A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Disperse Dyeing--Quilter Beth

I finally had a chance to "play" with disperse dyeing. I had never even heard of it before, so it was something TOTALLY new to me.  I purchased a 100% patterned polyester table cloth thinking the pattern might produce some interesting results, and my friend had a "Transfer Printing Kit on Polyester using PROsperse Disperse Dyes" from ProChem on hand. The kit included 10gm Yellow D118, 10 gm Bright Blue D459, 10 gm Red D360, 75 gm Thick F (used to mix the thickener paste), and 50 gm Metaphos (also used to mix the thickener paste). We mixed some dyes to get a purple and an orange so we'd have more variety in color. We really had fun painting the papers with the thickened dyes. For all the papers, we did one layer and let it dry (which took way longer that we thought it would), then we did another layer of dye on top of that.

As you can see, my first results were terrible. Hardly any color came off the paper onto the cloth. I started ironing the papers from the top right...then down...back up to the top...then down, etc. On those first two, I followed the directions that came with the basic transfer printing kit. Those instructions said to "set the iron at the top of the polyester range and iron for 1 minute for a pale shade and up to 5 minutes for a dark shade." I ironed both of those for more than 5 minutes at that polyester setting without good results, so I upped the heat to a cotton setting and increased the ironing time on all of the other pieces. I ironed each succeeding piece for a longer amount of time with much better results.
My friend and I each did several small "prints." The painted papers are on the right of each of my samples (except for the one in the bottom left-hand corner). That print is a reprint of the second paper on the right using more heat and a longer ironing time. Wow, what a difference!
 This is my first attempt.
 This is my second attempt.
 Here is where I upped the heat setting on the iron and ironed for a longer time. The background was painted first, then I used a stamp to make the yellow image.
You can really see the pattern on the table cloth in this print. I painted the background of this one and used yellow dye on bubble wrap to make the design.

I also used bubble wrap for this print.

My favorite pieces are the images where I used bubble wrap. I'm planning on overprinting some of the designs I'm not crazy about with other designs. I like that effect (see Robin's images below). I've been thinking of ways I might use pieces of these samples...stay tuned.

These are the samples my friend did.
Robin painted, stamped, and overprinted some of her designs.

This was an enjoyable experience, but I don't think it is something I'll use frequently. The long ironing time made it really tedious for me.


  1. The kind of fabric you use REALLY makes a difference, as does the heat and pressure of the iron.

    When I was doind my experiments, some of the fabrics, no matter how much pressuer and heat I put on them just never got a brilliant colour or good result.

    After my first set of experiments I was nearly ready to give up. I'm glad I didn't though - I'm getting some really spectacular results now.

  2. Okay, for those of you who have tried this, is it worth the expense of buying the dyes? Does it change the hand of the fabric? Why not just paint directly on the fabric, or stamp, or whatever whether than going to the time, trouble, and expense of the transfer method?

  3. The hand of the fabric isn't changed at all, but my friend and I both asked the same questions of ourselves. Is it worth the time, trouble, and expense? I'd have to say that, for me, it is not. I'm not crazy about polyester fabric, and I can get virtually the same effects using dyes/thickened dyes on natural fabrics that I DO like.

    I'm glad I tried it. I'm sure I'll find a use for the pieces, but I don't think I'll do it again.

  4. Sublimation Printing
    There are four distinct processes by which transfer printing can be achieved: melt-transfer; film-release transfer; semi-wet processes; sublimation printing.

    What is commonly termed "transfer printing" (using disperse dyes) in reality should be termed sublimation printing. Sublimation describes a process that goes from a solid state to a gas state without passing though a liquid state. Dry ice has this property.

    In sublimation printing once the dye has been painted on a paper and is dry, the painted side of the paper is placed on top of the fabric surface that is to be dyed. Then heat is applied via an iron or a heat press (under pressure) to the back of the dry dyed paper. The dye vaporizes from the paper and infuses into the surface of the target fabric. The vapor dye reacts with the target fabric surface and adheres to it via dispersion forces (van der Waals forces) and hydrogen bonding. The heat of the iron serves a dual purpose: (a) it vaporizes the dye; (b) it assists the dye to infuse into the fabric surface and adhere to it.

    We need to examine (a) and (b) more closely in order to appreciate the importance of the amount of heat applied (under pressure) in the disperse dye process. With respect to (a), the more heat that is applied, the more dye is vaporized, and so the more dye is available for uptake and adhesion to the fabric. With respect to (b), the more heat that is applied (under pressure) the more vigorously the surface fiber molecules vibrate, the more passages become available for the vaporized dye to venture into the voids of the amorphous region of the fiber, the greater the promotion of dye uptake and adhesion to the fabric. That is why the amount of heat applied (under pressure) by the iron or heat press is so important since it determines the amount of dye that sublimates, the amount of dye the fabric uptakes and adheres to. Parts (a) and (b) work hand-in-hand to achieve that end. Not enough applied heat (under pressure) results in a very pale dyed fabric. However, there is a trade-off. The more heat you apply (under pressure) the greater the possibility of damaging the fabric and the transfer paper. You need to walk this tight rope for each fabric and paper you choose.

    The adhesion that the dye forms with the fabric surface is why the fabric automatically becomes color fast, wash fast, light fast and moreover, why it cannot change the hand of the fabric. Furthermore, it is a surface technique and so the reverse side of the fabric is unaltered (unless you are using a transparent fabric). Also, image creating objects such as stencils, resist items etc. can be inserted between the paper and fabric surface ready for transfer as well as painted images that were resident on the surface of the original paper can be transferred directly onto the fabric surface.

    Hope this information helps understand the process a little more.

    Marie-Therese Wsniowski

  5. I have experimented with this technique, but with limited success in the past. It is not really for me, not least because there is so much else out there that floats my boat, but that is not to say that it might be for other people. Some things to try:-

    1 - try using stencils to block the colour transfer. You literally lay the stencil shape on the fabric and place the painted paper on top. Where the stencil is, the colour won't transfer. Because of the way the technique works, what can be really effective is really delicate stencils (such as, say, minature stars cut using a fine paper punch).

    2 - try painting a much more detailed 'picture' on the paper. I have seen beautiful quilts, I think from an Australian quilter, where the detailed work was created on the painting on the paper (it may have been Dijanne Cevaal)

    3 - try printing onto a polyester organza which can then be overlaid onto another fabric. Painting the organza would not give the same effect as using transfer paint - it would be too heavy. (Again I think this was something that Dijanne Cevaal tried some years ago)

    Hope that helps.


  6. I love these dyes I use them mostly on polyester satin The results are beautiful! They are so versatile for other things too. I have a small section on my blog I am developing showing their uses Soon I am going to do a screen printing with thicken dyes A heat press is really the best method in transferring the image Unfortunately I no longer have one But careful ironing does work too as long as you find the right heat setting to get a good transfer and not damage your fabric

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