Sunday, June 7, 2015

How to Ombre Dye Synthetics with iDye

So I got a special weekend project as I'm volunteering with costuming for the local aerial studio Sky Candy's production of Swings Asunder. The assignment was to ombre dye an assortment of red camisoles.  Challenge 1: The garments were purchased at Savers and therefore were all slightly different, right down to the fiber makeup. So while I'm pretty comfortable with dyeing natural fibers with Procion MX dyes, I now had an assortment of silk, nylon / spandex blends, and my arch nemesis, polyester. Challenge 2: I have a weekend to finish it, so no time to wait on a Dharma Trading order.  Challenge 3: My budget is $20.

I feel like I'm on Iron Chef. Ginger (costume lead) assures me that whatever I do will be fine, but uncharted territory deserves caution (Back in college I studied lithography, and spent a good 40 hours making black rectangles before I ever made anything nice. As I used to say back then, "Do it right or do it over.").

First rule of fabric club is DO NOT USE RIT. I could repeat that, but the joke's getting old. (I was barely in high school when that movie came out.) Everyone at dance class asks me how I got my tie dye workout gear to look so nice. PROFESSIONAL QUALITY DYES, YO! I've been doing this crap for five months, I'm no expert. But you get what you pay for, and Tulip and Rit don't cut it.

So there's two places in Austin that carry fabric dyes: Jerry's Artarama, and Joann's. Luckily, on my trip to JoAnn's to buy some swatches for testing, I find they carry iDye poly, which is supposed to work on polyester and nylon (Fourteen years after the iPod was released and we still have products starting with "i." It's just not cool unless you are Apple, sorry). I buy a two packs, and one foot each of a 100% polyester satin and a stretchy, swimsuit-like blend of 82% nylon and 18% spandex.

So iDye poly comes in a convenient little pouch with a "color intensifier" and then the dye in a little dissolvable packet. This way you don't have powder going everywhere, though I still would recommend wearing a mask when dissolving because it stinks to high hell and you never want to breathe in dye powder. And remember to never use the same pots and utensils for dyeing as for food. So you add the intensifier and dye and stir while bringing this witches' brew to a boil. Then you rig up your fabric to your cabinets. Kinda like the way aerial apparatuses are strung up, without the mortal consequences. So I use the first packet for my test run, and I clothespin the nylon and polyester together, soak in water, then dip into the pot (which has been reduced to medium high now). I lift up a few inches and tie it off, then let it soak five minutes.

Roughly every five minutes I pull up the rigging a couple inches. I do this for 30 minutes, then transfer to the washing machine and wash on cold with detergent and a few squirts of dawn (it's cheaper than synthrapol). I through in a couple color catchers for insurance. Then into the dryer.

Left: 82% Nylon / 18% Spandex. Right: 100% Polyester

So the swatch test was helpful. It's clear that the nylon is more accepting of dye than the polyester. It's hard to see in the low grade photo taken on my cell phone, but the polyester has some variations from the way the fabric piled up in the pot. Now for the real deal. I paired up the camisoles and clothespinned them to hangers, then tied them to some paracord so that bottoms were aligned. I ran the paracord over a clamp affixed to a hanger on the cabinet above the stove, then prepared a fresh batch of dye (reusing a dye bath is unlikely to work as the dye exhausts). Ta-da, like a weird fetishist, I'm spending my Saturday night boiling lingerie:

Now since my last versions came out a bit too intense, I shorten the whole process, raising the cloth every few minutes, and spending roughly 20 minutes in all. Did I mention this stuff smells terrible? The fans are on and my roommate is out on the town, oblivious to the atrocities I'm committing in our kitchen. Don't worry, I bleached down the range and nearby counters after. Oh, and more fun, this stuff really stains the washing machine with only the slightest contact on the enamel. I spent a good while with a toothbrush and bleach following this guide to cleaning a washing machine just to get it back to normal. Never had these issues with the Procion dyes.

The final result is pretty nice, and cost me about $12 in all for the dyes and swatch material. The one silk garment is getting its own bath overnight with Dharma's Procion MX in jet black, and I'm hoping it will match.

So my overall feeling about iDye? It smells terrible, it nearly fucked up my washer (which, albeit, is defined as non-real property in my lease), it has an obnoxious "i" in the name, and comes in an indivisible packet. But, it did do the trick of dyeing plastic, and is easily available at a low price. I'd say use it if you have to, but I still much prefer dyeing natural fibers.