By Trish Doornbosch
Eventually, the serious quilter or fabric artist considers customizing their own fabric. But dyeing fabric isn't just about dunking it into a dye bath. The best results come when you think ahead.
Are you going to use the finished fabric to wear or in home decoration? This will influence not only your choice of fabric, but also the types of dyes or paints you use. For example, if you want to use the finished fabric in a blouse, skirt, or jacket, then you'll need a fabric that drapes well, will withstand laundering, and will take dyes and paints well. If you are going to use the fabric in an art quilt that is to hang on the wall, then you can use any type of weight or fabric and you don't need high-quality fabric dyes. Pre-washing in the hottest water the fabric can take is always necessary to remove the commercial sizing or finishing done by the manufacturer to reduce soiling.
Natural versus Synthetic Fabrics
In general, natural fabrics (cotton, linen, silk or wool) will take dyes and paints better than synthetic fabrics (rayon, acetate, nylon, polyester, acrylic). That said, some fabrics have other problems to consider. Wool doesn't tolerate abrupt temperature changes and can shrink. It also contains lanolin, which needs to be scoured out (washed vigorously) before dyeing, or it will severely affect the ability of the dye to penetrate the fibers. If you need to fix the dye with high temperatures, you may have a problem with trying to heat set a nylon fabric with an iron because it may melt.
If you put a tightly woven fabric and a loosely woven fabric in the same dye bath for the same amount of time, and heat set the fabric the same way, the tightly woven fabric is going to look darker. Why? There are more fibers per square inch to take the dye and therefore color density is darker. The thicker the fabric, the more dye or paint it will absorb, so it will change the feel of the fabric and make it stiffer. That also influences the wearability of the fabric.
A blend of a natural fiber with a synthetic fiber, such as a cotton-polyester blend, will dye unevenly. The natural fiber will take on more dye faster than the synthetic fiber.
If you are going to overdye (dyeing a pre-printed fabric), the dye will take on different shades of the dye color in different areas of the fabric. A red dye will look different over blue than it will over yellow.
If you use regular acrylic paints they tend to rest on the surface of the fabric and so are only used in artistic projects that aren't going to be laundered or worn.
Before you spend a lot of money on fabric that you want to paint or dye, find out the fiber content and laundering instructions. This information is printed on the cardboard end of the bolt of fabric and you can take note of it. When you do your test, keep a record of the type of dye or paint used, how the fabric was pre-treated, how long the fabric was kept in the dye bath, and how it was heat set or left to dry. Your "fabric journal
" will be an important record of your efforts.
Trish is an artist living in Northern Illinois. She works in fiber art, digital design and graphic design and also gives workshops in fabric Surface Design. Business URL: http://www.trishadstudio.com