Aug 24 2014 · 1 comment · Blog, dyeing, dyeing tools, technique, experiments in marbling, painting, process, silk ·

Saturday Afternoon Experiments with Discharge Paste and Thickened Dye

It all started with a silk chiffon stole that I had dyed a deep blue. I wanted some kind of surface design on it, but fabric paint stamps and brush lines weren’t showing up. I thought about stitching but talked myself out of that pretty quickly. Okay, if colors aren’t going to show up OVER the blue, how about taking away some color? Dye discharging is something I haven’t done yet, although I had bought some stuff a while back, so I figured I’d give it a try. As I’m in the habit of doing, I didn’t really pay attention to the instructions before buying and it turns out I need to mix this on the stove in an enamel pot (which I don’t have) and heat it and stir it and do all kinds of things that I wasn’t in the mood for. I did try just sprinkling some of the powder in hot water and sticking the fabric in… apparently it won’t work that way.

Next up – good old Clorox bleach pen. You would think that would leave nice white marks, wouldn’t you? Turns out the acid dye that I’ve been using is impervious to bleach. Who knew? This led me down the Dharma Trading rabbit hole where I found this. Says it works on acid dye. (Note to self: First rule of pretty much anything is Know Your Materials.) After doing some reading up I also bought some fiber reactive dyes. These require a different process but I think I’ll get a better result. I’ve been noticing with some colors they seem to “shift” and change and I’ve actually gotten what look like brownish stains on some pieces; all I can figure is I didn’t dye them correctly. I do need a big enamel or glass pot for these dyes, too so that’s something I’ll be prowling thrift stores for.

Anyway, upon further excavating layers of tutorials and YouTube videos I discover that I can actually make thickened dye that can be used for stamping, stenciling, or brushing on that doesn’t leave a stiff residue on the fabric like paint does. Needless to say this required yet another supply order. This never ends, does it? A few days later, I have my seaweed based sodium alginate thickener and urea for fixing the dye to the fibers along with a recipe to mix it all up.  I love that part – it’s like science class but more fun.

After this little detour I have to get back to my dark blue chiffon stole. First I accordion folded the whole thing lengthwise and sponged the discharge paste along the edges, the theory being that I’d get white horizontal stripes. I have to let it dry completely. The dried paste is invisible at this point and it doesn’t look like I’ve done anything. But THEN I start going over it with a steam iron and like magic the areas of removed color start to appear. This is the coolest. thing. ever. I got sorta kinda horizontal stripes; they’re a little lumpy and blobby but that’s okay. The other surprise is that the fabric may not become completely white. Depending on how much steam and how much paste there might be light blue, green and even some pink and brown for some reason (see above comment about brown stains). I suppose it’s the formulation of the dye powder but I like what I see happening! Vertical lines? Sure, why not? Accordion fold the other way and brush on. These didn’t come out as well – I didn’t put enough on to really penetrate the layers of chiffon but I still think it’s looking pretty good. Last but not least I twisted little bunches randomly all over and fastened them with thread, then dunked each one in the discharge paste. Ironing those out, I thought the areas would look more like flower bursts which is what I would get with dye. Not so much, but there are still some very interesting complex patterns that show up. I don’t know what would happen if I diluted this paste with water – that’s an experiment for another time.


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Okay, next for the thickened dye. I had used randomly sponged discharge paste on a 42″ square of 5 mm habotai that was a mottled pattern of blues and greens and then marbled with a kind of wave pattern in very light magenta. The marbling is really, really subtle on the blue but those pink waves showed up in the areas where the color was removed.

Hmmm…. dark background, dark marbling, windows of discharged dye to pop the marbling out; definite possibilities there. You see the problem I have with focusing on one thing at a time and seeing it through to the end? Yeah. Moving on…

Rummaging around for something to use as a stamp I found an old glass light fixture cover with a raised “cut glass” pattern on it. It’s so crazy it just might work.IMG_7247

I got my piece of silk soaking in white vinegar (it preps the fabric to accept the color) and mixed up some thickened dark purple dye to about the consistency of heavy cream. Crafty Tip of the Day – buy eggs that come in plastic instead of cardboard cartons. Those little puppies make the best paint mix trays ever. (The one shown here was actually the plastic packaging that Christmas ornaments come in so each little ‘well’ is bigger. Yes, I save lots and lots of weird stuff. Some of it I even actually use.)


Sponged the dye all over the globe. I still ended up with purple hands in spite of the gloves. I don’t know how it happens but every time I work with dye I have technicolor hands and fingernails for days.


Now for the moment of truth. I carefully draped the still-damp silk over the glass and gently patted it down. Success! The pattern showed up perfectly! This could easily have gone the other way and I would’ve wound up with a gigantic purple blob which would have been another post titled Finding Ways to Fix Well-Intentioned But Badly Executed Experiments.


Carefully lifted the fabric off and ta-da! It’s perfect awesomeness.


I forged ahead and printed a bunch of these medallions all over the piece. I discovered that on dry silk the pattern tended to be less distinct. I tried sponging some more vinegar on the areas I wanted to stamp but I think I got it too wet because then some of the prints blurred and spread. On a smaller piece of fabric that I could get done before it dried I might get more consistent results. But I think the overall pattern came out really pretty. You can’t see the pink marbling waves in these pictures, unfortunately, but they’re there, trust me. Now I just need to steam it to permanently fix the dye.

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I have several other already dyed and/or marbled silks that are screaming out for more attention and now I have a couple more weapons in my creative arsenal to play with. What’s next for these pieces? Who knows? I have absolutely NO CLUE yet what the end results will be. (And that’s the fun of it!)

Feb 16 2011 · 0 comments · Blog, dyeing, dyeing tools, technique, marbling, marbling tools, technique, painting, painting tools, technique, process, silk ·

Trial and Error – The Errors Can Be More Fun!

Yay!  I think I’ve solved the problem of washed-out marbling color; my size was too thin.  I’ve mixed up a 10-gal. batch of methocel and put it in the trough, ready to alum treat and over-marble some failed scarves.  I got some beautiful 16 mm habotai fabric to cut.  I’m thinking some larger square scarves or even shawls… this is a gorgeous fabric with weight and drape and it’ll be stunning, I just know it!

I stretched a scarf and did a free-form dye painting experimenting with salt and alcohol techniques that actually turned out quite nice.  Daring myself to be more loose, more experimental.  The dye painting process is so forgiving.  I don’t have to worry that it just doesn’t look like a gardenia.  Which is incredibly liberating.

When I want it to look like a gardenia, I can turn to my fabric paints.  I’ve gotten a set of Jacquard Dyna-Flo paints which are extremely fluid and respond very much like dye, and the colors are amazing, so I’m excited to give those a try.  Thinking along the lines of a 60’s psychedelic posterior style design.  I remember making puff letters and Peter Max-ish doodles on my Pee-Chee folders in school 40 something years ago… how can it have been that long?

Anyway, I’ve dabbled my toes in the water long enough – I’m plunging in now!  CANNONBALLLLLLLL!!!!