How to Mix Dye Stock for Hand-Dyeing Fiber

Once you have gathered all your tools and set up a safe dyeing space you can begin the dyeing process. Mixing dyes is part art and part science. A dyer understands not only the use of color but also the process of creating color and pairing hues to create harmonious palettes. The art of dyeing requires a basic understanding of the chemical interaction of dye materials with fibers. A grasp of basic color principles also helps in the beginning.

These instructions are not for mixing fiber-reactive dye solutions using MX dyes. These are for working with acid dye stocks.

You will need to experiment, but the basic dyeing process begins here:

1Carefully measure the desired amount of dye powder and place it in the Pyrex measuring cup.

You may either use measuring spoons or a scale to measure dye powder.

2Slowly add 2 tablespoons of boiling water (for acid dyes) and mix the dye to form a paste.

Some dye powders are dry and sticky at first. Others form curds when water is added. It’s important to mix the paste until it is completely smooth before adding more water.

The amount of dye powder dissolved in a certain volume of water determines the strength of a dye solution. Some dyers prefer to measure dye powders by volume using measuring spoons. This is fine for random dyeing methods or when reproducible results are not important.

Other dyers measure powder in grams using a scale, which is the most accurate way to measure consistently for repeatable results. Dye powders vary in density. Some are light and fluffy, some are dense and granular. The variation in texture makes it hard to use volume measurements for equal amounts of different colors.

One method is to mix dye stock in two solution strengths: 1% and 0.1% — for all projects. Using the metric system makes this quite easy. To make a 1% solution, weigh 10g of dye and combine with 1000ml of water. Create 0.1% dye stocks by measuring 1 gram of dye powder and mixing with 1000 ml of water, or by mixing 100ml of a 1% solution with 900ml of water (either way, the ratio of dye powder to volume of water is the same).

3Slowly add water to make the total amount of solution desired.

To make a mixing box for preparing dye solutions, turn a medium-sized box on its side and remove the lid. Line the box with newspaper or paper towels; spray them with water to dampen lightly. Do all your measuring and mixing inside the box, which serves as a hood, minimizing the chance of dye particles becoming airborne. The dampened paper absorbs any spilled powder.

4Stir continuously until all the dye particles have dissolved completely. If the solution appears cloudy, the dye has not fully dissolved.

In general, it’s best to use dyes at room temperature, since any heat may affect the dyeing process.

Take every precaution to avoid inhaling dye powder. Always wear a new dust particle mask for each mixing session. Minimize air movement (close windows, turn off fans) while measuring and mixing. Replace lids firmly on dye powder jars immediately after measuring. Wear rubber gloves and safety glasses, and keep children and pets out of your workspace. Never eat or drink while preparing dyes. Label all stock solutions clearly.