Dye Vat PhotoOur dye room is a great resource for our designers.  Unfortunately for the foreseeable future the dye equipment and the laundry will share very close quarters.  Dye powder may easily migrate to show laundry creating a crisis before a performance.   This situation takes constant vigilance, and communication.

Click to download  complete Dye Vat and Dye room Cleanup Instructions

It is easy to overlook that turning on the dye vat is a 2 step process: the temperature control on the vat itself, and a main power switch on the wall.

Safety Equipment

Before working with RIT dye powder, please consult the Health & Safety section to familiarize yourself with respirator, glove and apron usage.

Water Proof Gloves and Respirator with dust filters.

Water Proof Gloves and Respirator with dust filters.

RIT is toxic in its powder form.  If you don’t handle the powder darefully, it will scatter invisibly thoughout the room, clinging to your hair and eyebrows.  It will permeate your nasal tissue and skin.   Always use the process called “pasting up” to control powder dust.

Pasting Up means adding just enough hot water to create a thick paste.  This method will bond the dye to water to prevent powder escape.  Always add Liquid to Powder, Not Powder to Liquid.  If you dump powder into liquid, the surface tension of the water will create a powder cloud that will puff right back in your face.

Stir the paste smoothly to dampen the dye.  You may add more hot water as needed to create the paste.  Mix the paste as smoothly as possible.  Add enough water to suspend the dye,  stirring to fully dissolve the dye powder.  Hot water speeds this process.

Once you’ve dissolved the dye, strain it to sieve out undissolved residue and impurities– these will cause spotting on your fabric.  For as complete suspension as possible, pour the thinned paste into a pan and continue to heat the pan on the hot plate as you stir.  Some colors dissolve more easily than others.  Do not strain to soon- you may strain out too much, altering the final outcome.

Dye RecipesTestFabrics swatch

There is a Dye Bible in the dye room with swatches of TestFabrics multi-fiber swatches (see picture.)

Each stripe is woven of a different fiber– silk, wool, rayon, etc.  By dipping the full test swatch into one mixed color, you can see how the dye will react with each fiber.

These swatches show straight colors and mixed colors as well.

Always perform your own test- each fabric is unique and your silk may not take color like a TestFabric swatch.

You must determine the fiber or fiber blend of the items to dye.   If you are unsure of the fiber content, do a Burn Test to make an educated guess.  Many fabrics sold by Jobbers in the LA garment district are unmarked or mismarked fiber content.

Fiber Identification by Burning

All fabric sold for the RETAIL market in the US must carry a fiber content tag.  However, we often purchase fabric or garments that are vintage, are no longer housed on original rolls, or from a jobber that purchased the fabric on wholesale put-ups.

With the advanced chemical make up of many textiles today, exact fiber ID must use a microscope.  Those working in the textile industry and museums do perform such tests.  Costume designers, however, rarely need an exact laboratory break down of fiber content.  In general, we want to understand the fiber content so we can modify the garment by dying or painting.

To test a fabric for fiber content, cut a small swatch.  Do this test over a glass container of water.  Hold the swatch with something metal like tweezers.  Warning! some fibers flash ignite and will burn your fingers. Burn the fabric to observe the following things:

  • what happens when you approach the flame (does the fabric curl away or melt?) and
  • what happens when you put the swatch directly in flame
  • smell the smoke for acrid or sweet odors
  • note the appearance of the ash

Fiber ID Charts

Click here to download two charts listing Fiber Identification.

The black & white chart defines burning the characteristics for each fiber.

The chart in color helps you deduce what fibers your combination of reactions to flame could be, begining with each observation.

Many fabrics are blends or compound fibers- to be sure, you may have to pull out separate clumps of threads to test individually.

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