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Washing Machine Dyeing

NOTE: the following is from an in-works new dye book: Modern Natural Dyeing Made Easy by Cheryl Kolander, Master Natural Dyer = Aurora Silk.(c) 2015

Pots, etc

The standard pot for natural dyeing is stainless steel.

It is worth investing in quality stainless. Cooking pots made for restaurants are available in large and extra large sizes; cooking pots with extra thick bottoms are available in department stores in the smaller sizes.

Beware of very shiny, smooth, cheap stainless steel that is really pot-metal coated with chrome. These develop pin holes rather quickly. Enamel pots useful for canning will develop cracks and rust that ruin them for all dyework except black. Glass is very nice but usually available only in smaller sizes.

Dyework itself can often be done in plastic tubs or bins. Five gallon buckets with lids are usually available free from any restaurant, as soy sauce, oils and other ingredients arrive in these. Just wash them really well before use.

Plastic dish washing tubs that fit comfortably in your sink work well for soaking and rinsing yarn and fiber.

Washing machine dyeing

For even colors on lengths of fabric, nothing in easier than using your washing machine.

A top loader with a stainless steel basket is best. With a top loader you can check on the development of the color and make adjustments as needed.

Set your water heater at its highest temperature, usually 140 degrees F. Most dyeing proceeds fine at this temperature. You can also add boiling water you have heated in pots. Cotton and especially Hemp will need hotter temperatures for saturated colours.

After you have weighed your fabric, calculated amounts of fixer and dye needed, and done any extraction of dye from the raw dyestuffs, then you must wet out the fabric.

The simplest is to run it thru a wash cycle. A full wash cycle with soap and final rinse. Why? Because you don’t know who has touched that fabric with greasy fingers. The marks won’t show until the fabric is dyed and dried and you are ironing it and there they are: light spots where the oil, lotion or hair grease has created a resist.

Have a tray that will balance on the side of the washer, or on an adjacent bench that is the same height as the washer. The tray must be large enough to hold the length of the fabric you are dyeing, wet.

After washing, transfer the well washed and wet fabric to the tray. Fill the machine with hottest tap water (or extra-hot water for cotton/hemp). Mix the calculated amount of fixer with some warm water until it is perfectly dissolved, then add this to the bath in the machine. Agitate for half a minute to mix it up. Enter the wet fabric.

Technique for entering the wet fabric is really important. First spread the fabric between your hands, working along the length to twist out any sausage rolls from the washing machine’s style of agitation. Next, gather along one long edge, folds of perhaps 8 to 10 inches, holding them in your left hand as if to make accordion pleats.

When the whole of the length is gathered in your left hand, move it to over the washing machine bath, and take a long stick, like a 1 yard dowel, in your right. Drop the pleats one by one, while at the same time, poking the loosened fabric into the water with the stick.

Move along the circle of the bath so the fabric is distributed evenly. Poke out any air bubbles. Close the lid and start gentle agitation.

Set a timer so you do not agitate to the end of the cycle. If the cycle is 10 minutes, set your timer to 8. At 8 minutes, reset the mechanism on the machine, for another 8 minutes, and so on. It is not necessary to agitate continuously, and it is easier on the fabric to just pull the regulator knob and let the fabric sit in the fixer or dye bath, tranquilly absorbing for 10 -15 minute periods between short agitations. Just be sure all the fabric is under the surface of the bath.

The fixer cycle generally totals an hour at hot.

Eco-exhaust dye: Put on your gloves and remove the fabric from the bath to the tray. Best practice is to have some other item that you want to dye close to the same color or a little lighter. Remembering that “¼ of what we put in is still there after dyeing”, an item that weights about ¼ of the original fabric would be expected to take a color about what the first item did.

Of course, you may not want to take the extra time for this step, in which case punch in the spin cycle to drain the machine. If you chose to forgo the recycle bath for a second item, then removing the fabric, which is wet but not dripping, is a lot less weight! In any case, remove the fabric between steps, and re-enter as per instructions above.

Fill the bath with hottest tap water while adding also the dye.
For cotton and hemp, add boiling water heated in pots. Be sure any extract is well dissolved in water first, don’t ever just add powder to the machine bath! It will stick to the walls, not dissolve well, and any fabric that touches will have dark spots.

Extracts that you have made by boiling dyestuffs need to be well strained and then also poured thru filter paper: a paper towel lining the sieve works fine. This is important, as any fine dust from the dyestuff will collect in folds of the fabric and can make for uneven dyeing.

Follow the instructions given above to fan fold and carefully poke in the fabric.

Follow the instructions given above to regulate the agitation-soak cycles.

The fabric is done when it is the color you want. The only way to know the final dry color is to cut a small piece, say 2” by 4” from one edge, rinse and iron dry (between some paper towels).

Eco-exhaust dye: pull the sopping wet fabric into the tray and dye your second piece. Spin it and run it thru a final rinse, then take it out and return the first piece to spin out and rinse.

Open out the fabric and dry in a tumble dryer, being sure to remove before it can overdry.

To iron it flat and shiny, remove from the dryer while it is still damp, and iron dry on the “wrong” side.

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