Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Adventures in Dyeing

It has been a month since I posted anything about my own work. I have been busy looking at art, but not so much making art. A January deadline looms, when I have committed to a solo show of large pieces.

As I have described to friends, I feel as though I have one foot on the dock and one foot in the boat. The boat is leaving and I have to commit to the boat or the dock. Do I make big collages on paper, or large abstract works with cloth and stitch? Either one will require a lot of prep.

Top row: hue gradation from tangerine to fuchsia to navy blue
Bottom row: hue gradation from strong orange to mixing red to grape

The collages will require me to make a good variety of large collage papers to work with. The art quilts will require me to dye large pieces of cloth in a range of colours.

About a year ago I ordered 30 yards of linen, in three different weights. I had been inspired by Colleen Heslin's work, shown last year at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg, Ontario, and thought working with linen would be a welcome change. Heslin works with hand-dyed linen, piecing shapes together with stitch, and stretching the work on supports, without quilting layers together.

And so I find myself in my studio, up to the elbows in dye buckets.

The linen is lovely to work with. It has a bit of a sheen, even when dyed. How the different weights of linen will work together, and whether they will pair up with hand-dyed cotton, remains to be seen.

Diane Franklin's "Dyeing Alchemy: An Interactive Workbook" is my go-to resource for dyeing recipes. Her method uses precise amounts of solutions (dye, salt, and soda ash) to allow you (in theory) to replicate past results. There is little waste of dye. Everything is weighed, including the fabric.

Mostly I work with the 14 unmixed dye powders available from Pro-Chem, plus black. I learned about these from Ann Johnston's Color by Accident. They are
  • 108 sun yellow
  • 114 lemon yellow
  • 112 tangerine
  • 104 golden yellow
  • 202 strong orange
  • 305 mixing red
  • 308 fuchsia
  • 802 boysenberry
  • 801 grape
  • 410 turquoise
  • 406 intense blue
  • 400 basic blue
  • 402c mixing blue
  • 414 deep navy.
All other dyes, including black, are blends of these basic colours. I do have some mixed dyes on hand from years past, and I sometimes reach for them, but I don't intend to replace them when they are used up.

On the Jacquard website is a helpful list of formulae for mixed colours, using of course their own brand names for the basic pigments.


1. When doing a range of intensities, there's not much difference between 1% and 2%, or 2% and 3%. So instead of doing a range of 1 - 2 - 3%, I'm better off doing a range of 0.5 - 2 - 5%.

2. If I happen to produce a couple of large pieces with very similar colours, it's a good idea to "over-dye" one of them with a different colour.

3. It's useful to keep notes.