the trials of brown

Been a while since I posted, but I’ve had a sore foot for months, which reduces the time I’m willing to stand around doing dye work.

Got an interesting commission for a dance troupe — a set of pale pink and brown veils. I’ve had some success with pale blue and brown, and with pink and gold, and there was the “Chocolate Cherry” veil — how hard could it be?

chocolate cherry veil (sold)

Um. Very? Very hard?

Normally when I’ve been doing brown with an acid process on silk for my marbled veils, I’ve been correcting the brown with a little pale blue dye to keep it from going all orange. So my first attempt with pastel Baby Pink with the Truffle color was corrected the same way…

…and I got a very attractive purple veil.

Yep, the pink and the blue got together and had a purple fest. There’s no pink or brown in the result at all, just purple and darker purple.

My second attempt is much better — I swapped over to Camel brown to make the whole thing lighter and ditched the blue entirely. But I haven’t seen it dry yet, so the jury is a bit out.

Sheesh! brown! what a pain!


Pros and cons of the new work space

My new work space in the basement:

Rinse rack

Having a rack over the sink with a hose to rinse with is extremely nice in some ways, because it totally eliminates having to bend over the sink. My back loves that. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as handy for filling gallon buckets or bottles (for urea solution or soda ash solution). And I have to be careful that my measuring tools and glass stirring rods don’t fall through the cracks in the rack!

The washing machine gets pressed into service as counter space:

Dye space

…which means that when something has to go into the washer, I have to move everything. Drat.

Well, I did get everything out of the kitchen, anyway. That was the idea…

Moving Day

While it’s nothing so dramatic as actually moving house, I did find plenty of drama in moving my dye workspace elsewhere in my home!

Since I began dye work I’ve been doing it in my kitchen. I know, I know: not the safest place to be dyeing. But basically, that’s where the microwave was, and that’s where the water was, and that’s where the old beat up linoleum was, so that was the best place to dye.

One of the problems with dye work, though, is all the accouterments one piles up for doing it. Little dye containers… piles of things to dye… measuring things, mixing things, squeezy things, poury things! Gallon jugs to 250ml containers. A bare gram of something to a five pound bag of something else. And while they weren’t all being stored in the kitchen, they were right next door, and they were taking up far too much room.

That meant it all had to go elsewhere… and so I picked it all up lock, stock, and barrel and moved it down to the laundry area. Now it’s just chaos down there as I need to obtain shelving and some method of organizing everything again, but in the meantime I dyed some silk wrapped on a pole in my rough approximation of arashi shibori.

One advantage the kitchen had over the basement was workspace, but my husband found me a coated-wire rack that fits beautifully over the laundry sink. Voila! workspace and a rinsing rack. He also hunted down a flexible hose to screw to the faucet for more options in rinsing. It works great (although, here’s a tip: hold it pointing away from you when you turn it on).

Really, the hardest part about the whole process was that it was like cooking in someone else’s kitchen. When the soda ash is usually there and the urea is usually there and the stirring rods are always there… well, I couldn’t find a thing. Not to mention that my glass stirring rods can fall between the rack slats if I’m not paying attention… it was all awkward, but I do have a nice piece hung to dry right now. I just need to get used to the new systems… once I figure out what the heck they are.

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. 

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