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.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Dyeing by Weight Vs. Volume 3: Showing the Difference Between Fabrics Where Dye Was Measured vs. Weighed

In this post, I (Diane) will show you 6 different pieces of fabric, 2 each of red, yellow, blue. One set of fabrics was dyed with dye powder that was measured. The other set of fabrics was dyed with dye powder that was weighed.

For this experiment, I actually calculated the correct amount of dye and auxiliary solutions needed for the weight of my fabric and the depth of shade that I wanted.  Each sample was 6” by 14” and weighed 7 grams. I decided that I wanted a depth of shade of 4%. This depth of shade gives the fabric a medium-dark color.

Using the formulas already available in the Dyeing Alchemy workbook, I calculated that I would need 0.3 grams of dye powder to get a 4% depth of shade for this amount of fabric. This is the amount of dye powder I need for each piece of cloth in the "weight" part of the experiment. The formula I used was the weight of fabric in grams times the depth of shade percentage. If my scale had been accurate to two decimal places, I would have seen that the correct amount of dye powder was actually 0.28 grams rather than 0.3 grams, but the later amount is accurate enough for most purposes.

Since I was dyeing small amounts of fabric, I decided to mix my dye powders right in the cups in which the fabric would be dyed. Each cup has been labeled with the color of the dye and an indication of whether the dye has been weighed or measured.

To help the dye powder dissolve, I have put 1/8 teaspoon urea granules into each of the 6 cups. The amount of urea is approximate. From experience, this seemed to be a good amount to use for a small piece of fabric and small amount of dye. I could also have dissolved the dye using urea water rather than plain water, but generally I prefer using urea granules since they act like small ball bearings that help dissolve the dye powder.

For the cups where the dye will be weighed, I used the same process as in earlier posts: I put the cup with the urea granules on the scale, tared the scale to zero, and weighed 0.3 grams of dye powder. (As in earlier posts, I worked in a sink below my face, with damp paper towels in the sink. I also wore a mask and gloves.) Once I measured 3 colors of dye powder, each into its own cup, I was through with the part of the process related to dyeing by weight. 

I then had to figure out how much dye powder to use for the samples where the dye powder was being measured by volume. I looked in my dye books and on the Internet so see if I could find an agreed-upon volume figure for the weight of one gram of dye. I found some information that said 1 gram of dye powder is about equal to ½ teaspoon of dye powder. This is the information I used in this experiment. (This does not correspond, however, to the weights I got in my last post, but more about that later). Using the following formula:

1 gram/.5 teaspoon = 0.3gram/X teaspoon,

I calculated that X = 0.15 teaspoon. This is a little more than 1/8th teaspoon (=0.125). So I measured out a scant 1/8th teaspoon of dye for each sample dyed by volume and added it to the appropriate dye cups which already contained urea granules.

Next I needed to figure out the liquids I would add to the dye powder in each cup. Using the Dyeing Alchemy workbook, I calculated that for each 7 gram piece of cloth, I would need to use 70 milliliters of total liquid, divided into 32.5 ml. of water, 22.4 ml. of salt stock, and 10.5 ml. of soda ash stock. In this instance I used a 10:1 liquor ratio where the amount of liquid is 10 times the weight of the cloth (10 times 7 = 70 ml of liquid). 70 milliliters of liquid (a little more than a quarter of a cup) is enough to cover the fabric piece once it is squished down. Since this formula for liquids includes 13.5 milliliters of dye stock to make up the total of 70 milliliters, I used about 46 milliliters of water instead of 32.5 to compensate for the fact that I was working with dye powder here rather than dye stock.

Next I labeled my fabrics. I used little pieces of Tyvek that I stapled on the corners of the fabric. I like using Tyvek labels rather than a marker notation in the corner of the fabric pieces since they will show up no matter the darkness of the dyed fabric. Marker notations on the fabric itself may be obscured if you are dyeing the fabric a very dark color.

Since I needed about 276 milliliters of water total for the 6 cups, I poured about 300 milliliters of water into a measuring cup and heated it in the microwave. I then used a thermometer to make sure that my water was about 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Centigrade). This is on the high side for mixing dye but I knew the water would cool a bit while I did the other steps in the process.

I also got out my bottles of salt stock and soda ash stock so they would be ready when I needed them.

For the first dye container, I measured 46 milliliters of warm water into a measuring cylinder. I then poured a small amount of that water into the first dye container and stirred it with a spoon. As the dye dissolved, I added a little more of the water. When most or all of the dye was dissolved, I added the rest of the 46 milliliters of water and stirred the dye until it was fully dissolved, translucent and without any dye granules on the bottom of the cup. The urea granules helped to dissolve the dye powder quickly. I repeated this process for each of the other 5 cups.

Next I measured 23 milliliters of salt stock into each cup. I didn’t bother to heat the salt stock since I was using such a small quantity and had already heated the water I first put into the cup. I put this amount of salt stock into dye container and stirred.

The next step was adding each labeled piece of fabric to the appropriate cups. After adding each piece of fabric, I squished it with my gloved fingers and massaged the dye into it. I did this for all 6 cups, rinsing my fingers in between handling each piece of cloth. I left the cups for 15 minutes, stirring and massaging the fabric throughout that time. Then I moved the fabric pieces to one side of the cup with a spoon and poured 10.5 milliliters of soda ash stock into each cup. I left the cups for another 60 minutes, stirring each frequently. Then I rinsed, washed and dried the fabric in the usual way.

