The definitive best dye for silk
  • Hi, I have used Procion H extensively and am ready to move to immersion dyeing on silk. A couple of questions: why is acid dye good for silk, since it uses hot water and you're only supposed to put silk in cold? What would you recommend as the best dye for silk yardage, several yards at a time, and on the stove or a tub or the washing machine? My washing machine isn't giving me anything but cold water currently.
    Also, how can I find out how much water my machine uses in a wash load? I have searched the internet extensively and cannot find this info anywhere! I am interested in controlled studies so I can reproduce my colors, ect.
    And finally, is there any good way to use procion H as an immersion dye? I got pretty streaky results when I tried it my homegrown way.

    Thanks so much!!! :)
  • Your poll options seem inadequate to me. What about Jacquard Red Label Dyes, or Green Label Dyes? I'd also want to include the Lanaset reactive/acid dyes, though since they are not Jacquard products they don't really belong on this forum. Finally, what do you mean by 'Dylon' dye? There are so many different types of dyes sold by the Dylon dye company, some of which are much better than others, though to be honest the right selection from the Jacquard dye range beats every one of them.

    Why is acid dye good for silk when silk must be washed only in cold water? Actually, hot water does not in itself damage silk. Even wool is dyed in hot water, though with wool far greater care must be taken to avoid sudden temperature changes or excessive agitation, unless felting is desired. Some shrinkage may occur, but that's what prewashing is for.

    If your washing machine is not giving you anything but cold water currently, I'd advise making a repair call your highest priority. Even cool water reactive dyes require hot water for the excess unreacted dye to wash out well afterwards. Many things that will not wash out with cold water come out quite well with hot water. You certainly will not be able to dye with dyes other than Procion MX until you get that machine fixed. Even Procion MX dye is happier to react at 95°F than at the cold temperature of unheated water in the winter. The minimum reaction temperature for Procion MX dye is 70°F, but slightly higher temperatures make the reaction more efficient.

    To find out how many gallons your washing machine holds, first mark (in your mind) where the top of the water falls for each level of water; for example, how many drain holes on the side of the tub are covered for a low, medium, or high volume washload. Then, after draining your machine, take a gallon jug (such as a clean milk jug) and pour water into the machine, one gallon at a time. This is slow work, but you only have to do it once, as long as you don't lose your notes. Write down how many gallons it takes to reach each of the preset water levels for your machine. The 'low' level on my machine is sixteen gallons, while the 'medium' is twenty. Your washing machine may be quite different, so you must check this for yourself. After you fill a washing machine by hand, it is a relief to note that it can be emptied in the usual automatic way.

    Procion H dyes work best at 175°F (80°C). You will need to buy a thermometer for use in your dye reactions, for reproducible results. Smooth immersion dyeing requires a large volume of water, enough for the fabric to float easily with no tangles, ideally a five-gallon bucket at minimum, and nearly continual stirring, which is why we love washing machine dyeing so much as an alternative. The usual household hot water temperature limit of 120 to 140°F is a problem for Procion H dyes, which will work more efficiently at a hotter temperature. You can temporarily turn up your hot water heater, but then your household will be at risk of scald injury from the household taps. You can add pots of boiling water to a 140°F washload until you bring the temperature up to 175°F. You can add boiling water to a large bucket if that is what you are doing your imemrsion dyeing in. Most likely you are going to have to buy yourself a very large non-aluminum cooking pot to do your immersion dyeing in. Suppliers for home beer brewing supplies often have the best deals on suitable three- to five-gallon pots. It's an expensive investment, but a good stainless steel pot will last you the rest of your life. Just don't ever use your cooking pots for dyeing, or your dyeing pots for cooking food. If you want to use your cooking pots for now, stick to using food coloring as a dye; food coloring is a type of acid dye and will work on silk and wool, though it is not as long-lasting as the best acid dyes. Food coloring is the only textile dye that is safe for use in cooking pots.

