Dyeing Silk

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Introduction: Dyeing Silk

I am a teacher outside of Boston and I love making cool stuff! Any prizes I'm lucky enough to win...

For the past couple years I've gotten increasingly into fiber arts. Last year, after not being able to reorder a specific hand-dyed roving I found on Etsy, I decided it might be worth dyeing myself. So I started researching all the ins-and-outs of dyeing my own fiber at home.

A lot of experimentation is required to get the results you want, taking copious notes so that you can repeat results is a great idea. This Instructable is a basic introduction to dyeing silks. It is not an exhaustive tutorial, but a way to get going. There are several other methods of dyeing silks, I just happen to really like immersion dyeing solid colors.

Step 1: BoM

Silk (for this Instructable I used silk noil)

Acid Dyes (I have a variety of Dharma, Jacquard, and ProChem dyes)

Hot water

Measuring cup

Scale (I have a scale for weighing fiber amounts and a more precise jewelers scale for weighing dyes)

Synthrapol(or similar textile detergent)

Large jars (most of mine are recycled pickle or other condiment jars)

Soaking container

White vinegar

Roasting pan w/lid (Savers is a great place to find inexpensive tools)

Masking tape & markers (for labeling)

Coffee stirrers/stirring sticks

Rubber gloves, protective wear, goggles etc. The dye powers will stain your skin and be a pain to get off.

Step 2: Synthrapol Soak

All fiber has to be soaked before it can be dyed. Soaking allows the fibers to open up, making it easier to absorb dye. Silk can be hard to wet so the longer you let it soak, the more successful your dyeing will be. You want to follow the manufacturer instructions for Synthrapol or whatever textile detergent you use, but generally a drop or two of the solution is sufficient. Make sure you are using a container that can hold enough water to allow your silk to move freely.

If you don't have either product, dish washing soap can be substituted.

The silk noils shown here actually soaked in a Synthrapol bath for 4-5 days. Partially because I was also prepping soy silk at the same time and wanted to dye that first, and partially because I knew a longer soaking time wouldn't hurt.

Step 3: Dye Prep & Soak

How much dye powder you will need depends on how much fiber you are dyeing. I use this calculator to determine the percentage of dye powder I want per weight of the fiber. Dharma also has their own calculator that is tailored to their dyes.

Dharma recommends using between 1.5-2% of the weight of your fiber for the amount of dye powder and then mixing that powder with a cup of hot water to dissolve the powder (add liquid to powder, not the other way around). Add the mixture to your dye jar (assuming you aren't mixing in your dye jar) and then add your fiber. You may need to add more water to your jar to allow the silk to move around more freely. It ultimately doesn't matter how much additional water you add to your dye bath as the silk will absorb the dye, not the water.

Let the silk soak in the dye bath for at 12-24 hours. I've found this increases color intensity AND helps with exhausting the dye.

Step 4: Add Heat

After the 12-24 hour dye soak, add a couple of inches of water to your pan and slowly turn up the heat. Don't let the water go over 180 or get to a boil. Too much heat will cause the silk to lose luster. Keep the pan covered when you're not checking temps and water color. I tend to check every 10-15 minutes until the water starts to appear clear. The silk will absorb as much as the dye from the dye bath as it can. Some colors, will never fully exhaust no matter what you do (I've noticed this is particularly true with some blues, pinks, and blacks).

Step 5: Cool Down & Rinse

Once the dyes have all exhausted (or have exhausted as much as they're going to, some colors will not exhaust fully no matter what you do) remove the pan from heat, keeping it covered, allow everything to cool down overnight.

Before rinsing, you may want to add a drop of vinegar to each jar to help the silk restore it's ph levels. Let sit for another 5-10 minutes and then continue on to rinsing.

To rinse the silk, remove it from the dyebath (which will likely be very clear) and rinse under cool water until the water runs clear.

Step 6: Dry

Allow the silk to air dry before use. I have a couple 3-tier sweater drying racks that I put all my recently washed fibers on for drying. The thinner the fiber is spread, the faster it will dry.

The second picture is the soy silk I dyed. Except for the black, I didn't leave the other colors in their dyebath for 24 hours before adding heat. As a result, the colors did not take as well and in some cases, pretty much washed out completely.

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    11 Discussions

    Hi I am looking for some advice to solve a dyeing problem I am having...I have been dyeing silk for the past couple of weekends...raw silk fibre. (it is silk...purchased from silk factory in china) Have followed basic recipe I use to dye wool with acid dyes ie...2 litre of water; 50ml white vinegar; + stock solution of dye, in hot dye bath...I am having no problem with the dye going into the silk...often the dye water is clear at the finish. My problem is with the colourfastness....I use my silk in my felt making....a long warm soapy process...several hrs of hard "washing". By the end most of the dye has washed away from my silk..leaving pale pastels. (it stays in my wool though). My 1st weekend dyeing I used Drimalan dyes (says for wool and silk...and works on wool well)...then I read they had a poor colourfast rate, so I tried Procion mx dyes the next weekend. I have just completed a felt project using samples of both dyed silks...and they have all faded the same. ...my dyes are old..20-30yrs...but have been well stored in dry out of light and no extreme heat....Any suggestions as to what is going on?

    4 more answers

    I have a couple thoughts

    1) silk needs to be presoaked for several days and the presoak needs to include some kind of fiber detergent like synthrapol. Skip the vinegar cos it could dull the shine of the silk.

    2) after the initial presoak, add the dyestock and let it soak for a couple more days before adding heat.

    My third thought is that the dyes you are using are way too old and that's probably the biggest problem. Dyes don't have a long shelf life, I think most are 6 months to maybe a year?

    I was wondering about your comment to skip the vinegar as it could dull the silk...I thought a little vinegar is used to make silk soft and silky plus used to correct ph suitable for protein fibre. Isn't the acid needed too for the dye to bond to the protein fibre?.....so much info on the internet it is hard to know!!!

    Thanks for your advice...I didn't know about the vinegar dulling silk. Will buy some new dyes...what kind do you advise bearing in mind I will be felting this silk...some projects take more than one day so dye needs to be very colourfast

    You've caught the gist of the contest I'd say! Very nice work and colors. Never saw silk dyeing before so this was very informative

    1 reply

    Can you explain what BoM means? I really enjoyed this tutorial -- I've only dyed fabric.

    1 reply

    I love the colors! Do you you spin it after it is dyed?

    Acid dye is for protein fibers. It only stains cellulose, soy, cotton materials.

    If you add a little vinegar or citric acid to your dyebath, the dye will strike faster.

    I'd love to see something you make from the silk!

    1 reply

    I haven't yet, but I plan to! Depending on the fiber, after the dyeing I'll card it into batts. The silk noil is for pops of color and texture.

    I left out the citric acid because I've come across some people who feel the citric acid dulls the shine of silk.

    There will definitely be more fiber Instructables to come :)