Monday, January 21, 2008

Choosing Fibers and the Importance of Prescouring

Procion Fiber Reactive MX Dyes work nicely on a wide variety of natural fibers which is one reason they are so popular. All plant based fiber (cotton, linen, hemp, viscose rayon, and paper, wood and so on) and silk will dye beautifully. I understand wool will too but I’ve never tried it and can’t speak to that at all. Blends like poly/cotton will give a faded, heathered appearance because the cotton will accept and the poly will reject the dyes definitely not recommended. Also watch out for recycled fiber (like old bed sheets) or any garment that isn’t prepared for dyeing (PFD). Even when they are 100% cotton often these are treated with chemicals to resist wrinkling or staining. Those chemicals resist dyeing very effectively too and can be impossible to remove from the fabric. Seriously, if you are going to put some time and effort into creating a resist dye by stitching or binding test the fiber first! It is really painful to find hours of work ending in a pitiful state all because you have fabric that was treated with some sort of stain resistant compound or a poly/cotton blend that was mislabeled.
If you are using fabric* you must prescour it. This is a necessary step. Prescour strips away dirt oils lubricating agents and sizing left in fabric from the manufacturing process. It will open the fibers up and make them receptive to the dye solution. Even if it is PFD don’t skip it.
Unscoured fabrics can be nearly water resistant making dye bead up and run off of them or come out faded and blotchy. To Prescour just hot wash with soda ash and soap (Synthrapol recommended). Do this two times if you want to. You can prescour it ahead of time, dry it and store it for future use so long as you don’t use fabric softener or dryer sheets as those will just redeposit a bunch of the stuff you just took out of it.
Once the fabric is Prescoured you are ready to start manipulating it. In my next post I will outline the basic steps to resist dyeing.
* Paper and wood are a different story

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