Review: The Secret Lives of Colour

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For regular readers of the blog, it will come as no surprise when I say I really, really like colours. I like looking at them, playing with them, making them and stumbling upon which combinations come together to make something even more exciting than their constituent parts. It probably also comes as no surprise then, that when I saw Kassia St Clair’s ‘The Secret Lives of Colour’, I felt as though someone had written a book just for me.

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Ice Dyeing

I’ve recently discovered the joys of sprinkle dyeing, where the dyeing process is reduced to 1) soak yarn at required pH, 2) dump powder dye directly on yarn, 3) fix dye as necessary. No solutions, no mixing, no syringing. I can actually clean up in less than five minutes after sprinkle dyeing, ideal for a busy schedule, dangerous as I am now drowning in very lurid sock yarns with no time to knit socks.

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While roaming around Pinterest one day, I saw some interesting looking fabric that had been dyed using a technique known as ‘ice dyeing’. The name sounds a lot more glamorous and complicated than the technique actually is. All you do is dump a load of ice on your fabric, put powder dye on the ice and wait but, for such an easy technique, the patterns it produces are actually very interesting.

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Heating Procion MX Dyes and Science Sundays

While discovering that Procion MX dyes are very happy to dye wools, I came across something else that gave me pause for thought. Although there’s not a wealth of information on using Procion MX dyes with acid, most of the advice that is out there says you need to steam or heat the fibre after applying the dye.

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For acid dyes, heating the dyebath is standard practice to help fix the dyes. Fibre reactive dyes, like Procion MX, don’t require this, which is definitely an advantage when trying to do large bits of tie-dying. The standard advice when working with fibre reactive dyes on cellulose fibres and silks is to do your dyeing, then leave your fibre damp with the dye on it for at least a good few hours, closer to 24, if you want strong colours.

As I tend to like very intense, saturated colours, I tend to err on the side of giving the dye a longer reaction time.  For some short-sighted reason, I’d always assumed that there was some kind of degradation of the Procion dyes at higher temperatures, hence leaving them to react at ‘room temperature’ but seeing as steaming the wool lately with Procion dyes had worked just fine, that obviously couldn’t be the case.

Was there really a way to go speed up Procion dyeing so I didn’t have to wait so long to see what wonderful mess I’d made?

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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.

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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?

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