September 7, 2011

Dye experiments with less expensive fabric

(double-click on the photo for a close-up and a much better version of the color) This post may be too technical for anyone not interested in dyeing fabric. Feel free to skip! Last year I tried out various "pfd" fabrics (prepared-for-dyeing, with no surface treatment that would interfere with the dye), and settled on Kaufman Patina for my standard fabric to dye. I purchase it online from Fiber on a Whim, and I went through 20 yards of it this summer. I chose this fabric because it has a beautiful hand, as well as taking up the dye very well, and it is well-suited for hand-applique as well as piecing. I understand that it is the base fabric used for Kaufman batiks. This is all good, but with cotton prices going up, I'd like to have a supply of a less expensive material as well, that I could use strictly for piecing and that I would feel more free to experiment with than a fabric that costs over $7/yd. If it was something I could get locally at JoAnn Fabrics, which regularly puts out 40% off coupons, that would bring the price down significantly. And if I could find a 90" fabric that would dye well, that would be convenient for the backings of quilts. So, I did a trial on four fabrics. Besides Kaufman Patina, I dyed regular white Kona cotton (not pfd), Kona Premier muslin (bleached), and Legacy Supreme muslin (bleached); the last two were 90" wide. I had high hopes for the two muslins, both of which are a higher thread count than ordinary muslin. The results are in the photo at the top. I put them from lightest on the left to darkest on the right, though the two fabrics on the right are quite close. To my surprise, the winner was the Kona cotton. The little square of orange on top of purple on the right is the sample square from Carol Soderlund's class; it's indistinguishable from the color I got on the Kona, and it disappears on the next one also, which is Kaufman Patina. The 3rd best was Kona premier muslin--not quite up to the value of the sample, but good enough that I would consider using this fabric, adjusting the amount of dye used. The fabric itself is not anything as nice as the Patina, but it is lighter and a higher thread count than the regular Kona. Legacy Studio came in last--so pale that it's not worth using this again. So, I am certainly not abandoning the Patina, but I feel I have a couple of other options as well. I may look for some other white fabric to try as well. Oh, I did "scour" the non-pfd fabrics before dyeing; for scouring, I washed in hot water with soda ash and Synthrapol). Here's a photo that shows the class sample on top of the Kona cotton (best in the trial, furthest to right):
And here's one that shows it on top of the Legacy Studio (worst in the trial, furthest to left):

Added 10-4-11:  Here is an additional trial that I finished today.  On the left is the Kaufman Patina.  In the middle is Roclon Bamboo-Cotton, scoured before dyeing, and on the right is the same Bamboo-Cotton, but not scoured first.  The little square sample from Carol Soderlund's class is on the middle piece--it blends in so well that it's very difficult to see.  If you double-click to enlarge the photo, you'll see little tufts of selvage at the top edge of it.  Someone on the MX-Dyers list mentioned that they didn't scour this fabric before dyeing, even though it's not marketed as PFD (prepared for dyeing).  You can see that the results are close to identical with the scoured sample in the middle.  (More mottling on the two bamboo/cotton pieces because I didn't feel like taking the time to manipulate the fabric as much as I did on the earlier samples.)  The bamboo/cotton has a lovely feel to it.  It is a little heavier than the Kaufman Patina, so probably wouldn't work as well for applique, though I haven't tried it.  I was eager to try this fabric, because it is more than $2/yd less than the Kaufman.  But alas, it seems that JoAnn Fabrics is no longer carrying this by the bolt, and that Roclon may have stopped producing it.  Well, at least I have the Kona option available.


  1. What a great illustration of your testing! The fabric Carol Soderlund uses is from Testfabrics in Pennsylvania. They have a price break at 25 yards, I think, and no scouring is necessary. 400M and 419M are both great. The 400 is like a bleached muslin, the 419 is more like batik fabric. No affiliation, just love their products.

  2. Wonderful information. Thank you. Have you tried the bamboo/cotton that JoAnn sells? It has a thread count of 200 and the hand is wonderful!I have been buying 12 yard bolts of 45" wide for $35.00 (price w/ 50% off coupon - reg price $70.00) I would be interested in your measurements of soda ash and Synthropol for scouring. I use Muriatic Acid (1TB) at 185 degrees for 20 min. I have a front load washer and cannot get the heat above 120 that I think I need to machine scrub (?) Thanks for your info and if you do a similar test on the bleached bamboo/cotton, I would love to see how that color compares.
    Johanna Fritz
    Magenta Freckle Hand Dyes

  3. Great documentation! I particularly like the two pictures.


  4. What a great test. Thanks for sharing!