    Before immersion dyeing it, prewash your fabric in hot water with detergent and soda ash, and leave it damp after rinsing. Use a large amount of salt in your dyebath, not as a dye fixative, but instead to help drive the dye out of the high volume of water onto the fabric. 4 pounds of salt in a five gallon dyebath, or 16 pounds in a twenty-gallon washing machine load, would be about right. Mix the dye and the salt in the water first, add your fabric, stir for a while, then add your soda ash. It can be helpful to add your soda ash a little at a time, in four separate scoops, stirring for some time in between, so that the pH of your dyebath raises only gradually; this aids evenness in your final result. You would need 2.5 cups of soda ash for a 5-gallon dyebath, or correspondingly more for the volume of your washing machine load. Include 10 grams of Ludigol F (see chemicals) per five gallons of dyebath, to protect the dye against the air when it is heated. Stir constantly for the first half hour after adding soda ash. Allow another half hour of occasional stirring after that, for your dye reaction to occur between the Procion H dye and your fabric.

    I don't know of any advantage of Procion H dyes over Procion MX dyes for immersion dyeing. I'd rather just use the cool water dye for this purpose. Acid dye has a marked advantage if you want to preserve the original texture of the silk, because the soda ash used with the two different Procion dyes tends to soften the silk and make it less shiny.

    Paula
  • Sorry for the funky poll, feel free to remove it.

    Thanks for the detailed info. Couple of questions: you mentioned soda ash as a Procion H fixative, and I've always heard that it HAD to be fixed with steam, is this why the hot water is required? (I've never liked how hot water changes the hand of the silk and shrinks it, and then trying to recover the suppleness with fabric softener). Is there any other method of setting Pro H?

    Is it really ok to consider dumping 10 or more pounds of salt into the washing machine? Are there no ill effects, like corrosion or septic issues?

    So is acid dye your final answer, all things considered (price, ease of use, the way the silk is affected, predictable results) for dyeing silk?

    What would the best dye be for dyeing a silk-cellulose (rayon, bamboo, tencel, ect) blend?
    Thanks so much for your expert advice, you're surely saving me and hopefully lots of others a lot of heartache.
  • Airstream said:
    Thanks for the detailed info. Couple of questions: you mentioned soda ash as a Procion H fixative, and I've always heard that it HAD to be fixed with steam, is this why the hot water is required? (I've never liked how hot water changes the hand of the silk and shrinks it, and then trying to recover the suppleness with fabric softener). Is there any other method of setting Pro H?
    Procion H dye is very similar to Procion MX dye, except that it is far less reactive. The bond between dye and fiber does not form as easily. This means that it takes a lot more heat to get the reaction between the dye and the fiber to go. Steaming is one way to get the necessary energy for the reaction. To compare the two types of Procion dyes: the ideal temperature for the reaction of Procion MX dye with fiber is about 30°C (86°F), but it works pretty well at temperatures as low as 21°C (70°F); the ideal temperature for the reaction of Procion H dye with fiber is about 80°C (175°F), but again slightly lower temperatures will work if you give the dye reactions plenty of time. I have seen recipes for fixing Procion H dye to fiber at room temperature, but a higher temperature is important if you want to get the full intensity of the colors.

    You can actually use Procion dyes as acid dyes if you use vinegar instead of soda ash, and heat or steam or microwave the dye on the fiber. It should not matter whether you use Procion MX or Procion H dyes in those recipes, since the portion of the two types of dyes that can act as an acid dye is very similar. I think that 'real' acid dyes are a bit better for this purpose, but if you already have the Procion dyes, it's handy to try them with vinegar, just to compare the hand of the dyed fabric, or when you need an acid dye in a hurry. There are room temperature 'batching' recipes out there for use with Procion dyes and vinegar, or with acid dyes, but I think it's always best to give the acid dyeing recipes at least a little heat.

    Is it really ok to consider dumping 10 or more pounds of salt into the washing machine? Are there no ill effects, like corrosion or septic issues?
    If you only do it once in a while, it has no effect. For high-volume use, as in a business, there might be a problem with a septic tank, and constant, frequent dyeing might shorten the life of a washing machine, but I've had no problems at all with occasional use and the municipal sewer.

