice warm humid day for doing some direct dyeing outside. It is time to get back to dyeing with salt patterning again. I spent the better part of the summer two years ago working on this technique to get the best effects on fabrics with the least amount of work!!

I started by using the directions from ProChem's web site on how to work with salts. Over the years, I have collected every size of salt crystal!! I have regular salt, kosher salt, sea salt, pretzel salt and ice cream salt. All have different sized pieces of salt and will act differently on the fabric.

What I found out also is that (of course as in all dyeing), the primaries all act differently and some don't work at all. Add into that the dye concentrations, it can be rather challenging. My goal I guess was to try to have patterning like you have on the nicer commercial batiks from Hoffman or Tonga -- now why I want to spend time creating fabric that I can purchase for $6 or $7/yard is a bit mystifying -- I guess I just want to know "how did they do that". I did know that they stretch theirs and most directions have you stretch the fabric out as well on stretcher bars. Being also a very lazy dyer, this would not do for me!!

This is one of those techniques that is sooo easy with fabric paints. With fabric paints, you just make sure your surface is nice and damp and then just throw some salt on and voila in thirty minutes, you have all sorts of movement of the paints with little trails to (or from) the grains of salt. Not quite that easy with the dyes!!

The key in the directions is the direct dyeing technique that you use. Instead of pretreating your fabric with soda ash, you mix a combination of 4 parts baking soda to 1 part soda ash and use one tsp of this mixture per cup of dye. Of course you have to move quickly, as the soda ash will immediately start activating the dyes so you don't want to make up too much dye in this manner at a time (I tend to work in 1/4 cup sizes).

I start with dry fabric (usually I cut off the selvedges as well) that is fairly smooth. I then spray it rather vigorously with urea water -- not enough to get it really wet, but damp enough that you don't have trouble painting on the dyes. I use one of those really wide Japanese brushes which hold tons of dye in them and paint as fast as I can. I try to do 2+ yards at a time and will apply the salt as I go along. I also occasionally use sea sponges to apply the color. I make sure the whole area is painted with something.

After the color is applied and some grains of salt randomly applied, it is time to wait and let the piece get at least partially dry. It sometimes takes a long time to see the effects, sometimes it is very fast. I don't let it dry out completely and after about 3 hours will cover it with plastic and let it sit for at least 8 hours (at least 70 degrees or warmer) and preferably overnight. I don't have the science down completely yet but think I do best when I have concentrations of dye that are no greater than 3% (3 gms of dye - 1/2 tsp - in one cup of urea water per yard of fabric). I allow about one cup of dyes at 3% per yard of fabric so proportion accordingly the colors I have. This is not exact obviously! My biggest trick was to always place my fabric on either another piece of fabric or batting. I have started using poly fleece for this. It allows excess dyes to move down rather than fill in the areas that the salts have made white. Hope this makes sense. If you want to work, you can stretch out the fabric or some sort of stretcher bar and that works also (and probably better but I have gotten some great results with my lazy way).

I get really good results anytime I use turquoise or basic blue or any color using one of those two colors. I get okay results with golden yellow and mixing blue. If I apply mixing red on top of other colors, it seems to work okay as well. I am sure fuchsia will never work (except maybe added on top of another dye later on). There are a number of colors I have had no success with including grape and boysenberry. I suspect intense blue won't work well either. Sometimes you just get dark spots where the salt was and no patterns. Turquoise will truly give you a surface where there are lengthy, thick trails all over!!

The next three pictures are closeups from the piece above. They are not dry yet but have been left to sit for about five hours so far. Hopefully there is enough fixative in the dyes so that I get some nice color from these.
I used first a coat of golden yellow and then put on mixing red in places on top of that and then finished off with some basic blue (MX-R) (all ProChem names). Double click to see closer up and you can see the salt trails.

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