Saturday, 23 January 2010

Block Lotto - January - Tic Tac Toe Sample & Fabric Dyeing thoughts

I've joined Block Lotto (more or less) and am really looking forward to the monthly challenge of a new block to do (in multiples of 9 or fewer) & send off out of my house to somebody else's (all part of my drive to reduce my stash); with the added bonus of winning a load of cool blocks from someone else, hmm that means yet another unfinished project though... Still it's unlikely to happen anytime soon there's lots of people doing it and only 12 months in a year!

Because I've not ever really done much patchwork, I decided to follow the instructions for the January TicTacToe Block on the same selfdyed fabric as that of my curtain, with the aim that if I use that for a sample block for every one I do, I'll be able to make something with them that I've then got as a reference library for the future as it were. 

So this is 100% calico and 50/50% PolyCotton procion dyed for my City & Guilds Panel project at just under 8" square (starting with a 9" square and 1" strips).  The colour values are a bit more orange than pink in reality.  Admittedly dyeing the PolyCotton was a slight accident in that I got my fabrics muddled and you're not supposed to mix fabric content together when you do patchwork, but it seems to be holding up fine as a combination in the curtain.  Being PolyCotton gets a bit crispy with a hot iron, but as I put a couple of PolyCotton squares in with the various weights of cotton squares in each dyebath it does give a pastel shade that works really well with the cotton.  The original project was to selfdye a load of cloth, tear it into strips and then use the strips as 'thread' to do tapestry stitch on canvas to make a stool topping, so the fibre content was irrelevant.  Now of course, it's an issue as I've got lots left over....  This is the stool I made with it, which as I wear really dark jeans that shed colour (damn you Gap) is now a bit grubby on the pale areas:

I did this set of dyeing following Helen Deighan's 'How to dye in a cat litter tray' (a clean one obviously!) set of booklets, which she's published as a book since then.  The great thing about her dye recipe is that is uses just 3 shades of bog standard Procion MX Dyes (Turquoise, Cerise and Lemon - by colour mixing you can get a lot of different shades without shelling out too much cash), common salt, washing soda and plastic sandwich or freezer bags!  That said, I used about 10 different Procion MX colours for the stool, as it's only once I did the C2C course that I learnt more about colour mixing.  I reckon I could have done it with fewer quite easily these days, still the dyes are still in my stash and there to be used so nothing's wasted!

The key to successful home dyeing is to prewash your fabric in the machine with washing soda and washing powder AND NOT to use fabric conditioner.  If you use undiluted fabric conditioner in your machine, then run it empty (or with dusters etc in it) with washing soda once first to remove all traces.  If you don't prepare the fabric properly, the dyes won't find the molecule ends of the fibres to chemically connect with.  The other tip is to rinse out the fabrics you've dyed really well (if you're on metered water it can be expensive if you're doing a lot!) then wash them twice in the washing machine at 40 degrees with normal washing powder but not soda.  If you've got Synthrapol it helps clear out any excess dye, but it's not a major issue if you don't, as if you've done the salt/soda/dye recipe properly then the dye should be exhausted and won't transfer to your household washing, but again just to be safe, once you've done all your dyeing run the machine empty/ with dusters etc in it with washing soda as your final act to remove all traces.  I've got an eco style condensing machine that I think uses the last rinse of the previous wash as water for the first wash of the next - and I've never had any dye transfers (and usually I'm an idiot and do a white wash straight after dyeing).  The great thing about the Soda Ash is that it's dead cheap and stops the limescale building up in your machine and your clothes (it can be bought at great expense in tablets as Calgon, why bother? Just use Washing Soda powder every so often).

Others I know didn't get good results using her instructions and it all came out a bit pale, but mine were quite deep.  I didn't overdye them (as I'd not heard of the concept then), but it's always a possibility if it doesn't work first time round!

The other set of selfdyed fabric I've got is following the dye recipes of Committed to Cloth which I did on one of their courses - it was supposed to be a fabric dyeing course for people who were then going to do a Strip Piecing Week with Nancy Crow (luminous in the USA? I'd not heard of her, but then I'm an embroiderer, but they very sweetly let me do the first week of fabric dyeing only, and at that, weeks & weeks after it ran because I came back from a trip to Africa really ill and missed it.  I love those C2C ladies!) 

Anyway, C2C use a different recipe, which is to scour the fabric (wash it in the machine with washing powder and soda - you only need to do this once), then soak it in soda and let it dry (cure) using heat (they roll it up in plastic sheeting & wrap an electric blanket around it), then dye it using Procion MX dyes in a salt solution. 

The key differences between the two approaches are that C2C use Soda Ash (which you should have available to you if you have a swimming pool, as apparently it's used in them as Alkali PH Plus granules, mere mortals get hold of it in smaller quantities from George Weil amongst others (who also sell the Procion MX dyes).  I do know that it's quite a nasty chemical: apparently, and to my mind somewhat bizarrely, the chemical can be used as an ingredient in explosives so if you choose that route, keep it away from children, the feckless and any other extreemists of your acquaintance!  and use a mask) rather than household washing soda and also that they pre-cure the fabric in the soda and heat dry it, rather than using the soda in the dye bath.  As a result you get a more reliable and deeper dye strike with C2C, but I personally find there's nothing wrong with the Helen Deighton approach which is more simple and easier for novices/ doing at home. 

Below is some of my C2C dyed cloth.  Be aware though, that the colour values are better in this pic than the others, and also this cloth has been scoured properly, dyed once, then again and then again, so it's not exactly a fair comparison to the TicTacToe block/ stool fabric which has only been washed in the machine with washing powder and not soda scoured, then dyed once using Helen Deighton's method and not overdyed a couple of times!

I have got quite a lot of old prime quality Swiss bedsheeting (acquired from a lovely friend of my mum's who was downsizing, the really good 'never used' stuff went to charity shops, I got the slightly worn stuff - as with all sheets where it's worn in the middle it's very soft and great for cleaning cloths, but the outside thirds are still good strong cloth that's perfect for dyeing and using for hand or machine stitching) that I'm thinking of dyeing in the next month or so.  I'm currently unemployed and as I always end up with coloured hands, now's the time to do it before I'm required at interviews or in front of clients!  So bearing in mind there seems to be an interest in fabric dyeing from the Block Lotto ladies, and how much easier I find it is to learn to do something from tips on blogs, I'll do a tutorial of Helen Deighton's method so that people can try it for themselves at home.  Also, I'll scour the cloth with washing soda, and do some overdying so that I can see for myself whether the end result is comparable to C2C method or not. 

I won't be doing C2C method for a while as I don't own an electric blanket, and it's not what I want to spend my cash on at present...


  1. I love the woven fabric you made for the stool.

    In commercially printed fabrics, if you combine 100% cottons with fabrics containing polyester, you are likely to see the differences over time, when the colors in the cotton fades and those in the poly fabrics do not. One of my first quilt teachers has a quilt that she made over 20 years ago for one of her sons. It's made from blue, yellow and white fabrics and has been well used over the years. The cottons faded dramatically, but there's at least one still bright yellow poly-cotton and a dark navy blue which are still very strong and now greatly contrast the rest of the quilt.

  2. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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