Don't Skip the Salt

Recently I've been getting dizzy spells when I exercise. Like hearing-loss, tunnel vision, about to pass out sort of dizzy spells. (Don't worry I'm fine.) After one very expensive visit to the cardiologist, he gave me this advice which I probably could have read on the internet if I had looked into it hard enough: "You have low blood pressure. [Duh.] Don't stand up too quickly. [Duh.] You need to be well hydrated to prevent fainting when exercising. [Duh.] And if you've done that and it's still happening, add salt to your diet. [Wha?] As much as you want. [YES!]" So I shouldn't skip the salt at meals. Just make sure there isn't shitty food underneath that salt. Done and done. Did I mention that on the first date with my now fiancee, I told him my favorite dessert was a side of bacon?

[This is where I give permission to all the non-dye-information-seeking people to leave. :)]

salt-2But this post isn't just about adding salt to my regular diet. Obviously. This post is about the importance of adding salt when dyeing with reactive dyes other wise known as MX procion dyes. Dyes used to color cellulose fibers such as cotton, rayon, and hemp.

I have been ignoring these dyes for a while. Mainly because I haven't been able to achieve awesome vibrant color-fast hues like I get with acid-based dyes. And that has been INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING.

So I decided to figure out why I wasn't getting what I expected out of these dyes, the only way I know how. Chemistry lab style.

I started by researching. Several instruction sets on reactive dyeing told me that the amount of water didn't matter as long as the fiber had enough room to "swim" around in. If you want even coverage, you need the right amount of water [in the right shaped container] to cover your fabric without it folding on itself. Also, make sure to stir the pot a lot. But one source said salt wasn't needed, and another source said it was imperative. On top of it, I found 3 different water to salt ratios to use. Confusing.

So I put together a small test setup where I tested just the addition of salt. Two yogurt containers, each with the same amount of dye, water, soda ash and fabric. One did not have salt, the other contained salt in an amount that correlated with the amount of water I used. I used a highest salt to water ratio I found.

Let's see the results:


Holy. Crap. Look at that difference. (True, I didn't get even coverage, but that's because I didn't have the right shaped container for the thickness and stiffness of the fabric I used.)

[This is where I give permission for the non-science-y people to leave.]

So why is salt so important? It apparently boils down to some basic chemistry. This is what I found, paraphrased:

[gn_quote style="2"]When a fiber is immersed in water, it develops a negative electrical charge at the surface, to balance the positive charge inside the fiber. MX dye will split into Na+ (sodium cation) and dye- (dye anion). The positive charge in the fiber is enough to push away the dye, since like repels like. Also, the dye is much more interested in reacting with the water. Enter salt.

When salt is added to water it breaks down into Na+ and Cl-. It is referred to as an electrolyte because it makes the solution electrically conductive. This means it can "mask" the charge at the surface of the fiber. [Imagine the salt ions pulling away the curtain of positive charge on the fiber so that the dye ions can waltz in and bond to the fiber. A little fluffy, but helps to picture right?] Common salt is used because it is pH neutral, easy and safe to handle and cheap.

-Taken from my college notes![/gn_quote]

Now some of you are wondering, "But I'm not bothered by the pastel color that the non-salt bath created." I'm with you. Pastel lovers of the world unite. But this is the other reason why I'm sharing this post: now the soft red on the left side can be achieved simply by using less dye. Use salt in your dye bath, less dye can be added, more dye is exhausted into the fiber, and less dye is poured down the drain at the end. Win-win. YAY!

My love of Watercolors

I used to paint with watercolors in high school and am getting back into it. I forgot how much I love it. It's amazing how similar it is to dyeing - they are both transparent mediums (which can become opaque in special situations). That's probably why I gravitated to dyeing. One day, I was experimenting with dye on raw silk. I remembered a technique from a middle school art teacher where if salt is layered on top of watercolor paint, it creates really interesting sunburst effects after it drys. Perhaps it could work on fabric? So I tried:

watercolor-1I put salt over some of the purple dye to see if it would help it to spread. Instead (and I'm hoping you can see this in the picture) it helped set the color of the purple dye. The areas on the left and bottom (the deeper plum color) had salt on them, and the area on the top right (lighter lavender) did not. Interesting.... more on this salt thing later.


Dyeing to Exhaustion....

So the one thing I lack at the studio is the ability to dye. I know - you've all just shook your head in disbelief and mumbled "Wha?!" to yourselves. When searching for a studio I found it to be like searching for an apartment in this city... but worse. Cut throat, exorbitantly expensive and tiring. Long story short: if there is water and a stove available in the space, it would be zoned as residential and not commercial. So I don't have, and wouldn't ever be able to find, the means to dye protein fiber in this city. (There is a slop sink in the hall way at least, so I can still dye cellulose fibers. Yay!) I have been taking Wednesdays to stay home and do errands, and often split my weekend at the studio. Wednesdays are also my dyeing days. A couple weeks ago I had the kind of day that really made it all worth it: I dyed to exhaustion. What I love about that word is that it not only describes how dyeing often leaves me after standing on my feet for hours on end, but the way I dye - only putting in enough dye to color the fiber to the shade I want thus leaving the dye pot exhausted. The water in the bath will become clear since the dye has been soaked up by the fiber and I feel better about not having to dump a whole bunch of unused dye down the sink and into the water system. Being made up of almost 60% water, I personally think highly of it and would rather not take this precious resource for granted.

Above is a warp I'm testing some resist knots on - it's essentially simple ikat. Below are pieces of felt getting ready to dye for e-readers I'll be sending off to Craftland soon. It doesn't look like much, but it resulted in 4 different dye pots! And of course waiting for water to boil on four different dye pots (and not all at the same time) required a lot of patience.... Stay tuned to see what came of it!

