Disperse Dye

"Winter is Coming" (c) Kit Lang 2014 background composed of pieced disperse dyed fabrics

After having a conversation with someone on FB yesterday about disperse dye, I was inspired to do a post about HOW to disperse dye. Disperse dye is also known as "transperse dyeing" and "transfer paint" dyeing. 

Although when I first tried this process, I bought the ready-made bottles of transperse paint, the next time I tried mixing my own colours, which was a raging success. You can choose how much, mix your own colours, and more importantly, I got much better results with the home-made dyes than the ready-made.

So here is my method:

Mixing the colours:

I used IDye for my disperse dyes (the link is for a Canadian store but I believe you can also get it at Dharma Trading. However, any powdered dye that is meant for polyester fabric will do.

I mix the powders to the following method:

a) 1 tsp for pale
b) 2 tsps for medium
c) 4 tsps for dark
d) 8 tsps for black

and then stir the dye into a 1/2 cup of boiling water and two drops of synthrapol for an opaque result. If you want a thinner, more watercolour effect, mix with 1 cup of boiling water.

When the mixture(s) are cool, paint your papers (more below), and let them dry.

Painting the Paper

There's no secret or particular method to this process.  The most important thing for me was the paper itself - I had the best results BY FAR using paper from a student sketchbook rather than bond (photocopy paper).

I found the heating process bound the colour to the bond paper (that's what photocopy paper is for, after all!) whereas the colour just sat on top of sketchbook paper. However, you don't want to use a really, really good quality sketchbook paper as the colour will then sink into the texture of the paper rather than sit on top.

Once you have the right paper, make sure you have a place set up where your can lay your papers flat to dry, as well as drip dry - one of my favourite papers was hung to dry and as a result has drips and globs of dye on it that translate really well when transferring. 

As for the painting itself - the sky is the limit.  I painted papers with one colour, multiple colours, in patterns, in solids, I did solid undercoats with finger painted swoops and curves over top of the dried solid backgrounds, I painted grid patterns, combed the fluid on the paper, splattered them, "dropped" dye on the papers, smooshed the colour with my hands - or combinations thereof.  Do whatever you want, let them dry and see what happens!

Try to keep notes as you're making your papers of what you've put on them, and once they're dry, write it on the back. Once you've done a press and see the result, write again what the colours actually turned out to be. That way you can re-create them, and also, when you want to use the paper again, you'll know what your result should be. (Although it will get a bit paler with each session.)

"Fern No. 1" (c) Kit Lang 2012  
background is composed of torn pieces of disperse dyed papers with a fern resist

Fabric choice

If you want "glowing" colours, then the higher the amount of 'man made' material in the fabric, the better result you'll have.  I had the very best result with 100 polyester silk which gives a really lovely glow to the fabric. I also tried a sheer polyester tulle with a very dark value paper which produced a really lovely see through print.

But as I don't like the "shiny" look of the fabric (in most applications, the sheen distracts from the overall piece), I use predominantly cotton, rayon, and polycotton mix fabric.

Transferring the colour

Start by using a heavily padded surface on your table, and then put a sheet of craft paper over it (otherwise the colour will transfer to your ironing "pad".)  

Lay the fabric on your pad right side up,  and put the painted paper(s) face down on the cloth, and then put another, bigger sheet of craft paper on top of it all to keep the iron clean.  


While you're working, keep the iron moving, and keep the iron HOT HOT HOT(no matter what the fabric requirements are - you have two layers of paper between the fabric and the iron to protect it) and press down as hard as you can.  Just really lean on that sucker! J

A note about the iron: I have used a standard iron with steam holes in it. If you are using such an iron, make sure that there is no water in the iron, and never let the iron sit still. If you do so, there will be a pattern from the steam holes on your finished product. I have purpose bought an iron that has no steam holes whatsoever – I looked long and hard through various charity shops and second hand stores to find one, but I finally scored!

The longer you press and/or the more pressure you apply when you press, and the higher the heat, the more brilliant your result is. 

Disperse dyed large piece of fabric - also made with torn up bits of disperse dyed papers. This eventually because a throw cushion. 

Further Advice

Try different things with your papers - using resists, cutting out shapes from your dried papers or tearing the papers into rough pieces and laying them out on your fabric as I did for the piece above. The key is to keep that iron moving and to do it as long as you can.

Don't worry if your first pieces are crap - my first ten were!!  :) It takes a bit of time to get used to the process, and if you're using the wrong kind of fabric, you'll never get a good result. There are definitely fabrics this process likes, and some it really DOESN'T like. Lol

You will naturally get a few disappointing pieces as you begin this process, but if you continue to do so, try a different fabric.

I have, with success, overdyed a disappointing procion MX dyed cloth with disperse dyes and gotten really beautiful results, so really, the sky is the limit with this process.

When you are finished making your fabrics, put the dried papers away for further use in the future.
Although conventional advice is that you only get one or two good passes out of the papers, there are some papers that I have been using for years! It depends on how thickly you applied your "paint" and how much detail there is to it. One paper in particular which I had painted with a solid colour, let it dry, painted over it in sections with other colours, let it dry, and then painted again with a drip dry method has yielded nearly 20 sessions although I finally had to throw it out last year, after first creating five years ago.

And that's it!

One great advantage of this process is that it doesn't take up a lot of space. You can make as much or as little dyed fabric as you like, you don't have to hang it up to dry, and the little packets of dye are just that – little packets. You can pop them into a ziplock bag and stick them in a file folder with your finished papers, until the next time you want to dye!

I hope you try this process and if you do, link us to your results in the comments!


Kit Lang

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