My Low Water Immersion process for silk veils

I haven’t posted here in a very long time. I’ve had a lot of other things going on, from a new job to different hobbies to… well, lots of things. I haven’t done a whole lot of dye work, even though I treated myself to a lovely bolt of 6 momme habotai. 6mm over 5mm is nice as it clearly picks up more color from the dye, but retains the featherweight flow. 

Anyway… since I’m doing so little of this I thought I would share my basic process here. This particular process took me a long time to refine. It works for my water temps and my containers and my… everything… but that doesn’t mean it would work perfectly for you. This simply presents a starting point. I have synthesized it from methods described in the writings of Paula Burch, Ann Johnston, and with the advice of friendly dye artists like Darlene Coltrane, Darlene Nadeau, and Shaula Silkdancer. You’ll notice that I don’t dye in this method by weight. My LWI veils come out marbled and random, so I am not concerned with exact ratios.

Vashti’s LWI Microwave Method for Silk


  • Procion MX powdered dye in colors of your choice
  • Citric acid powder
  • 3 to 4 yards silk
  • Two microwaveable plastic containers (holding 8 c) with lids
  • Synthropol or Ivory dish detergent equivalent.
  • Milsoft or other textile conditioner


  • Create citric acid solution by mixing 4 tablespoons of powder in 4 cups of water. Fold or crumple silk into a bucket and cover with this solution. Soak for a minimum of 15 minutes.
  • Mix up Procion MX dye solution — at least 3 to 4 cups total dye for a single veil. Per cup of water, use 1/4 to 1 teaspoon of dye powder and 1/4 teaspoon citric acid powder. More or less dye is to your taste and based on experience. If using Dharma Trading’s dyes, their * system will help guide how much dye to use. 
  • Squeeze the excess citric acid solution from the silk. Crumple it evenly into one of the microwaveable containers, then pick it up. Pour half of your dye solution into the bottom of the container, then replace the silk. Pour the remaining solution over the top. Poke the silk down where it bubbles up so that all the silk has been wetted by the dye. 
  • Place the other container on top of the first, nesting them together as if for storage. Weight the inside container down — I like to use a bottle of wine. 
  • Let this arrangement stand for 10 minutes, then remove the upper container and nudge at the silk gently to move it around a bit in the solution — just enough to expose it to the dye a little differently. This isn’t stirring. 
  • Repeat standing and nudging process twice more.
  • Remove the upper container entirely and put the lid on the container.
  • Microwave on full power 1 minute, then wait a few seconds; repeat; repeat again for a total of 3 minutes microwaving. You may have to vent the corner of your container during this process. Do NOT leave the microwave unattended and stop the process if the container is bulging! Let cool down somewhat before proceeding.
  • Set aside to cool. Whenever possible, cool all the way to room temperature, which might take 4 to 6 hours.
  • Rinse in cold water, then warm, then again in cold with a few drops of synthropol. I do this by hand in a bucket in the sink, attempting to remove 75% of unfixed dye.
  • Being sure silk is fully unfolded, was in gentle cycle in washing machine on warm with a capful of Milsoft. Two rinses are useful. Afterward, check for unfixed dye by pressing silk with a clean white rag; repeat wash as needed. 
  • Air dry on clothesline.


I hope someone will find this recipe helpful. Silk you dye in this manner will always be a bit of a surprise when it’s done. If you don’t like the result, tweak and try again. 

color paralysis

When dyeing a large batch of silk veils I still am subject to dreadful indecision when trying to choose colors! I used to try to spend time relating the spread of colors to the color wheel, but certain veil colors simply don’t sell as well as others. I can sell any number of blue or purple veils, but green and yellow veils can be a hard sell, and orange is fifty-fifty. I once pondered whether it had to do with what colors of costumes were popular at the moment, but seeing as the great majority of my veils go off to class with students, I suspect it just has to do with what colors are dancers’ favorites! 

Crayola (just as you’d think) has a vested interest in knowing what the favorites are out there, and has a fun feature on their website showing what they are in the U.S.  Top five on the list? Four blues and a purple! No green turns up until #18 and no yellow until #50! 

I also enjoy watching every season for the new Pantone color forecast to come out. Fall 2013 has a spectacular shade called Mykonos Blue as well as yummy purple Acai. But Emerald Green is their shade of the year so… I guess I should probably open up the drawer of greens to add to the Shimmy in the Grain collection. 


sunsetsilk1 by tigerb
sunsetsilk1, a photo by tigerb on Flickr.

