Dyeing Fabric: Know the Terms

Here’s a little story for you:

When I was about five years old my neighbor called to speak to my mother. I replied that she couldn’t talk right now because she was ‘outside dyeing.’ For some strange reason, this was very concerning to said neighbor who proceeded to come over to our house to check on my mom. Who was, in fact, outside, dyeing. (And in perfect health I might add!) In all seriousness, even for the initiated the process of dyeing fabric has a long list of terms and materials associated with it. We’ve tried to lift the veil by defining some of the most common terms.

When it’s more than just a color

Blue, pink, and yellow hues

Blue, pink, and yellow hues

Hue: When we use the word “color,” we technically mean “hue.” When using dyes, hue is the color. Blue, red, and pink are all hues.

An array of blue tints created by adding different amounts of water to the dye process

An array of blue tints created by adding different amounts of water to the dye process

Tint: Any color that has white added, making it a paler version, is called a tint. With transparent colors, tints can be achieved by adding more water or fabric to the dye bath—or by using less dye solution.

Shade: When black is added to a dye solution, a shade is created. Since there are different black dyes from different manufacturers, subtle yet distinct variations are achieved when creating shades.

Tone: To create a tone, gray is added to the dye solution. You might think that by adding less black dye to the solution, you would have a tone, but grays, like blacks, are made up of other colors so the variables can be infinite.

A gradation of yellow to orange to red

A gradation of yellow to orange to red

Gradation: a minute change from one shade, tone, or color to another

Ombré: the subtle shift of one hue from light to dark

What’s that called again?

Several fabrics batching on the lawn | Photo courtesy of Candy Glendening

Several fabrics batching on the lawn | Photo courtesy of Candy Glendening

Batching: The process of letting the dye and fabric sit in a container or bag while the dye absorbs into the fibers

Overdyeing: dyeing a piece of fabric previously dyed to create new results

PFD: prepared-for-dyeing or PFD fabric is fabric that has been scoured by washing to have starches, detergents, and other debris removed before dyeing

Soda ash | Photo credit Getty Images/ErikaMitchell

Soda ash | Photo credit Getty Images/ErikaMitchell

Soda ash: soda ash’s chemical name is sodium carbonate; its chemical formula is Na2CO3. It is a weak base, which means that it really likes to give off enough hydroxide ions to reach a certain pH, and then that pH will remain very stable. Soda ash brings the solution-soaked fibers to a proper pH for the absorption of dye.

Dye powder | Photo credit Getty Images/Susanna Price

Dye powder | Photo credit Getty Images/Susanna Price

Procion MX fiber reactive dyes: professional cold water dyes, that do not require steaming, simmering, or boiling to create the permanent bond between the fiber and the dye molecules. These dyes are inexpensive and readily available.

Synthrapol: an industrial strength, neutral pH detergent

Ways to Dye

Full immersion bath: fabric is submerged with dye and soda ash solution creating even dye results with little visual texture

Fabric batching in a low immersion dye bath | Photo courtesy of Susan Purney Mark

Fabric batching in a low immersion dye bath | Photo courtesy of Susan Purney Mark

Low-water immersion bath: fabric is wet with just enough dye and soda ash solution to cover it; it may then be batched as is, or rung out and physically manipulated so that there are nooks, crannies, and/or folds of all sorts for the dye particles move to before finally bonding to the fiber creating varying degrees of visual texture

Now that we’ve got all that terminology cleared up, let’s get to dyeing fabric! Check out this eBook on dyeing basics, or for the more advanced, this one. Gather lots of dyeing tips, tricks, and techniques by subscribing to Quilting Arts Magazine today!

Sew long,
Katie

Start dyeing with these must-have resources:

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