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Tub Dyeing with Fiber Reactive Dye

The more I became aware of the waste and hazard on the environment that fabric production causes, the more I wanted control how I work on my own line. I had always wanted to be the sole producer of my line, never moving into a company that produces their line elsewhere. While that can be done in a more "eco friendly" or "waste conscious" manner for some companies who have said they are eco-friendly, it can never fully be. Within production there is always waste. Being the sole maker of my line, I am able to control most of the waste that is put out in the world. I do not weave the fabric on the loom, so I try and find fabrics that are manufactured in an earth friendly manner. When deciding on fabric type, I look for fibers that require less energy and no pesticides. If buying cotton I try and find organic. And for the past 5 years, I grab undyed or unbleached fabric, and dye it myself.

While I love working with all natural dyes, it does require a lot of water, space and time. When working  with larger amounts of fabric it doesn't Always make sense. When working with yardage of heavier fabric like jersey and fleece, I am mostly dyeing them with fiber reactive dyes.

Fiber reactive dyes, also called procion dyes, are the most long lasting color one can achieve. That is because they actually chemically bond to your fabric. We all have seen the color slowly fade from our favorite articles of clothing. These dyes form the most basic of bonds in chemistry, covalent bonds. Which means the color will not be affected by uv light or wear (though some colors will state the are slightly affected by UV light). The fibers will break down before the color does.

It requires a lot less water to dye because of this. In the final steps of the process you'll see little bleed in the rinse bath. Rather than washing 3-4 times to see the water running clearer, here you rinse once, wash once and done.
You can use the dye in so many different ways, which will be future blog posts.
Here I'll show how to dye an all over color in what some call "immersion or tub dyeing." 

Weigh the fabric.
The more color you use the darker the tone, so really is doesn't have to be precise. But do take notes if you plan on replicating later on. I always Think I'll remember the color combos I use, and rarely do months down the line.
This chart is for medium to light weight fabrics. I assume their 1yard is about 1/2lb (8oz). I use is as a guide for ratios. When I dye 5 yards of heavy jersey, I am using 16-18Tbs of dye, and do not use water softener as it's only when you have "hard water" that it's necessary. I would also add to the list synthrapol, which is a "wetting agent" that will smooth your color out and I'll describe below. Only a few drops are needed.


¼ yard

½ yard

1 yard


1/16 -⅛ tsp

⅛ - ¼ tsp

¼ - ½ tsp


¼ tsp

½ tsp

1-2 tsp


¾ tsp

2 tsp

3-4 tsp


2 c

1 qt

2 qt


½ Tbl

1 Tbl

2 Tbl


⅛ tsp

¼ tsp

½ tsp

w. softener

⅛ tsp

¼ tsp

½ tsp

Wash your fabric using synthrapol and a little soda ash to rid the fabric of oils, dirt, etc. If dyeing the fabric immediately, leave the fabric wet. To dye, you always want the fabric damp but not dripping, so it will accept the dye.
Prepping your dyes.
Put on a mask! Not only can you nose be a colorful rainbow after a day of dyeing, it can be damaging to your respiratory system.
Heat up some water and set aside.
Mix your colors, now this is not as easy as you'd think. Most colors are many combinations of color particles, so you don't get what you'd expect. Jacquard has a helpful chart, but I will make a little color sample before mixing my larger vat on the fabric I am dyeing. 
Be aware that there will be slight variation in the tub, because a larger scale of color slightly changes and when you add the soda ash, the color can change with some colors, but generally it will be the same tone. So 1/2 tsp to 1/4 tsp, will most likely be the same to 1/2 cup to 1/4 cup of dye.
When measuring out your color, level off each scoop if you plan on replicating your colors at later date. A heaping scoop can be very different to a leveled scoop.
Fill a tub of cool water (unless dyeing black, which benefits with warmer waters) so that there is enough room for your fabric to move around freely. Leave enough room, so that when you add the fabric it doesn't spill over. Set aside.

Wet your color with just enough warm water to dissolve your dye in a glass cup. Once your dye is mixed you don't have to wear a mask anymore but do wait until the dust has settled. Mix all the color to dissolve it before adding to your tub.
Adding salt to the dye bath can make colors more vibrant. You must add the color to the water first, mix, then add your salt. Doing before can affect the way the dye dissolves. Sometimes I will dye the fabric, then remove the fabric, then add the salt, and return the fabric and dye some more. Just so I can see the difference in the color achieved. It can really help! I add 4 Tbs to a large tub, sometimes adding a bit more when I don't see a noticeable difference. (Always remove the fabric from the tub before adding any material.)
Adding a few drops of synthrapol to the bath can even out your color. See just below, there's a sample of two fabrics adding it to your tub and not.
Once all the dye and additives are in the tub, you  then add your wetted fabric.
Move your fabric 10-20 minutes, depending on amount of fabric. Make sure it's not folded onto itself. Lifting the fabric out of the tub, unfolding, and returning might be necessary for larger pieces. The idea is to allow the dye to penetrate the fabric before you activate it. The move you move the fabric, the more even the color.
Once colored, you then remove the fabric and activate the dye using the soda ash.
Using warm water, dissolve your soda ash and add to your tub. It can be gritty and if not dissolved will just fall to the bottom of the tub. You'll notice it gets a little sudsy.
Then return your fabric and stir frequently for 30-60 minutes or longer, depending on intensity of color needed. I will stir, lift, move around fabric at intervals for 60 minutes and then leave either over night or half a day.
You will notice a deepening in color the longer the fabric is in the activated bath.
Rinse in cool water (sometimes I just wring out really well to save water).
Wash in hot water with Synthrapol.
Make a hot soak bath with Reactive Dye Fix.
Then rinse in cool water. 
Now to print!

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