This summer, I had the opportunity to attend a training which covered custom dying hand knit garments. The class opened my eyes to all the wonderful possibilities of not just dying yarns, but also dying finished garments.
There have been several times when I thought I picked the perfect color of yarn only to find after hours of knitting that the color looked absolutely horrible on me. In these instances, I usually give the garment away to any friend that wants it or place it deep into the recesses of my closet.
Well, not anymore! Rather than give up completely, try custom dying your garment next time. This also works well if you want to knit a scrap yarn sweater using different color yarns. You’ll need a darker dye in this instance but the effect is beautiful.
This blog covers my experience using Fiber Reactive Dye on a mercerized cotton yarn (Tahki Cotton Classic).
For your dye bath, a metal bucket can be used or a top-loading washing machine. If you use your machine, just be sure not to agitate as this can be the kiss of death for hand knitted garments (unless of course you are felting). The Knits/Delicates cycle on my machine does not agitate the garments but it’s important you know the appropriate setting for your machine before starting the dyeing process. If using a washing machine, after you are finished dyeing, be sure to clean the machine by running an extended wash cycle with detergent.
Lastly, be sure to protect yourself. You are dealing with hazardous chemicals so it’s important to be safe. Wear clothes you don’t care about that cover your skin, grab an apron, and use a face mask that covers your nose and mouth. Protect your hands with globes and your eyes with goggles.
Materials Used (See Fig. 1):
Tub or top loading washing machine
Fiber Reactive Dye in the color of your choosing (check with manufacturing guidelines on the appropriate dye to use based on your fiber – this dye will not work with all fibers)
Urea Water (used for hard to dissolve colors)
Test Fabric: square of thin fabric like Habotai silk for filtering the specks from the dye
Large stick or Spoon that you do not cook with
Face Mask, Gloves and eye protection
Synthrapol and Milsoft
Yarn Used for the garment pictured is Tahki Yarns Cotton Classic in White
Pattern is from Knotty Bebe (www.knottybebe.com)
Step 1 – Wash the Garment
Ensure the garment is clean before you begin the dying process. Wash according to the fiber instructions. Even if it has not been worn, washing can assist in the dying process. Be sure the garment is completely dry prior to beginning.
Weigh the garment. You’ll need to know how many pounds of fabric you are dying as this will determine the amount of solution you will use.
Note that treated fibers will not react well with the dye (i.e. fibers treated with permanent press or water proofing). However, this dye will work well with a mercerized cotton as shown in this demonstration.
Step 2 – Dissolve Non-Iodized Salt
Non-iodized salt helps the fiber absorb the dye. Check instructions for the amount of salt to be used based on the total amount of fabric in pounds that you are dying. General guidelines are below but always read all manufacturer instructions. Dissolve the non-Iodized salt completely in the required amount of lukewarm tap water (about 105 degrees) as pictured in Fig. 2 below.
Add Non-Iodized Salt
Step 3 – Add Casolene Oil
Add Calsolene Oil as shown in Fig 3. This is recommended as it helps break any surface tension on the fiber and can allow for a more even result. Check your dye specific instructions for the amount to be used based on the total pounds of fabric to be dyed.
Add Casolene Oil
Step 4 – Add Dye & Test Fabric
Create a paste with the amount of Fiber Reactive Dye to be used and add 1 cup warm water. For this garment, I am using Pomegranate Fiber Reactive Dye from the Dharma Trading Co. The dye has an asterix on the color card which means to double the amount to achieve the desired results. So, because I want a deep pomegranate, I added 2 Tbsp of dye to create the paste as my machine XS load setting will use about 1 ½ gallons of water. If you find the color is not dissolving within the cup of water, you can use Urea water (approx. 1 TBS Urea dissolved in 1 cup warm water). This will aid in the process as some colors are more difficult to dissolve than others (reds, yellows). Add the dye to your tub (see Fig. 4-5).
Mix dye and add it to the dye tub.
Mix dye and add it to the dye tub.
Next, add the square(s) of test fabric (a fine, thin fabric like Habotai silk) to get rid of any un-dissolved dye. See Fig. 6. Stir for about 5 minutes. Then, carefully remove test fabric and discard.
Add test fabric
Step 5 – Add Garment & then Soda Ash
Add your garment and stir about every 5 minutes for a total of 20 minutes. If using a washing machine, DO NOT AGITATE but simply stir with your large spoon or stick manually.
After 20 minutes has passed:
In a separate container, dissolve the Soda Ash in warm water and add slowly over 15 minutes to dye bath. Don’t pour the soda ash directly onto the fabric!! Add ALL the Soda Ash to the side furthest from the garment BEFORE stirring the fabric. Use your stick or spoon to move your garment aside while you add the soda ash slowly. (Concentrated soda ash solution touching the fabric leaves darker splotches).
Stir fabric for 30 min. for a light color result and 1 hour for a deep color result. See Fig. 7 and 8.
Mix and Add Soda Ash
Step 6 – Remove and Rinse Extra Dye
Remove the garment and rinse any extra dye. If you are using a washing machine, turn it to the rinse cycle BUT DO NOT AGITATE. Next, wash the garment to remove any extra dye. Be sure to follow fiber instructions when washing hand knits. I recommend using Synthrapol to finish washing out excess dye and Milsoft to soften the fabric. Vinegar can also be used but I don’t prefer the smell so I use Synthrapol.
Dry garment flat and block if required.
Final Thoughts – My Process
For this experiment, I began by dying the garment in Dharma Trading Co’s Fiber Reactive Dye in Pomegranate #PR148. I let the color sit for a full hour. Once it was dry, I decided that I didn’t like the color as it was more pink than red. I could have applied a deeper red but for some reason I wanted to go blue. So, I over-dyed the sweater again with Dharma Trading Co’s Fiber Reactive Dye in Navy #PR24 and let it sit for 30 minutes. The final color came out a beautiful indigo and you can see the berry undertones in the sunlight (see Fig. 9). Lesson: dying is hardly ever permanent if you are willing to be flexible!
Garment shown on left with pomegranate and then on right over-dyed navy.
Disclaimer: This blog is based on my experiences with the Dharma Co’s Fiber Reactive Dye. Always check manufacturer instructions regarding the amount of dye to be used and additional materials based on the color effect that is desired. Below are very general guidelines from the Dharma Trading Co. that are specific to their fiber reactive dyes. For more information, go to http://www.dharmatrading.com/html/eng/man/guides/tub-dye/instructions.html.
Per the Dharma Trading Co:
For medium shades of most colors, add 1 tablespoon of dye per 1 lb. of fabric (3 gallons of water), or 1/2 cup of dye per 8 lb. washing machine load (20 gallons). Colors marked with * on the color card require double those amounts, and those marked with ** require 4X those amounts.
For lighter shades, reduce the amount of dye, and for even deeper shades, increase the dye.
1/2 lb. DRY FABRIC
1 1/2 gallons of water
1 1/2 cups Non-Iodized Salt
1/6 cup Soda Ash Fixer
1 tsp. Calsolene Oil
1 lb. DRY FABRIC
3 gallons of water
3 cups Non-Iodized Salt
1/3 cup Soda Ash Fixer
2 tsp Calsolene Oil
8 lb. DRY FABRIC
20 gallons of water
20 cups Non-Iodized Salt
2 1/2 cups Soda Ash Fixer
2 Tbsp Calsolene Oil
Dharma Trading Company Dying Guides http://www.dharmatrading.com