Fabric dyeing dates back to primitive man, when ancient people would use various materials to stain everything from animal hides to cave walls.
Although it is unclear when fabric dyeing first began, the earliest evidence of fabric dyeing seems to date back to 1 CE, and Merriam-Webster lists before the 12th century as a benchmark. Fabric dyeing occurred around the world; from ancient China to archaeological findings showing it took place in Europe as well.
According to Merriam-Webster, dyeing is “to impart a new and often permanent color to, especially by impregnating with a dye.” The word “dye” is from Middle English dehe, from Old English deah, deag.
Methods of Dyeing
There are two methods of fabric dyeing: natural and manmade.
Natural dyeing uses substances found in nature to create new colors. Not all fabrics are dyeable and different fabrics and materials work differently to create varying colors. Red and yellow can be found in many plants and spices. To get a natural dye to stay on fabric, you must use a mordant. A mordant is a substance that prevents the color from fading or washing out. Natural mordants include vinegar and salt.
Manmade dyes are the result of colors that are synthesized from chemicals.
Types of Dyes
There are many different types of dyes that are used in different ways due to the fabric being dyed and the desired result. Some types of fabric dyes include: basic dyes, direct dyes, mordant dyes, vat dyes, reactive dyes, disperse dyes, sulfur dyes and pigment dyes.
Depending on the type of fiber used, different types of dyes may be used. For example, cotton can be dyed using a variety of dyeing methods, while acrylic fabric dyeing has better results with basic dyes. Acid dyes work best with animal-based fabrics such as silk, wool, fur, feathers and even leather.
When Fabric Dyeing Takes Place
Fabric dyeing can take place at any time of the manufacturing process, and even after. It may occur even before the weaver spins the fabric, which is known as stock dyeing. Fabric dyeing can also occur after someone creates the textile as well as after the creation of a garment.
At-home fabric dyeing may replace pigmentation that has been lost or to “perk up” a basic garment.
Dyeing can cover an entire item or it can also be used strategically to create shapes and patterns, as in tie-dye, dip-dye, block dyeing, batik and other dyeing methods.
Fabric dyeing may not always achieve the desired results. To remove dye from fabric, it involves a process known as “stripping.” Stripping uses an agent such as hydrogen peroxide to remove the dye.