Colors are the heart and soul of tie-dye. They come in the form of dyes that we apply on folded fabric. What are these dyes exactly? Is there a dye that’s better than the others? Are there alternative ways to color fabric? In this post we’ll answer all these questions and more.
In tie-dye we generally use a class of dyes called “fiber-reactive dyes”. Their invention has revolutionized the way we dye fabric. There are multiple kinds of fiber-reactive dyes, but one kind in particular is a perfect fit for tie-dye. So called “cold process dyes” are the only dyes that can be used effectively at room temperature. They’re the dyes you’ll find in every tie-dye kit sold today and are the number one choice for beginners and experts alike.
Why use cold reactive dyes?
There are many classes of dyes in existence. Out of them, cold reactive dyes are the clear choice for tie-dye artists. They react to form a permanent bond with cotton and other cellulose fibers. They are brighter, longer-lasting, and easier to use than any other type of dyes. You can freely mix and combine them to create any color you can imagine.
Cold reactive dyes are both cheap and easy to use. They are also safe and permanent. These dyes work beautifully on cotton, the most common natural fiber used in clothing. Most of all, They can be used at room temperature and don’t require special equipment. With all these benefits it’s no wonder they are used so much in tie-dye.
Fiber-reactive dyes are actually a pretty recent invention, only being commercialized in the early 1950s. Their invention was a revolution in the world of textiles. Earlier dyes were often dangerous and would require high temperatures in other to work. With fiber-reactive dyes, even inexperienced enthusiasts can now dye in their own home.
How cold reactive dyes work
Now that we know the best kind of dyes for tie-dye, let’s take a look under the hood and see how they work. Fiber-reactive dyes are the most permanent of dyes. They actually react to form a covalent bond with the cellulose or protein molecule in the fiber. All this can be done at temperatures as low as 70°F (20°C), which is unique among all dyes.
Once bonded to the recipient molecule, the dye is considered part of it, it becomes an actual part of the fiber molecule. The dye cannot be separated by mechanical means. No amount of rubbing or washing can remove it. Only chemical processes can sever the bond between dye and fiber.
They work beautifully on all types of cellulose fibers (cotton, rayon, linen, hemp, and more). The only requirement is to increase the pH of the solution, with soda ash being the most common way to do so. The high pH (10.5 to 11) enables the reaction between the dye and the fibers.
How to use cold reactive dyes
The standard tie-dye process is by far the best way to use cold reactive dyes. This unique approach let’s you place the colors freehand on your fabric. It’s like painting, but better. Other dyeing methods include immersion and ice-dyeing.
Start by preparing your dye solution. Mix it in a bottle and you’re pretty much ready to go. The ideal way to proceed next is to fold a cotton shirt using a variety of techniques to create interesting designs. With both the dyes and the shirt ready, the rest is up to you.
1) Mix your dyes – 1 tsp dye, 1 tsp soda ash, 250ml water in a bottle.
2) Prepare a shirt – Wet, then wring out the shirt to get it damp.
3) Fold and bind the shirt – Use one of many techniques.
4) Dye the shirt – Use a pattern to get accurate result.
5) Let the dye react – 4 to 8 hours for strong colors.
6) Rinse out the shirt – Remove excess dye from the shirt.
7) Wash the shirt – Wash it in cold water, the shirt is now ready.
There’s no wrong way to dye fabric once you get everything together. Let loose your imagination and experiment freely. If you ever are in need of inspiration you can check our compilation of tie-dye patterns, which you can follow to recreate many popular styles.
How to get dyes for tie-dye
You can easily get your dye fix from a reputable seller online.
Get your Crazy Dyes kit to get started immediately.
Other types of dyes
In second position : everything else. Other types of dyes all have characteristics that make them less suitable for tie-dye as it’s commonly practiced. They all require heating in a dye bath in order to work, so cannot be used for direct application methods. Even if not used for tie-dye, these dyes still have a purpose. You can use them to color specific kinds of fabric with great success.
All-purpose dyes are a combination of two types of dyes : direct and acid dyes. This combination means you can use them on most fabrics. They are often used at home and in the many prop-making industries because they work on most fabrics. The downside is that the results are not as good as using the proper dye for each fabric. All-purpose dyes aren’t really suitable for tie-dye. They can dye most fabric, but require heating in order to work.
The earliest class of dyes discovered. They have been used since the dawn of humanity. Contrary to what you may think, they are much harder to use and don’t produce nearly as good coloration. Not only do they require high temperatures, some require the use of mordants to achieve any significant results. Natural dyes may be harder to handle, but don’t let that deter you.
Natural dyes come from many different sources and purists swear by them. They dye best with wool and achieve minimal results with cotton. Most all these dyes use mordants, with the exception of indigo and tyrian purple, both requiring an anaerobic vat process.
Acid dyes are best used on protein fibers such as wool and silk. They don’t work on cotton or other cellulose fibers. They require high temperatures and a low pH in order to work. They are relatively safe and easy to use. The stove top method let’s you dye wool in your home.
Other reactive dyes
There are other kinds of reactive dyes, each with their own
characteristics, but they all need higher temperatures in order to work. Most of these are unsuitable for tie-dye as they simply don’t work as well as the widely accepted cold process fiber-reactive dyes.