Wasting Dye

The hemp came in at 110yds and 7g or 1/4oz. Not very much, but since I plan to use less than 2yds per bracelet, I should have enough for lots of them. That, along with two hanks of charkha-spun cotton, are in a ziplock of dye.

I like dyeing, but I’m usually working with very small amounts, an ounce or two of fiber, a couple of silk scarves, four yards of very fine fabric for sewing. I’m nearly always using acid dyes, since I don’t work much in vegetable fibers, and it’s been years since I did tie-dye. Whichever kind of dye I’m using, the quantities always leave me with the same problem: wasting dye.

I’ve known dyers who prided themselves on the fineness of their calculations for dye quantities, on the way they could have perfectly saturated fabric and an absolutely clear bath at the end, every bit of dye having been taken up, leaving no unevenness of color on the fabric. I sigh in envy over that. See, they are typically working in weights that are an order or two of magnitude greater than what I am. I’m doing a quarter-ounce, one ounce, three ounces maybe. The instructions on most dyes read something like this:

TUB DYEING - 5 gallon bucket, 1 pound of fabric, 3 gallons of cold tap water or until fabric is covered. Add 2 cups plain salt, 1-4 tablespoons of dye, stir. Add wet fabric, stir 20 minutes. Add 1/4 cup soda ash (dissolved), while slowly stirring. Stir occasionally for 50 minutes. Rinse and wash.

(Those are the instructions from the Bright Green Procion MX Dye I’m using.)

A pound of fabric. The hemp was a quarter-ounce. One-sixty-fourth of a pound. If we assume really saturated color, 4tbs per pound, that’s 1tb per 4oz, which is 1/16th of a tablespoon (or just under one-fifth of a teaspoon) of dye for my tiny skein. I mean, I could use a 1/4tsp measure, if I had one in my dyer’s measuring set (which I don’t at the moment, since most of it got lost), but really at that point it’s nearly as precise, or not-precise, as my cook’s eye. (Volume is not a very accurate measure of hygroscopic powders anyway.) I might as well just take a pinch, since I can estimate a quarter-teaspoon of salt quite accurately.

Some dyes do have more precise directions, and I can get out my good scale and weigh things precisely and then I do pretty well, but for this it just wasn’t worth it. It usually isn’t for me, frankly. I don’t dye in any one color very often. I have a couple of dozen little jars of dye lying around in various drawers and totes, most of them with at least a tablespoon or two of dye left. It’s usually just easier for me to tap a little extra in to be sure, and rinse a couple of extra times to get the excess dye off. It’s a matter of deciding what to spend my time, attention, and spoons on. Generally, working out the exact weight in grams of dye powder is not a good choice. But I do feel sad, sometimes, watching all that color pour away down the drain, or looking at pictures of some other dyer’s perfectly clear runoff.

I wrote this up last night, but got no chance to post it. Today, the new spindle arrived. It’s lovely, striped ebony and crystal balls. I found it on the way out, so no picture yet. Tonight I’ll dedicate it, and then wash the thread and hang it to dry. Tomorrow, bracelets!