Some recent work with direct dye application.

a Periwinkle day

So the great question yesterday was what to use with Periwinkle on my 5mm habotai. It’s kind of a weird color, because not only is it blue and purple, but it is also grayed out. If you put something too warm with it, the color sort of washes out. I was very tempted by a raspberry or a baby pink, but I just felt like the periwinkle would be overwhelmed. On the other hand, too much blue and you just get a lot of blue, no periwinkle. The blue dyes often tend to just “win.”

(A note for those unfamiliar with this dye method, which is low water immersion. You’re putting colors together with fabric in a barely adequate dye bath with no agitation. The results of these LWI baths is often nigh unrepeatable, but as you work with certain dyes you do see trends. One is that the blue dyes of medium or greater intensity do tend to strike fast, so they “win” the race to bond to the fabric. Unless I greatly reduce the volume of blue dye in a mix, what comes out will almost always be primarily blue. There’s nothing the matter with that, most of the time.)

I decided to push the periwinkle in two opposite directions. I put it in one bath with Plum Blossom, a pale lavender dye, and another with Steel Grey. The first veil is indeed very pinky and purply and makes me think of Easter candy! But the second has far too much white in it. Both the gray and the periwinkle exhausted before all the fabric could pick up color (for a change, there was almost nothing to rinse out of the silk). So I’m running that veil through a straight periwinkle bath as well, just to see if it can pick up a little something something. 

Dye work reviving

Yes, I have been dyeing again! I’m trying to play around more with the supplies I have, picking colors more at random and checking out what happens. Recently I had a thought about the Colorhue silk dye I own. These dyes frustrate me because they are supposed to be so concentrated, yet that does not seem to be the case. So out of curiosity, I wrapped already-dyed silk (pink-shaded) on a pole (it was damp) and then squished it together firmly. Then I applied Colorhue in brown with a sponge brush. Then I just let it dry. The Colorhue was very dark, which was nice, but it really did not penetrate the layers! I ended up with interesting trails of broken lines here and there. It’s still cool, but how odd that it just sat on the top layer. I think this stuff is more like paint than dye.

Taking a break

For once, I have a pretty good excuse why I haven’t been doing too much dye work… I’ve been taking some time off from it to work on other projects. For example, steampunk costuming for Teslacon. (If you’re unfamiliar with steampunk, you could look at some photos here – my costuming leans toward the Victorian reenactment side. 

This year’s Teslacon involves a trip to the moon as part of the “story” of the convention. Since there’s always a fabulous formal ball, I really hope to dye up some silk that is reminiscent of outer space for my ball gown. Some of my earlier silk dye work looked more like the Milky Way and I’m trying to remember how I did some of it.


5 Things You Didn’t Think Of

…before deciding to try tie-dyeing. You have your t-shirts, you have your dye, your soda ash solution, you’re all set, right? right? Not everything comes in a kit! Did you consider:

  1. Rags? You need some. Seriously. To set a drippy dye bottle on. To quickly wipe up a drip. To sop up a pool of messy soda ash solution before it dries. To dab your sweating brow (clean rag suggested). Paper towels are good, and they have their uses, but a bunch of old terrycloth towels ripped into rags are recyclable… and invaluable.
  2. A bucket of clean water? Because you accidentally got dye on your gloves and you don’t want to spread it around — so dunk your hand in the bucket. Because you want to dampen a rag to clean a drip — dunk the rag in the bucket.  Because!
  3. A scissors? If you went old-school and tied your shirts with rubber bands, don’t expect to be able to neatly remove them when the shirts are done. Don’t drag your smeary rubber bands around your shirt, just cut them off. Carefully, of course.
  4. A spare pair of gloves? Nothing quite like doing your dye work outside or in the basement or on the patio or in the garage and having your glove rip. Now you have to trek back to the supply area for more, and you may be a smudgy mess.  Just stick a spare pair in your pocket if your gloves are thin and rippable.
  5. A plan? There’s nothing quite like having six folded, tied, wet t-shirts facing you and suddenly not being able to remember which colors were going on which shirt. Make some notes before you start and mark each shirt when you fold it — for example, by putting a colored paper clip on one of its ties.

People who tie dye a lot barely remember to mention some of this stuff because it’s so second nature to them. Most of these I learned by that unyielding teacher named Bad Experience, so maybe this list will help somebody.

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