Retroactive post: Dye Fail


Have you ever tried to dye? Without going into any mental health discussions, I can tell you I’ve tried to dye once. It did not go so well. I think it’s because you need at least a minor in chemistry to understand what’s going on. I know, I know, I have one of those, but I’m really not sure how I achieved it.

There are two basic ingredients required to dye protein fibers (that’s animal). I’ve never tried to dye plant fibers, since obviously alpacas aren’t plants, but I know it’s different. Plant fibers such as cotton, soy silk, and linen are composed primarily of cellulose. Cellulose is the cell wall that protects plant cells. Animal cells don’t have cell walls (I’m a biologist hur dur).

Anyway, to dye protein fibers many people use “acid dyeing” techniques. The acid is a mordant or fixative, it prepares the fiber to accept the dye and makes the finished product colorfast. First, you simmer your fiber in a mild acid such as lemon juice or vinegar for about an hour. Then you rinse most of the mordant out, and simmer your fiber again in a bath of the actual color.

I used mulberries for color and vinegar for my mordant. And maybe it would have worked, except I forgot to do one crucial step. I forgot to separate the locks of fiber completely, so the dye didn’t penetrate to the inside of the staples. So while the mass of fiber on the left looks like it’s been dyed purple, if you look at the stuff on the right, it’s not really very purple. Tulip’s fiber didn’t want to take the dye at all. I’m not even sure what went wrong there.

And that’s why I don’t dye fiber. I’ve decided I can’t be an expert in EVERYTHING and I’m drawing the line at dye. This little experiment was carefully recorded, in excruciating detail, into my fiber notebook. Then I put it all in labelled bags, and stuffed them in the back of the closet, where all fail projects go to die.

Good gracious wordpress! I promise, “dye” is a word. Don’t have a seizure.

About cliffhousealpacas

Once upon a time, my dad drove by some funny looking animals standing on little dirt hills in a field. Thus, the dream of an alpaca ranch was born. Now, we are embarking on a grand adventure of raising alpacas and becoming fiber artists.
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4 Responses to Retroactive post: Dye Fail

  1. Laura says:

    It’s basically hair…would hair dyes work?

    • Maybe…? I think probably. But I suppose some of the difference would be in the application.

      What do I know? I’ve never dyed my hair. Anyway, good thought. I could just break down and buy the jars of dye, but I liked the idea of natural dyes.

  2. Deb Seeger says:

    Hello, I stumbled across your blog on dyeing and if you ever want to try it again; I have a few tips. Dye does have an expiration date too even if kept in powder state, it breaks down.
    As you correctly stated cellulous and protein fibers are dyed differently and must use different dyes. My experience had been that the acid is to set the dye so one must soak the fiber/fabric in the dye FIRST then add acid and heat not soak it first. Heat is what enables the chemicals to penetrate the cell walls. I mix powder dye with water — 3 parts dye to one part acid. Add to fiber and heat. I put mine in plastic wrap or bag and heat in a microwave, or more traditional way is to wrap fiber in water then steam it. If you want to vat dye, bring the dye to 180 degrees F, let the wool simmer in the dye and then let it cool in the dye the fibers will exhaust the dye (meaning it will absorb all the dye ) the water will turn clear.

    I admire your attempts. BTW, natural dyes require different mordents and they vary dependent upon the berry, root, leaves etc.

    • Wow. That is a wealth of helpful information.

      Dyeing seems a lot like cooking. There are as many recipes as there are chefs. Adding the acid to dye sounds much more logical.

      While researching for this post, I found out that bit about different mordants for different natural dyes. It looks like I was using a mordant for leaves, but a dye from berries. Which is probably part of the problem, though not all of it. Dyeing is so intimidating to me!

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