Ombré dyeing methods blend colors and create a gradation of shades that fade into each other seamlessly. Historically, this effect has been created through a dip-dye process, but nowadays, you can also use a spray bottle to blend a color (or colors) into the fabric’s original shade. Spray dyeing makes it easier to concentrate color in a small area of your garment, while dip-dyeing is used mostly to add color to a larger garment section.
Regardless of the method you use, choosing the right fabric-dye combination is the key to getting great results. Cellulose fibers such as cotton and rayon require high-pH (alkaline) dyes. Protein-based fibers such as wool and mohair require an low-pH (acidic) dyes. Never use an alkaline dye on animal hair fibers; it will destroy it (think Nair).
Ombré dyeing offers you the ability to add a bit of color to your own designs or any ready-to-wear garment. There is absolutely no limit to what you can achieve with dye, so experiment and have fun.
Match the dye to your fabrics
Dyeing fabric relies on pairing the right fabric with the correct dye. Always pretest your technique before dyeing your garment. If the dye result isn’t as vibrant a look as you would like, experiment with a different brand. Keep in mind that most dyes are toxic chemicals so they must be handled with care. Don’t inhale the powder or mix it in containers or with utensils used in food preparation. Keep it out of reach of children.
Choose your fabric
Look for fabrics that absorb dye well such as cellulose fabrics or protein-based fabrics. Other fibers do not absorb dye, and some repel it, resulting in little to no color change. Cellulose fabrics include bamboo, cotton, hemp, linen, lyocell (Tencel), rayon, ramie, and rayon. Protein-based fabrics include fibers made from animal hair such as angora, cashmere, mohair, and wool, but these fibers are rarely chosen for home-dyeing projects because of their expense and sensitivity to water and heat. Silk is the only non-hair animal fiber and is a stellar choice because it absorbs dyes of all kinds. Fabrics containing at least 60-percent dyeable fiber can also be dyed. They won’t dye as vibrantly as fully dyeable fabrics, but they will take some color. Silk, cotton, and rayon accept dye evenly and vibrantly, so for a first-time project, these fibers make the perfect canvas to give you the best results. Although nylon is a synthetic fiber, it takes dye with the same methods used for protein fibers.
Fabrics that are 50 percent or more polyester, 100-percent acrylic, fiberglass, or metallic will not absorb dye. And, fabrics that have a coating or finish on them may repel dye or prevent it from being absorbed evenly.
Before attempting to dye full yardage or a whole garment, test a swatch—and always prewash your fabric before you dye it.
Dye selection guide
Two ways to apply the dye
The methods described can be used to blend several shades or just one color. If you want your garment to fade from one color to another, either dye the entire garment one color first, or dye both ends of the garment separately so the colors overlap in the middle. Calsolene oil (DickBlick.com) helps produce more even dye results; add it to your dye bath as directed in the dye manufacturer’s instructions. It helps distribute the dye evenly through the bath by breaking the surface tension in the water.
Method 1: Dip-Dye
- Prepare the dye bath. Wearing rubber gloves, mix the dye bath as directed in the dye manufacturer’s instructions. Make it large enough for your garment to float freely. It’s always better to mix more dye bath than you need. For best results, blend your dye in a smaller container and then pour it into the dye bath; that way, all the pigments dissolve, reducing the chance of spotting your fabric.
- Secure your garment to a sturdy hanger, dowel rod, or a PVC pipe. Make sure you can hang your garment over the dye bath at different heights.
- 3. Dip the garment. Wet the garment with water, and dip it into the bath up to the highest point you want the color. Make sure the rest of the garment is evenly distributed in the bath. Secure the garment by hanging it or resting it on a surface above the dye bath. Let it rest in the bath for about 1 minute.
- 4. Raise the garment. Raise the garment a few inches, add a little more dye to the mixture and let the garment soak for another three minutes. Repeat until you reach the garment’s hem, adding more dye as you go to create a more concentrated effect at the bottom.
Method 2: Spray it
- Prepare the dye. Wearing rubber gloves and a mask, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to prepare the dye. Then pour it into a spray bottle. Start with the darkest shade. Make sure your bottle emits an even spray and not a direct stream.
- Spray the garment. Wet the garment, and then begin spraying the areas where you want the most concen-trated color. Don’t forget to spray both sides. You can spray your garment flat, or cover a dress form with a plastic bag and put your garment on it to be sprayed. The garment will appear darker when wet.
- Dilute the dye. Add a little water to the dye mixture in the bottle, and spray the garment, overlapping the shades. Repeat to dilute the dye again and add progressively lighter shades. You can also use this method to fade several colors into one another.
- Finish the garment. Rinse your garment, and set the dye as directed in the dye manufacturer’s instructions.
Nicole Smith is an associate editor.
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