Immersion Dyeing

Step by Step

Easy, step-by-step instructions for general natural dyeing by immersion method.

Getting Started:

For safety reasons, we recommend you select a dedicated area for natural dyeing, and stock it with dedicated dye kitchen tools. Your home kitchen and your kitchen cooking pots, stove and spoons are not recommended. Ventilation is important.

Recommended Equipment:

  • Outdoor Heat Source: camp stoves, using propane or natural gas, work very well. Also, single burner ‘turkey fryer’ sets work great.
  • Dye pots. Stainless steel. Enamelware is also good. Aluminum is not recommended.  One pot dedicated as the indigo pot is helpful.
  • Stir sticks, wooden spoons, and plastic cooking spoons. Wire whisks of various sizes. Tea strainer with small mesh. Plastic spoons.
  • Plastic containers of various sizes. Recycled yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream containers are great. Also, 3 and 5 gallon buckets are handy.
  • Teapot. Hot pads and mitts. Apron. (Great garage sale items.)
  • Water source.
  • Big sink.
  • Synthrapol. Dawn.
  • Candy thermometer (one for indigo pot, and one for madder.). Nitrile gloves. Heavy duty rubber gloves.
  • Face mask (white particle mask). Safety glasses. (Unless you already wear glasses.)

To Begin:

Select your dye color and the depth of shade you desire. Guidelines for the amount of dye needed based on the weight of your fiber can be found at the end of this section.  Many variables (especially the make up of your water) will affect the depth and exact color you will get with each dye.

Clean or scour fiber to remove any oils, dirt, or processing chemicals in order to have even dyeing.

Weigh your dry fiber to determine the Dry Weight of the Goods (WOG).  Record the weight for later use.

Soak your clean fiber in warm water for one hour to “wet it out” before mordanting. This ensures the fiber is completely wet, and fully ready to accept the mordant evenly.

Mordant:

Mordant your fiber. (See Mordant Instructions. Follow those instructions for the fiber choice you have selected: i.e.: protein fibers like silk, wool or soy silk. Cellulose fibers like cotton, rayon, Tencel, hemp.) When mordanting a mixed fiber (i.e.: silk-hemp), always mordant for the cellulose component.

You may continue, dyeing your fiber now.
You may dry your fiber, and store it for another day. (Before dyeing, wet out your fiber.)
Whatever your choice, the mordant remains active and the fiber will accept dye another day.

To Dye:

Immersion dyeing means to dye fiber in a pot with adequate water.

Select your dye color of choice. Select the depth of shade you desire.

Here’s the math: Take the weight of the dry “weight of the goods” (WOG) you recorded earlier. Say the weight is 400 grams. The dye is 6% weight of the goods. Therefore:

400 grams fiber x 6% dye = 24 grams of dye.
400 x .06 = 24

Weigh the dye. Place in plastic container. Dissolve as directed for that dye.

Place pot of water on outdoor stove. Begin to heat it. (The amount of water you put into the pot is determined by the volume of fiber you are adding to the pot. The guidelines for water level are:

  • Enough to cover the fiber you will be adding.
  • Enough room so stirring the fiber is easy, and the dye has access to the fiber surfaces.
  • Too much water dilutes the dye, and the process will take forever.
    Not enough water cramps the fiber, and the dye process will be uneven. To dissolve mix the dye with cool water to make a paste.  Gradually add boiling water to dissolve.
  • Yes, you will be estimating at first. You will learn this aspect quickly.
  • Pick the right size pot. (Small pot for that 4 ounce skein.) (No more than 500 grams of fabric per 20 quart pot. Get another pot.)

Add the dye to the pot of water. Strain it through a fine mesh strainer to capture lumps. (Some dyes have unique instructions. Consult the information for that dye on the web site.) Stir the pot to mix the dye.

Select your wetted fiber. Squeeze (never wring) out excess water. With fiber in one hand, and stir stick in the other, quickly add your fiber to the dyepot. Stir adequately to expose your fiber to the dye. (Each dye has a different rate of “striking” or dye speed. Especially for fabric, it is crucial to get the fabric into the pot and stirring for even coverage.)( For fleece or roving, put your fiber into a polyester ‘sweater’ or ‘delicates’ laundry bag. Keep it gently submerged to minimize felting.)

Keep your fiber in the pot, according to individual dye instructions, until the dye bath appears to be exhausted. Generally, the bath will appear weak in appearance if dribbled through the air. From dye pot to dye pot, this state of exhaustion could take 3 minutes to 2 hours, or even overnight. Experience will assist with this determination.

Once you are satisfied that exhaustion has been reached, remove the dyed fiber and rinse. The dye is set.

Percentage of Dye to WOG to yield a medium depth of shade
for Dye Extracts on Protein Fibers *

Brazilwood 6%
Caribbean 5%
Chestnut 6 %
Cochineal 1%
Cutch 6%
Fustic 2%
Gall Nuts 5%
Henna 8%
Himalayan Rhubarb 6-8%
Kamala 3% (add washing soda to dissolve)
Lac 4%
Logwood Purple 1.25% -2 %
Madder Root (rc) 10% (do not boil)
Madder Root (liquid rt) 8% (do not boil)
Madder Root (rt) 6% (do not boil)
Myrobalan 5%
Osage Orange 2%
Persian Berries 1%
Pomegranate 4%
Quebracho (Green. Brown, Black) 5% – 8%
Quebracho Red 8% (soak in alcohol 1 hour, add boiling water)
Sandalwood 6%
Tannin 6%
Tesu 4%
Walnut 8%
Wattle 7%
Weld 2%

*Percentages are approximate.  Variables such as water type can alter this. For cellulose fibers amounts should approximately doubled.