Below is a picture of the finished 6 pieces of fabric. The fabric where the dye was measured is on the left. The fabric where the dye was weighed is on the right.

You can see that for the blue and yellow dyes, the cloth where the dye was measured is darker than the cloth where the dye was weighed. For the red dye, the colors are pretty close though the piece where the dye was weighed may be slightly darker than the piece where the dye was measured.

BUT, as I said above, this color difference could be an artifact. In my middle post this week, all the teaspoonfuls of dye that I weighed were between 3.8 and 4.9 grams, with an average weight of 4.4 grams. This means that an average 1/8th teaspoon of dye would weigh 0.55 grams which is almost twice the weight of 0.3 grams that I used for the "weight" part of this experiment. That alone could explain the discrepancy in color between the two pieces of each sets of fabrics, since the pieces dyed with the measured amounts of dye had almost twice as much dye as the pieces with the weighed amount of dye. The only way to know for sure would be to dye 3 more pieces of fabric with a measured amount of dye equal to about 1/16th teaspoon. Since I don't own a measuring spoon that small, I would have to work with a 1/8th teaspoon measure and then use half that amount of dye powder in that spoon.

Because I was really curious about what would happen if I measured 1/16th teaspoon of dye powder, I decided to do one more experiment using the same method and formulas discussed above.

It was really hard to measure out the 1/16th teaspoon of dye powder using the 1/8th teaspoon measure.

The process was messy and the amount was probably inexact. But I proceeded to do this as best as I could for each of the 3 colors I was using. I also decided to weigh the amount of dye in each 1/16th  teaspoon just to see if my hunch about weight was correct. The red and yellow dyes each weighed 0.2 grams and the blue dye weighed 0.3 grams.

I then dyed the fabrics. Below are the results. On the left is the original piece using dye that was measured. In the middle is the piece where I tried to measure 1/16th teaspoon. On the right is the piece where the dye was weighed. (The colors of the dyed fabrics below are a little different from the colors in the pictures shown above but this is because I took the photos in different lights.)

For the blue fabric, the colors of the middle and right hand pieces are quite close. This makes sense since the amount of measured dye in the middle weighed 0.3 grams, exactly the same as the piece with the weighed dye on the right. In the case of the red fabric, the middle piece is lighter than either of the other two. This is to be expected since the 1/16th teaspoonful of dye used for the fabric in the middle weighed 0.2 grams, less than the amount of dye used in either of the other two samples of red fabric. For the yellow fabric, the color of the piece in the middle is closer to the piece on the right. These two pieces differ only by 0.1 gram in the weight of the dye used so it makes sense that they look similar.

Hopefully the experiments in my three posts will help you decide whether you want to measure or weigh your dye. In most cases, my vote is for the latter, since weighing dye is easier, quicker, more accurate and less messy than measuring it. Weighing also allows you to use exactly the amount of dye you need, thereby saving money and reducing the use of water needed to wash out excess dye.

That said, some people prefer just to experiment with dyes, mixing by eye, or playing around to see what they get. That's fine too. As I said in my initial post, there is no one right way to dye fabric. But the more tools you have, the more you will be able to decide on the method that makes the most sense for your desired outcome.

Even easier than working with weighed dye powers is working with 5% dye concentrates where 5 grams of dye powder are dissolved in 100 milliliters of water. (If you need larger quantities of dye concentrate, you can use this formula to make up the amount of 5% concentrate that you need.) Making up and working with dye concentrates will be the subject of one of my posts later in the year, but if you want to know how to do this sooner, you can read all about it in my book.

Remember to add a comment if you want to be entered into the drawing for a free copy of Dyeing Alchemy. On January 16th, I will compile names of all the people who commented on this week's posts and randomly choose one person to receive a copy of the primer and workbook. Please see the Dyeing Alchemy link for more information about the book as well as some reviews of it.


  1. I'm pretty sure weighing will not be my preferred method, since I don't worry about reproducing colors or exact matches. I took a class that weighed and used a 5% solution and that was very convenient when doing a lot of dyeing. Lots of good info here!

  2. Great series of posts - looking forward to the next one on 5% solution.

  3. This experiment is really fascinating. It probably explains a lot of my problems with dyeing.

    Maybe you could comment on storing of dye powder. I read somewhere that the powder has a short shelf-life. Have you encountered this problem.?

  4. I probably remain lazy and just throw some dye in the pot and fly by the seat of my pants. LOL! I can see how accuracy by weighing would be so important when trying to replicate a color.

  5. Interesting information and thank you for explaining all the steps.

  6. This is a wonderful tutorial Diane. So pertinent to the kinds of work I do and so informative. I read each and every one and look forward to the next.

  7. If I'm going to have the control I want it looks like I'm going to need this book.

  8. Fascinating - but I don't think I could work with such tiny amounts!

  9. Excellent series of posts! You've inspired me to get back to dyeing.

  10. Thank you for all the work and note taking to produce this excellent post.

  11. Много хорошей информации, спасибо!

  12. I just got to reading the posts today. Great information and the examples are so good for a visual learner .
    I have your book already and hope to do some more dyeing in the future.

  13. Fascinating post, I always measure my dye when using procion but use weight of fabric when natural dyeing. Its very interesting to see the experimentation using both methods. Thank you for doing this to show us!

  14. I started dyeing by weight and was having a terrible time reproducing my results from small swatches to muslin fabric panels that weigh a few pounds. I called Jacquard and spoke to a chemist. They said that I should never test with less than 1 gram of dye if I want to have accurate results.


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