Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dye Painting with Salts -- the Easy Way

When I started on this adventure to create some dyed pieces using salts, I read all the conventional wisdom on doing this including the directions on Paula Birch's website and the Pro Chemical website. Having done this with acrylic paints very successfully, I was anxious to get it to work with the Procion MX dyes as I really like the hand of dyed fabric better than painted fabric. I use pearlized paints so I knew that would never happen with the MX dyes but thought there must be some way to duplicate the salt starburst effects.

The conventional wisdom is that you need to keep the dye reaction from happening too quickly (right on) and that you need to stretch the fabric so that it is taut when applying the dyes or paints and then salts. This seemed like far too much work to me. My earliest efforts consisted of using the mixed alkali recommended by ProChemical on their site, using a dye concentration of about 5% and direct painting onto crisply ironed scoured pfd Testfabric broadcloth which was placed on plastic on my table. I worked with fat quarters and tried all different colors.

With the above, I found that the salt effects did not happen (darn) and that you could see the marks caused by the plastic (where the fabric was soaked and kind of stuck to the plastic). Anyone familiar with painting with acrylics on fabrics laid on plastic will recognize this condition! No salt effects but I still didn't want to stretch the fabric (basic laziness here).

Next, I placed a second piece of fabric (muslin) also ironed under the piece I was applying the salt and dyes too. Ahah, this worked and I got my first salt trails when using any of the blues but not much with other colors. Still too much work -- who wants to iron an underpiece of fabric that you won't use. I don't even like ironing the piece I am using (before the dyes are applied). I then decided to try to use poly fleece which wouldn't require ironing and which I could throw willy-nilly into the washer and dryer. So this is how I evolved to where I was this summer.

In this process I have also tried using print paste on the fabric first to slow down the dyes. Interesting patterns but didn't do much of anything except to lighten the piece. Also found that I like the fabric dampened a bit before I applied the dyes as they ran more smoothly. Also liked the effects of a random application of dyes (sponges rather than brushes) which I noticed ProChem now also recommends. So my process is now:

1. Pre-scour a nice quality mercerized pfd broadcloth and cut to desired size.

2. Lay down a piece of poly fleece (interfacing or felt -- something reasonably thick). Make sure there are no fold lines (like off the bolt) on the fleece.

3. Lay the fabric to be dye painted on top of the fleece (I don't even iron that fabric anymore).

4. Lightly spray the whole piece of fabric with urea water (5 1/2 tbsps urea to 1 cup of water) especially if in a dry climate.

5. Mix up your bicarb/soda ash mixture (4:1 bicarb to soda ash).

6. Mix up your dyes. For turquoise and basic blue (the only red blue), I use 10%, intense blue 6%, mixing red 2%, and the yellows and strong orange all at 5%. I estimate about 1 total cup of dye per yard of fabric. This is my basic pallette but you will find your own but it must have the blues to work (my experience). So I might put 1/4 tsp of the bicarb/soda ash mix into four different cups and then put 1/4 cup of dye into these same cups for painting. Do this at the last minute.

7. Sponge on the lighter colors first and then sponge over with the blues and mixing red (which you might weaken even more). Do this very quickly and then put lots of salt in different sizes all over.

8. If and when the piece starts to dry out a bit, then and only then cover with plastic and let batch. The temp needs to be above 70 degrees and even warmer is preferable. The pieces need to be pretty moist to begin with so I may mist with a bit more urea water if it is a very dry day out. After about 3 hours, I actually will lay another piece of fleece on top of the drying piece and do an additional piece. I will keep layering as I only have one set of tables.

9. I am a coward so I have been nuking the pieces even after they have sat for 24 hours. I nuke them for about 4 minutes per yard checking on them and rearranging after the first 2 minutes. This would also allow you to do these in the dead of winter.

I have found this process to be pretty easy and okay for my lazy dyeing. The only time you really need to move is when you are putting on the dyes and the salts. Time is of the essence here!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to share your process with us. It's much appreciated.

Can't wait to try salt dyeing ala Beth!!

Happy Dyeing,

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to explain your process for using salt with dye.
What size salt are you using for this?
Can't wait to try this.
Now I know why I bought all that polar fleece.