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You are here: Home > All About Hand Dyeing > FAQ > color choice > starting colors

What colors should I buy to start out with?

No matter what type of dye you are using, if you wish to mix a range of your own colors, you will need, at a minumum, one yellow, one turquoise or blue, and one red. The same principles hold for any type of dye.

The best primary colors to use for mixing the widest possible range of other colors are called printer's primaries. Though we learn in school that red, blue, and yellow are primary colors, a much wider range of possible colors can be obtained by using cyan (turquoise), magenta (fuchsia), and a pure light yellow as the three mixing primaries.

Following are the preferred mixing primaries for several popular lines of dye for hand dyeing. Some types of dye are suited for cellulose fibers, while others are suitable only for protein fibers. Be sure to choose the right dye for your fiber.

Procion MX dyes

I maintain a list of the pure, unmixed colors in the MX line of dye.

Washfast Acid Dyes

Many users of Washfast Acid dyes prefer to use a six-color mixing system.

See Which Wash Fast Acid dyes are pure, rather than mixtures?.

Lanaset Dyes

See Which Lanaset/Sabraset dyes are pure, rather than mixtures? and About Lanaset Dyes.

Jacquard Acid Dyes

Remazol Vinyl Sulfone Dyes

See Vinyl Sulfone Fiber Reactive Dyes.

Drimarene K fiber reactive Dyes

Natural Dyes

Color mixing is more difficult with natural dyes. Because the properties of each natural dye vary so much from other natuiral dyes, it is usually best to choose a natural dye in the color you want, rather than mixing it from primaries.

Blue. The only good natural blue is indigo, which is a vat dye that requires an entirely different chemistry and application method than most dyes. There are some fifty different plants in the world that produce indigo; the most available source is the plant we call indigo. Be aware that most indigo that you can buy is synthesized from pertroleum products, not grown in plants; although the dye itself is identical regardless of whether it is natural or synthetic, it is wrong to refer to the synthetic version as a natural dye.

Green. Although there are some natural dyes that are green, none of them stay bright or last long. The best way to produce green with natural dyes is to dye it twice, in two completely different procedures, washing and drying the fabric in between. The first dyeing should be with indigo, and the second with the most washfast yellow you can get

Yellow. Natural yellow dyes tend to be poorly lightfast. This is why medieval tapestries that orginally had green grass and trees now have blue. The most lightfast yelow natural dyes are quercitron (the inner bark of black oak) and weld.

Red. The best natural red dyes are cochineal (made from cactus insects) and madder.

Black. Black can be obtained by mordanting with iron and dyeing with logwood. This was the best black dye available to the textile industry before the invention of synthetic dyes.

See About Natural Dyes.

Additional colors

Once you have decided that you really like dyeing, you'll probably want to get to know some of the other available unmixed single-hue in the same series of dyes, whichever series you are using. Each pure dye has a different character than the others. You may wish to skip buying mixtures, however, as you can always mix them for yourself, if that's the sort of thing you like to do, saving both storage space and money.

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Last updated: August 26, 2008
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