Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Color Splits in Dyeing

I've been dyeing fabric (cotton) for over 25 years and dyeing silk for at least 10. I learned long ago, I don't enjoy the process of mixing colors, I like to open the jar and it's ready to go. I've accumulated  many colors over the years - both in mx and acid dyes. The only way to keep them straight in my mind is to do an actual sample - a big sample, one I can hold and easily see. To this end, I've made samples of all the dye colors I have. They are grouped together according to color families. It was a big job, took me awhile, but not a week goes by, that I'm not using them. It was a good investment of time for me. On each sample I write the name and color # (see below) and with the cotton (mx)I do a sample of discharge to see how each color will look.
For silk I use acid dyes which give brilliant color. You can also use mx on silk but I think for the best color, acid dye is the way to go. The other day on the Complex Cloth list, the subject of color splitting came up. Color splitting is when you use a "mixed" color (as opposed to a pure color) for dyeing. The fabric will wind up with 2 or 3 colors. This has happened to me often but I never knew the scientific explanation behind it.Jane Dunnewold, a very talented artist explains that any mixed color (one that is not pure) can split and this process can happen with mx or acid dye. You can often tell when you open a jar of dye as you'll see specks of different colors throughout the dye powder. Each dye molecule within a certain color will react and strike at a different rate. This happens more readily when the fabric is bound with string, other resists, or is tightly wedged such as you see below. It should also be noted that splitting occurs in an immersion type situation, not low water immersion, printing or painting. It's also best to add the fixative at the beginning preventing the molecules from moving around which results in uneven dyeing. When I dye silk scarves, they are wedged into a stocking and tied on each end. They are put in an acid dye bath, adding the citric acid crystals in the beginning; I leave them in for @ 30 mins turning every 10 mins.   I was so fascinated by color splitting and why it occurs, I went back and looked through my scarves to see which colors split. The samples on the right in each photo are the ones I made using a steamer - same color as the one on the left. The ones on the left were boiled in acid dye inside a stocking. I couldn't believe the difference. This is "Lobster Bisque". This next one is called "Pink Sand"...and one of my favorites.
Right now, I'm finding more of the lighter colors will split, but the jury is still out on that and to be determined when I've used more colors. This next one is "French Vanilla on left (boiled) and French Vanilla on right done in a steamer.
The next is Golden Pear which I love; I'm amazed at the green areas in the color.
And Blue Spruce - such a difference between the boiling and the steaming. I've found some colors are very intense and do great with steaming but others really need to be boiled.
"Maple Sugar" is next.
And "Tan", this has been great fun and very enlightening. No matter how long you do something, there's always something new to learn!
Until next time - Happy creating!


  1. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing your experience with this.

  2. These are wonderful! I need to take more classes from you. Please let us know when you teach in NC, SC or GA again.

  3. The difference is amazing! I haven't tried citric crystals but will in the future. I tie my stocking bundles with a piece of selvage, and then cut off the selvage. That way, I can use the stocking over and over again.
    Delicious, sumptuous silk!