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You are here: Home > All About Hand Dyeing > About Dyes

What fiber are you dyeing?

Are you dyeing cotton? If so, you are dyeing cellulose. Cellulose is the main structural molecule found in plants.

Are you dyeing an animal fiber, such as silk or wool? All animal fibers are made of protein. Silk can also be dyed with the same dyes and recipes used for cellulose.

Are you dyeing a synthetic fiber? Nylon can be dyed like protein fibers, but other synthetics can be dyed only with special dyes that are unsuitable for use on plant or animal fibers.

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Procion dyes are permanent, colorfast, and very washable. You can easily create a palette of brilliant colors ranging from light pastels to deep, vibrant hues. Perfect for natural plant fibers: cotton, linen, paper, reeds, and wood.

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Choose from sixteen vibrant colors for use with polyester and nylon fabrics. iDye Poly and iDye can be mixed for polyester/nylon blends with natural fibers.

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Jacquard Acid Dyes

Jacquard Acid Dyes are concentrated, powdered, hot water dyes that produce the most vibrant possible results on protein fibers including silk, wool, cashmere, alpaca, feathers, and most nylons. Don't be alarmed by the name--the only acid involved is the vinegar that you add.

Procion MX Fiber Reactive Dye turquoise 068 2 3 oz.

Procion MX Fiber Reactive Dye

Use for tie-dye, vat dyeing, batik, airbrush, hand painting, printing, spatter-painting, and more. Will not dye synthetics.

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About the Dyes

choosing the right dye for your fiber

Your choice of dye depends directly on what kind of fabric you are using. You'll get bad results if you use a wool dye on cotton, or a cotton dye recipe on wool, or either on polyester.

Dyes for Cellulose Fibers

These are your choices if you want to dye a t-shirt. Cellulose fibers include cotton, linen, rayon, hemp, ramie, lyocell (Tencel), bamboo, and pineapple plant fiber.

Dyes for Protein Fibers

Protein fibers include all fibers made by animals: wool, angora, mohair, cashmere, as well as silk. Silk is the only non-hair animal fiber, and can be dyed like wool or like cellulose fibers, above. The high-pH recipes used for most cellulose dyes will ruin animal hair fibers.

Dyes that can be used for protein fibers include the following:

Also see Dyes for Protein Fibers.

'Soy Silk' is a new plant fiber, but, because it is made from soybean protein, it should be dyed like animal fibers, instead. Like real silk, it can also be dyed with fiber reactive dyes.

Dyes for Synthetic Fibers

Polyester

Polyester requires the use of disperse dyes. See Disperse Dye for Polyester.

Nylon

Surprisingly, nylon, which is a truly synthetic fiber, happens to dye quite well with the same acid dyes that work on wool and other animal fibers, in addition to dyes that work on polyester. Acid dyes are more washfast on nylon than disperse dyes are. For more information on dyes for nylon, see Dyes for Protein Fibers. You'll want to test a swatch before committing yourself to the project, as nylons vary.

Spandex

Spandex can be dyed with metal complex acid dyes, but it is much more common for hand-dyers to dye only the cotton portion of a cotton/spandex blend. Polyester/spandex blends cannot be dyed. See How to dye spandex.

Acetate

Acetate, also known as rayon acetate, requires the use of disperse dye. (The other type of rayon, which is a cellulose fiber, is also known as viscose rayon.)

Acrylic

Acrylic fiber can be dyed with disperse dyes or with basic dyes. See About Basic Dye and How to Dye Acrylic Yarn and Fabric..

Ingeo

Ingeo is the trademark for a new synthetic fiber, polylactic acid (PLA), made from corn. It is dyed like polyester, using disperse dyes, though it is evidently somewhat less washfast.

Polypropylene

Polypropylene (Herculon, Olefin) is dyed while still in liquid form, before it is extruded into a fiber. It cannot be dyed at home.

Dyeing blends

Most cotton/polyester blends are best dyed as for cotton, using fiber reactive dyes, leaving the polyester undyed. Cotton/nylon blends may be dyed with all-purpose dye, or by successive dyeing with a fiber reactive dye such as Procion MX, first with soda ash at room temperature to dye the cotton, then in hot water with vinegar to dye the nylon.

Fabric Paints

Pigments that are not naturally attracted to fibers may be mixed with a gluelike binder to attach them to the fiber. "Pigment dyes" are not dyes at all, but a type of fabric paint. See the Fabric Paints page.

Dye Comparison Charts (from the FAQ section of this website):

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Last updated: January 9, 2014
Page created: July 25, 1999
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