    So is acid dye your final answer, all things considered (price, ease of use, the way the silk is affected, predictable results) for dyeing silk?
    Acid dye is a little bit nicer and is certainly worth trying. I personally tend to use Procion MX dye most of the time so that I don't have to mess with adding heat, or Remazol type fiber reactive dye (Jacquard Red Label) so that I don't have to mess with dye powders. This is on cotton or silk. With the Red Label dyes, I like to use just a short period of microwaving to make sure that my dye reaction temperature is high enough (I microwave wet fabric that is tightly covered with plastic wrap, and watch closely so the plastic does not blow off), but I don't steam it properly, although I should point out that steaming is recommended for silk painting with Jacquard Red Label Silk Colors.

    What would the best dye be for dyeing a silk-cellulose (rayon, bamboo, tencel, ect) blend?
    I think that Procion MX is the best dye for a silk-cellulose blend, but Procion H is fine, too, if you're willing to provide the necessary heat.

    Paula
  • Thanks Paula, for all the help. (I got the "HOT" fixed on my machine yesterday!)


    Here is what I figured out: with a 3 gallon bucket, I learned that my washing machine (Whirlpool Ultimate Care 2, for anyone else out there who has it) holds 9 gallons of water for a small load. Knowing this helps me immensely in figuring recipes. But here's the question: since the dye is supposed to sort of join with the fabric, does it really matter how much water you use, as long as you use enough? I mean, if you're exhausting the dyebath anyway, is it ok to use more water than a given immersion dye recipe calls for? (MX or acid).

    Otherwise, you end up using a ton of powdered dye for the amount of water of the smallest load of the machine. (??)
    Thanks again!
  • Airstream said:
    But here's the question: since the dye is supposed to sort of join with the fabric, does it really matter how much water you use, as long as you use enough? I mean, if you're exhausting the dyebath anyway, is it ok to use more water than a given immersion dye recipe calls for? (MX or acid).

    Otherwise, you end up using a ton of powdered dye for the amount of water of the smallest load of the machine. (??)
    I think that there are very good reasons why a particular recipe calls for a certain amount of the dye and dyeing chemicals. If you use less dye, then the dye will have more difficulty getting onto the fiber, and you will obtain paler shades. (This is important to know when that's what you want.) With Procion MX type dye, the dye never exhausts, which means that most of the dye inevitably remains in the water; in contrast, acid dye should exhaust onto the fabric, but there is, no doubt, a limit beyond which too much water per gram of dye inhibits full exhaustion. In addition, for Procion MX type dye it is important to use the right amount of soda ash, relative to the total amount of water, in order to obtain the optimal pH for the reaction of the dye with the fiber.

    Nine gallons is a very small load. My washing machine can't do less than sixteen on its lowest setting. The average washing machine load, for a top-loader, is twenty gallons, and can dye up to eight pounds of fabric. If you're following a recipe for a standard size washing machine load, you can multiply everything in the recipe you follow by 9/20, or 0.45, for your nine gallon load. However, the Jacquard recipes for immersion dyeing in the washing machine specify a washing machine load of 6 to 8 gallons, considerably smaller than anything my machine can do, but very close to the volume you measured, so you should be able to just use those recipes straight, without changing the quantities called for at all. (To find the recipes, look on their Procion MX dye or acid dye pages, then click on 'HowTo' and then 'Immersion Washing Machine'.)

    If you don't want to waste the amount of dyes and chemicals required for immersion dyeing in the washing machine, you can do just as well immersion dyeing with Procion MX dye in a three- or five-gallon bucket, if you stir constantly and follow the timing and amounts in the recipe closely. You'll need to be sure to use no more fabric than is called for in the bucket-dyeing recipe for your amount of water, because plenty of water per pound of fabric is necessary if you want to obtain a perfectly smooth, even, solid color. For acid dyes, you'll do better with dyeing in a large dye kettle on the stove top than you could ever do with dyeing at washing machine temperatures.

    Paula