Dyeing Silk Fabrics

I’ll Fly Away #4 (detail) by Laura Wasilowski

Lately, I’ve been dyeing silk fabrics for my bird series, I’ll Fly Away. The designs are made with free-cut shapes that are fused into place using Misty Fuse and then ironed to wool batting. I love the ease of stitching through silk and the fact that it is tightly woven so the edges don’t fray. But mostly I love the glow of silk fabric. It has a special warmth.

Silk yardage is hard to come so I search out silk scarves and skirts and dresses at resale shops. My favorite finds are large skirt fabrics with few seams and some patterning. Overdyeing the fabrics in a variety of colors gives me more colors from which to choose. These fabrics are my latest find. And I can’t wait to start another I’ll Fly Away quilt with them.

Dyeing for Color

Here is what I do to make my art. I dye. I iron. I cut. I sew. We are now at the dyeing stage of my artwork. For the next few weeks, I’m dyeing thread for the Artfabrik shop and myself.

My list consists of 31 Artfabrik colorways to dye. The process begins with taking an inventory of the size 8 and 12 pearl cotton threads needed to restock the Artfabrik shelves. Then I begin the process of mixing Procion MX dye powders with water to make the dye stock. (Remember to put the lid on the blender!)

Next is painting the white pearl cotton threads. Each colorway has its own color sequence. (This one is called October Fest.) Sometimes I mix the basic dye stock colors together to get a secondary color. At other times I dilute the dye stock with water to achieve a lighter value of the color. It’s a lot of measuring and whining when I get it wrong.

Then there is the whining about washing them out by hand. It’s a bad idea to throw thread into the washing machine to rid it of excess dye. I know, because I’ve tried it.

So the thread is washed by hand. I collect buckets of water from the washer as I wash clothes or fabric using that water for the initial rinse of the threads. After 5-15 buckets of water or so, I can use clean water to rinse it out. This is usually my morning work out.

The thread bundles must air dry before I begin to twist and label each skein. So you see, dyeing can take weeks. But the colors are worth it!

Dyeing is Messy #4

As we approach the end of the thread dyeing marathon, I have a few more steps to accomplish. Each bundle of hand-dyed thread is soaked in water, rinsed, soaked, rinsed, soaked until ……………. FINALLY!……. the water runs clear. This takes several days and a lot of bucket lifting.

The skeins are put in the washing machine (which I remember to put on the spin cycle NOT the wash cycle) and excess water is spun out of the thread bundles. It’s a good idea to take the thread out of the washer at this point so you don’t forget and wash it with a load of laundry. (Ask me how I know.)

The thread is slung from hangers and air drys on the convenient steam pipes I have on the ceiling of the studio.

After it dries, each skein is twisted and labeled for the Artfabrik store. This is usually done while I watch a good movie, have some ice tea, and rest my feet.

Dyeing is a lot of work. But at last, I’m finished and looking forward to the next dye session in a month or more.

Thank you for joining me during my time in my newly renovated dye studio. It was great having you here!