Mixing it up

When you first start dyeing, there’s an overwhelming range of colours to choose from. As well as thinking about what kind of materials you want to be dyeing, whether you are going to need any auxiliary chemicals for the techniques you want to use, you need to think about what set of dyes you’re going to use to get you started.


Now this is all a lot easier if you have an infinite budget and the cupboard space to match. You can just buy a bit of everything to try. Some suppliers offer ‘starter kits’ as well, with smaller amounts of a range of different dyes to get started. Many dyers will tell you though that all you need is a small select palette and you can mix the rest. So is it really worth investing in a big range of different dyes?

The answer is yes and no. When I first started dyeing, I struggled to get the colour saturation I was after and often found that all I was really good at mixing was shades of muddy greens. For some reason, a decent purple proved particularly elusive and I did get a bit frustrated with only really having much success with blues and greens.


Paula Birch, whose website is a veritable goldmine of dyeing information, has some great recommendations of starting colours for beginners. She mentions exactly which dyes tend to make good all-purpose mixers and recommends a variation of yellow, blue, red, black, turquoise and magenta to cover most of what you’ll need.


I’d agree with this list but I really like Brilliant Emerald, or some strong green too. If there are colours you really like, it might be worth picking them up as it makes a good starting point for mixing variations of that colour. It’s very easy to do gradients by just adding more and more black if you’ve got an excellent colour to start with. Do beware of black dye and always use in moderation if you’re unsure! It has a habit of turning everything black.


With my last batch of cottons, I wanted to experiment with trying to mix particular shades and experiment with getting tints, keeping the same amount of saturation. I wanted to keep some subtle variegation, with a few underdyed areas and the odd bit of mixing in other colours.


I tend to prefer working with very saturated dye stocks, which means that when I start mixing colours, adding even one drop of a dye to a small volume of another can result in some dramatic colour changes.


Acid Lemon (MX-8G) does mix really well but I’m really not that keen on it as a pure, saturated colour. There’s a skein of it over in my previous batch of cottons and it really does deserve the nickname ‘nuclear’ yellow. Lemon Yellow (MX-4G), featured here, is much less offensive as a pure colour and does mix well too.


These are fully saturated Kemtex Cerise Red (MX-5B) and Intense Red (MX-GN). In low-light, the two reds do look very similar but under bright lights, it’s clear that Intense Red is a pure, fire-engine red, while Cerise Red does live up to its name, and is a pinky-red.


Naming colours can be a fantastically contentious issue. Not only do certain things get lost in translation between languages but there can be differences in the photoreceptors in each person’s eyes, in some cases leading to ‘colour blindness’ or ‘colour alternative’ vision. However, at least for computers, there are the hex codes for HTML web colours with some very entertaining descriptive names. Air Superiority Blue anyone? Cerise is a good match for what is listed there though.


I’m really happy with how all of these came out, including the bit of accidental contamination with blue on the pink skein. It can be hard to judge with dyeing exactly how pale something is going to come out as everything looks a lot darker when it is being dyed but that is what both practice and keeping good notes is for. I think I’ll be sticking to Intense Red for my primary red but Cerise is really good for mixing to make purples.

Now to just get these in the warp…


12 thoughts on “Mixing it up

  1. I often mix my own but I buy ‘special’ colours ready mixed. ‘Robins egg blue’ is one I have never managed to get right so I buy it ready mixed. If you love certain colours there is nothing wrong with buying them, we are textile people not scientists 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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