I’m a big fan of reaching for the fabric dye, when needed. I spent many a happy hour in the laundry room at college creating colour mixes from the big tubs of powdered dye, usually whilst trying to avoid getting told off for going overboard as the dye was very, VERY expensive. Whilst on my Art Foundation course I also often dyed clothing, in an old pan, which I still have in a shed somewhere…just in case it’s ever needed…and I had to use the same pan for boiling chickens, it being the only large one I owned, often with some interesting results. (Just to explain, I lived in the YMCA in York as it was the only stand alone accommodation on offer and I didn’t want to live in with a family, and York Tech didn’t have halls etc. If you roasted a chicken in the communal kitchens it was likely to get stolen just as it was nearly ready, oddly people were less likely to steal a slightly purple, boiled chicken. Seriously, I’m not kidding. Incidentally, the chicken tasted and looked fine after you removed the skin and I did wash the pan over and over before using it for food, but there always seemed to be a residue left, plus I was 18 so I didn’t really care all that much).
Anyhow, back to dyeing fabric, not chickens. I’ve always favoured Dylon dyes as they give great results, but I struggle with the colours on offer and often find myself mixing them. They are also quite expensive and following the instructions you need quite a lot of dye to fabric ratio (the packet recommends 1 x box of machine dye per 600g fabric. For the linen I mostly dye for softie clothing, this works out at 150cm of fabric for HALF a packet of dye). I’ve always been a bit miffed that there is no scarlet or true red, the ‘Tulip Red’ is quite pink based and ‘Rosewood’ kind of brownish, and I’m always desperate for a good mustard yellow. On average, a box of Dylon machine dye will cost about £5.50 and sometimes that doesn’t include P&P which is expensive with the boxes counting as small packets.
Enter iDye. I mentioned in the last post that I’ve been making aprons, this involved ordering a lot (5 meters per apron batch) of expensive Essex Linen but on arrival I didn’t like the colour (I bought 2 lots for different apron designs). I was reluctant to dye it, knowing how many packets I’d need to get a good colour depth and very aware of how this would bump up the material costs involved in each aprons; I also couldn’t find the dye colour I wanted (a natural mid pink) and quite frankly, couldn’t be arsed to try and mix it. After a search online for alternative makes, I found iDye, LOVELY colour choices, I mean, look there are 4 shades of mustard yellow that are just perfect! Also, the dye is a lot cheaper (approx £4 per sachet, but that dyes 1 – 1.3 kg of fabric). The packet is small so can easily be posted as a large letter resulting in most cases the P&P being free (I bought mine from Amazon, no idea which shop).
I was a bit doubtful that such a small packet would dye such a large amount of fabric but after reading some reviews went for it. So, for 5 meters of medium weight linen I decided to use 2 packets of iDye, as I’d rather go overboard than find the colour isn’t strong enough. I was also keeping it in mind that I’d be using a front loading washing machine and not the top loading one recommended in the instructions, so there would likely be more water than intended. On the subject of the instructions, I read in some reviews that people returned the product as they were unhappy the whole ‘NO MESS dye packet that DISSOLVES in water’ claim was intended for top loading machines only. Amateurs 😉
So, here’s how I do it. Pre wash your fabric so it’s evenly wet. For linen I use a 40 degree wool wash. Mix the recommended amount of salt with the recommended amount of dye. In the case of iDye cut open the packet and tip the powder contents into a bowl and mix a bit (I have also just dissolved the packet in a small amount of water and poured this directly into the machine on top of the salt, which works fine). Shove the damp fabric to the side of the machine and next to it (so they don’t touch for the moment) add the salt/dye. The reason I do this is to not instantly have the dye granules sitting on the wet fabric, plus I’d prefer the machine to load some water in first to dilute the mix before it touches the fabric. Wash together on a 40 degree wool wash (this cycle on my machine uses less water so the dye and water mix will be stronger, it also loads water before it does it’s first rotate). I then wash the dyed fabric repeatedly on the appropriate cycle until the water runs clear, with the iDye it took a couple of wool wash washes.
Afterwards, I run an empty cotton cycle to clean the machine, I’ve discovered if I combine this with a limescale removing sachet it removes any trace of dye and I can happily follow with a regular white wash with no worries. As this is a lot of laundry cycles I try to save all my dyeing up and do it together, one colour after another, that way I don’t have to clean the machine between, clearly I start with the lightest colour first.
Incidentally, why add salt? Salt does not set the dye, it just makes dye migrate out of the water and into the fabric, creating a stronger colour. There’s science here somewhere, I guess it creates an ionic solution. Oh and don’t buy expensive dye salt, just cheap table stuff is fine. I pretty much always add 500g of salt when running a machine dye load.
I most certainly wont be abandoning Dylon dyes altogether, it is much easier to follow the instructions as they are UK marketed and I love the colour ‘Burlesque Red’ which I use for Fox clothing, but it’s nice to have more options.