Painting Silk Ribbons

Experiments are fun things, especially when they have unexpectedly nice results. Today’s testing was trying out some Procion MX dyes on silk ribbon samples to see how well the dye struck and whether the materials from this particular supplier would be any good for creating my own range of colourful silk ribbons for embroidery.

Silk ribbon embroidery is really gorgeous and a lot of fun to do. While I think goldwork is probably my favourite hand embroidery technique, one thing I love about silk ribbon embroidery is that it doesn’t take the same intensity of prep work and even really simple stitches can look very dramatic and flashy. Plus, any technique with silk is alright by me!

When dyeing anything from a new supplier, the recommendation is always lots of washing and sampling. I am incredibly lazy and never wash anything before dyeing it which I’m sure will be my comeuppance on a project one day but I’ve always been lucky so far. The idea behind this is to wash off any residual chemicals there may be (and dirt if you’re dealing with anything that has seen a sheep in its life) that could affect the dyeing process.

The joy of Procion MX and ‘non-natural’ dyes though is that they are just a bit more robust than their natural variants and while one or two particular colours can be a little finickity I’ve yet to see anything truly unexpected happen.

Prep for this was just cutting up some 1.8 m lengths of ribbon and then resisting the urge to do my usual colour explosions as I wanted as this was supposed to be a controlled test to see how well the ribbons would take up the colour and whether I could get a good degree of saturation.

One of the really nice things about dyeing this amount of ribbon is it is an absolutely tiny amount of fabric to work with. Unlike trying to dye the whole 1000 m skein of laceweight yarn, 1.8 m of ribbon means the need for very little dye. That meant I could work fast enough that I wasn’t worried about adding my soda ash directly to my dyes.

Unlike acid dyes that will keep for a very long time, Procion MX dyes start to ‘go off’ relatively quickly once you’ve changed the added the soda ash. Time taken until you’ve got useless dye varies by colour but you don’t always want the clock ticking down while you’re trying to play.

This means what I normally do is pre-soak my fibres in water with soda ash and then just apply the dye directly to the fibre which should be at the right pH. This works just fine but one of the issues is that you end up essentially diluting the dyes with any residual water that is left in the fibre. After a lot of testing I’ve found you can dye really quite ‘dry’ compared to what you might think, and this has the advantages that the colours don’t run as much in the fibre but for the ribbons I didn’t soak them at all, and just used the soda ash directly in the dye mix instead.

I dyed each length of ribbon on cling film so I could just parcel them up and leave them their 24 hours to luxuriate not in the sun but next to the radiator as it is that time of year. Apart from the blue one, where I completely failed at basic mathematics, I’m really impressed at the colours that have come out. The green is a (poorly mixed) mixture of Lemon Yellow and Cerulean Blue but heavy on the yellow and the pure blue is Electric Blue in not the right concentration.

I didn’t soak these in dye, just injected it on to get a small amount of variation in the colours but the Magenta and green in particular have some really lovely subtleties in them. The silk hasn’t lost its handle at all and pleasingly there was very little escaped dye so even rinsing wasn’t difficult (I think I used approx. 8 ml of 5 % concentrations for all the ones I didn’t miscalculate!)

An unexpected plus side of this project was the compactness. Normally dyeing is something of a space and cleaning drama but each ribbon was very neat and tidy to do and I only threw a bit of dye everywhere.

I’m very happy with these! Overly colourful ribbon embroidery here we come! I love a lot of the colours you can buy but it’s nice to see something a bit more bold! One has even made its way into a project already.

7 thoughts on “Painting Silk Ribbons

  1. That’s serendipity as I’m doing some silk ribbon kits at the moment and although I don’t have the time (or the patience!) to dye my own ribbons, seeing your lovely outcomes, it’s very tempting!


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