On my first post I had a picture of three chemicals in bags. And, none of them were dye. You see, there is a wee bit more to the dyes used in tie dyeing than just adding them to water and using them. As a matter of fact, if you do that then you will have disastrous results all around. Not recommended at all. I’ll briefly go over what I call the “big three” as far as chemicals go. If you have these three and the right dye then there’s no reason why you can’t make some outrageous tie dyes.
First off, there’s soda ash. It’s the chemical that actually makes the dye adhere chemically to the actual fiber of the shirt. The shirts are soaked thoroughly in a soda ash mixture after they have been scoured. What is this “scoured,” you say? It’s the first wash of the white cotton tees to remove any unwanted chemicals such as brighteners and stain blockers applied by the manufacturer. These will most certainly affect the tie dyeing process and should rightfully be removed. One does this by washing the shirts with one half cup detergent and one half cup of soda ash per large load in the washer. Don’t worry the soda ash will not harm your washer. Add detergent and soda ash after the cycle has begun agitating. Rinse and dry. Easy enough scouring, huh? Now how about that soda ash soak?
To make the soda ash soak for the scoured tees you’ll need a five gallon or so container. Five gallon buckets from restaurants are ideal just make sure that they are pristine in cleanliness. Add about three and a half gallons of warm water to the bucket. If you have hard water then you can add a teensy weensy bit of Calgon or sodium hexametaphosphate. If you are using Calgon then only use about a tablespoon to the three gallons because too much can be as bad as the hard water. Next, add one whole cup of soda ash and stir until thoroughly mixed. You can now add your scoured shirts to the mixture in the bucket. They can be added wet or dry. I recommend soaking overnight to let the soda ash really set in. After the soak the shirts are ready to fold. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Now onto Urea we go!
Urea. No, it’s not a newly discovered planet or some distant star. It’s actually organic nitrogen. Yup, the very same one as fertilizer and explosives. Only for tie dyeing purposes it needs to be really, really white or clean. I recommend only buying chemicals from Dharma Trading Co. Anyhoo, the Urea is what makes it possible to supersaturate the dye into soft water. I use Urea and water softener to make what I call a “dye base.” The dye base is made as follows. Add about 1.75 liters of hot water to a two liter soda bottle that has been well cleaned. Add about ten a half a teaspoon(not tablespoon) of Calgon. We’ll discuss sodium hexametaphosphate later. Then add two cups of Urea to the hot water. Put the lid on tight and shake until all of the Urea is dissolved. Now you have a dye base that is ready to be portioned, thickened and have dye added…after it cools first. VERY IMPORTANT. Cool to room temperature before adding dye. But, let’s not rush and mix dyes just yet. We haven’t discussed thickening the dyes.
Sodium alginate is made from kelp and, like the other chemicals we use, is very safe. I make my thickener by adding two tablespoons of sodium alginate to hot water, a wide mouthed large jell jar to be exact. My jar is a 48 ounce jar. I then use a wand mixer in the jar to thoroughly mix the sodium alginate. Allow to sit for two days. You should have a super thick paste. If not then you need more sodium alginate. “Why use thickener,” you ask? Well, let’s get to that right now.
The thickener is added to control the spread of the dye. Thin dye spreads farther and less intensely than thicker dye. How much thickener do I use? Well, this is all a matter of personal preference. I use about one part thickener to six parts dye base and mix thoroughly before adding dye. This ratio works very well for me. But, later on we’ll discuss dye spread and dyeing wet or dry and the advantages and disadvantages of both. This will have an impact, or at least it should, as to how thick your dye should be.
Sodium alginate dry and mixed.
Remember that you can always find contact info for specific questions at My Tie Dyes.
On the next post we’ll be starting to get into the dyes themselves and exactly how to mix and store them. Peace always…