Low Water Immersion Tie-Dyes

As a follow up to last week’s test dye run, I tried a few shirts with my newly certified dyes. I also wanted to try out a possible button-down shirt supply. It’s hard to find dress shirts that are both all cotton and cheap enough to experiment with. However, I found a 97% cotton dress shirt for $23 on Amazon and decided to give it a try.

I’m using the low water immersion technique from Paula Burch’s site. Basically, you cram the shirt into a jar, pour dye(s) on it, wait an hour, add concentrated fixer, wait another hour or so, and rinse. Very simple if you’re happy with a random pattern (which has a greater risk of flopping).

Here’s the dress shirt.

navyshirt - 1

I tried mixing two dye colors, Navy Blue and Camel (light brown), but I don’t see any trace of the Camel. Nonetheless, the shirt turned out pretty well. The 3% spandex doesn’t seem to have causes any dying issues. The seams are apparently nylon and didn’t take up any dye.

Each jar had about four cups of water and about eight teaspoons of dye, which seems to have been too much. The short sleeve was all Rust, and doesn’t have as much variation as I was expecting from the test sample.

rustshirt - 1

This mix of Jade Green and Deep Yellow is my least favorite. Looks more like a laundry accident.

greenshirt - 1

Oh well, at least the dress shirt looks promising. Will order more of those.

Tie-dye Test Shirt

I haven’t been tie-dying much lately, and last time I tried my expected green shirt came out brownish yellow. I was afraid all my dyes had done bad, which apparently happens over time as they are exposed to moisture in the air. This week, I set out to get a sample of every dye I have. Not wanting to actually mix up 50 bottles of dye, I used an old shirt and put small smudges of dry dye on it in a grid.

dyesamples - 1 copy

The grid was set to match a wireframe shelf which I set down over the shirt to help keep each dye within the lines. So far so good. Then I poured soda ash water over the shirt, and things got screwed up a bit. I should have been gentler with the water application or placed another layer of fabric on top. Instead I got some splatter, but most of the color swatches can still be made out.

dyesamples - 2 copy

So it looks like most of the dyes are good. Below are labeled excerpts of each dye. It’s about the same layout as the shirt but rotated 90° clockwise.



A few colors are duplicated, reflecting how the collection has grown by “inheriting” dyes from retired tie-dyers.

I guess I was unlucky last year in using Moss Green, which is about the only bad color in the bunch. Chartreuse also looks a bit brownish.

Tie-dye Sportcoat

I’ve wanted to try tie-dying a sportcoat for a while, occasionally looking for white cotton jackets in thrift shops. Finally I broke down and bought the cheapest new white cotton jacket I could find, a $60 G by GUESS blazer. The low-water immersion technique seemed best since it might be difficult to fold and tie something like a jacket. I thought I would keep it a light colored jacket by using diluted periwinkle for the color, but it still came out with strong color (though it’s not as blue as it looks in the photo).


Apparently the styling is meant for teenagers with long skinny arms. I haven’t figured out any occasion where it might be appropriate to wear it, but I did wear it to work one day with mixed reactions. I’m told if I wear it unbuttoned, it looks less like a woman’s jacket. Maybe I’ll try again with a duller color like brown, gray or dark blue.

I also did a shirt using a variation of the low-water immersion where I packed the shirt into a tight container and sprinkled dye powder over it and then added water. I put the purple dye around the edge and the yellow dye in the middle. I think it came out very good.


Unsophisticated Art Review: Suzanne Vega

For Valentine’s Day, Bonnie surprised me with tickets to a Suzanne Vega concert in Carrboro, which was especially nice since I’m a big fan but Bonnie has only known suffering due to my years of repeatedly humming Tom’s Diner.

In any case, we both thought the performance was outstanding. The word that keeps resonating with me is “authentic.” The important things were excellent: the lyrics, the singing, the stories, the music. The other things were appropriately less polished: a hat that fell off, a new song sung with the help of a lyric sheet, missed stage lighting. The small venue helped (300 – 400 people). Her only accompaniment was veteran musician Gerry Leonard, who handled a wide variety of music and even tried to play along when Suzanne Vega sang a verse of her thirty year old country music song (after an audience member request).

I’m sure it’s blasphemous to say so, but one thing I often dislike about live performances is that the music is not as finely mixed as in a studio recording, especially the vocals often getting overwhelmed by the instruments. Except for some bass than sounded clipped at times, the live performance was much better in this case, though perhaps more due of artistic refinement over time. The vocal inflections carried more feeling, and in Small Blue Thing the vocals somehow came out sounding round “like a marble or an eye.”


Low Water Immersion Dyeing

I tried three more shirts using the low water immersion dyeing method (mostly) as described by Paula Burch. The basic technique is

  • stuff a shirt in a jar
  • add dye(s) and just enough water to cover it
  • wait an hour for dye to move around
  • add soda ash to bind the dye to the fabric
  • wait another hour
  • done (remove shirt and rinse out dye)

Pretty simple. The results are much more random than when you use tying and folding to control the dye pattern.

The first shirt was made with a single dye called emerald green. The dye itself is a mix of other primitive colors, and this technique lets them separate a little before the fixer is applied.

For the second shirt, I put yellow dye in the bottom of the container and azure blue dye in the top. I had been working with color spaces and was imagining I would get something like the yellow-blue axis () in the CIE L*a*b* color space, but I forgot that blue and yellow would mix to make green instead.

For the third shirt, I included three colors in the immersion: magenta, yellow and lilac.

With the help of these three new shirts, I shattered last summer’s “record” of 18 by wearing a different tie-dye shirt for 25 days in a row. I guess I need to add 1.2 days to call it a marathon. Here’s a collage of the 25 shirts, in no particular order.

Tie-Dye Soda Ash Experiment

One of the steps in tie-dying is to soak the shirt in a “fixer” solution of sodium carbonate, also known as soda ash. I think of soda ash as a dye-cotton binding agent.

My informal experiment is to see the effects of applying the soda ash before or after folding or not at all. Here are the results of four spirals:

Soda Ash – Tie – Dye
The first brown-red spiral is my usual technique of soaking in soda ash solution before folding. It gets good dye coverage, but looks a little blocky in places. On reason I like this order is that soaking after tying sometimes loosens the folds/knots.

Dampen – Tie – Soda Ash – Dye
This is the Paula Burch technique, since it is safer not to handle the treated fabric. The effect is more pronounced since both the soda ash and the dye are constrained by the tying; however, there is less dye coverage.

Dampen – Tie – Dye
Skipping the soda ash produced a nice pattern, but the colors (brown and periwinkle) already look faded and I suspect they will fade quickly over time. On the other hand, you can view the colors as nicely mellowed.

Tie – Dye
Dry cloth produced bulky folds and really soaked up the dye. The green did not “mellow” well for whatever reason, possibly unrelated to the technique.

18 Days of Tie-Dye

I finished my summer run of consecutive tie-dye day earlier this month with a final count of 18 different shirts in 18 consecutive days, beating last year’s record of 16. I could have done a few more, but I imagine my colleagues at work were tiring of the fashion.

This photo is a my recollection of the shirts I wore, in the approximate order. I’m sure, at least, of the three red, white, and blue shirts worn before, on, and after Independence Day. Next year I’ll try to get a photo of myself each day for a definitive record.

18 Tie-Dye Shirts