Today's UPS Delivery

It's hard meeting people in New York, let alone making any sort of connection to them. Over the summer, for some odd reason, I was making a lot of online purchases for the apartment, business and myself. Our UPS guy was coming to the door at least 2 times a week. (I know, it seems ridiculous, apparently I was a good consumer this summer.) He is not one for chitchat, mostly because he has so many damn deliveries and he needs to be quick. But I would do my best to be nice and ask how his day is going as I signed my name. I don't know when it happened exactly, but he started calling me by my first name. And now, whenever I see him, whether it's at my door or outside while he unloads his truck, I make sure to wave and say hi. It's the little things, you know?

What does this have to do with anything?  Be nice to your local service people. Well that, and the fact that he came to my door today with a package I totally forgot I ordered... a pair of heat proof, water proof gloves! Whoo-hoo! It's like Christmas today!

I've been meaning to purchase a pair of these for myself to use while I dye. Originally I was going to let my man get them for me for Christmas, but really that's too far away and I need them NOW. You see, when I dye protein fiber, the water has to be hot - like close to boiling hot. I've had several instances recently where it feels like my fingers are burning or melting inside of my regular dye gloves. I know, gross. So I'm super excited for these!!! They have a soft felt removable lining. 

The dexterity isn't great while my hand is inside, but I only need them while handling the fiber and that usually means I don't need a huge amount of flexibility. I'll still have to use my regular rubber gloves while I measure out dye powders. But these will be a huge improvement for the rest of the process!

Thermometer hold

Last month, I put my polyester dyeing to the test. When dyeing synthetics like polyester, you need the right tools - most importantly the right dye. The dye I use is temperature dependent, so I need a thermometer to make sure all my pots are simmering at the right Fahrenheit. This is where my trusty thermometer comes in handy. Except I realized the other day, I didn't have a way to secure it to the pot!

Enter a trusty little office supply: the binder clip.

Specifically an OXO binder clip. This binder clip happens to have rubber on its grip. When clipped to the pot, the themometer can be slid between it's arms and will hold it in place.

Genius, if I do say so myself.

Seeing (dye) spots

Several weeks ago I was dyeing a scarf with "navy". Or at least that's what it said on the label. What's important to know in this account is that dyes are either pure or, well, not pure meaning that they are formulated with a combination of pure dyes to get that specific color. That color you think you need, but really you don't. You know the ones - the ones with the fancy names like 'geranium' and 'dark sky' and 'meadow green'. I usually stay away from them since I enjoy mixing colors on the fly, and they teach you in school you're only supposed to need three technically. But when it comes to really dark colors like navy, I don't mess around.
Now this may seem trivial. Pure. Not pure. What are you getting at, Tara? Oh, it matters for one very important reason. If you don't fully dissolve the dye or if for some reason you are super sloppy and a small teensy-weeny grain of that powdered dye gets on your cloth while it sets you will get spots. Spots that won't come out or blend because the cloth is hungry for anything it can possibly soak up. Case in point:
Yes, that is a fuchsia spot in the middle of my navy dye job. You type A's are thinking, "How in the world did that happen?? How is it even possible to not dissolve dye?!" and you type B's are thinking, "Oh, it's just part of the process, dear. It's beautiful. Embrace it."
So I'm going to embrase my type B side for a moment. After this 'tragedy' happened, I thought, "Why not take this mistake and make it a deliberate thing?" Let's try it out, shall we? 

I used a urea and water mixture to keep the cloth wet while the dye set overnight. Urea is a humectant, meaning that it attracts water. Or, put another way, since urea is present on the cloth, water has difficulty evaporating leaving more time for the dye to set. Since black is made up of just about every color, I started there:

Ooooh, pretty. And as I placed salt on top (to help further set, disperse the water, and deepen the color) things started to spread:

Lovely! I suppose we'll see what happens soon? Thank you B's! Until we meet again...

Produce bags!

You know how you have a project to complete, but all it needs is that last little thing that you can never seem to get yourself to do? Let me introduce you to my produce bag project. Everything has been done on these bad boys, except for one small itsy-bitsy piece of hardware that has been missing: the cord lock.

Oh cord locks. Let's just say that I accidentally bought 100 cord locks that wouldn't work, not to mention the cord to go with it. Sigh. When will I learn to spend a little more for small quantities before buying the whole lot? Anyway, those are for sale if you're interested.

And these produce bags are for sale too! Check them out here.

Like pesto, but without the garlic...

So is it all the various social media or just the ever growing list of things I need to do that has splintered my attention and made me loose my memory and/or mind?? The other day I made pesto for my pasta. I ate it, but man was there something wrong. As I went over the ridiculously short list of ingredients I realized I forgot to add the garlic. It was a moment of clarity mixed with amazement - pesto is just not pesto if you forget the garlic. It just tastes.... wrong.

When I finished my first woven shibori scarf, I decided to do a quick overdye to mute the stark whiteness.  I rinsed it well and then laid it out to dry. And the result? A crunchy feeling piece of cloth. Ugh! Like pesto without the garlic. What's the purpose of having a beautiful piece of cloth if it looses its softness?

The problem though is I didn't actually forget anything in my dye 'recipe'. The soda ash used to activate the dye can result in a rough hand, especially if it's not rinsed well. But the fiber also lost its shine and luster. I'm bummed. There are industrial softeners I could try. I've never used a chemical like that before, and really don't want to take that route just yet. So I'll attempt another soak and rinse and see what happens...