The Journal for Weavers Spinners and Dyers

Procion Dyeing

Procion Dyeing

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You may find our introductory post, which talks through using technology, and explains how you might want to format your meeting, helpful-


This meeting allows members to get to do some hands-on dyeing.

Procion dyes are well suited to a home workshop setting as there’s no need to use heat. This makes it much easier to stay safe whilst doing this workshop. Most of the containers and trays needed can be ones that are washed out and reused from discarded food packaging that was destined for the recycling bin.

Make sure participants understand the need to keep dyes and food well separated.

The workshop was structured so that people didn’t need to be in front of a screen whilst doing the dyeing. Some worked outdoors, others in utility rooms, some worked in a corner of their kitchens, but with work surfaces that were protected, and with instructions to make sure that their workspace was thoroughly cleaned before any cooking was done.

kitchen workspace
Creating your workspace

Before the workshop members signed up to be sent a pack of materials in the post. In to a large letter box we squeezed in 1m of off-white cotton poplin, 25g of Soda Ash, 10g each of 8 different Procion dyes, a pair of nitrile gloves, and 3 pipettes. By buying in bulk we managed to keep the cost low, and this way everyone had exactly the same materials to work with. Participants were instructed to wash their fabric before the workshop, and then to divide it into Fat Eighths (the fabric should be divided in to quarters, and then each quarter divided in to 2). We chose to supply the fabric to make sure that everyone got good results.

Procion dyes work best on pure cotton, so using mysterious fabric from a persons stash that may be a poly-cotton might lead to poor results. Members were instructed to find at least 10 containers suitable for holding liquid (jam jars, yoghurt pots etc.), and some flat trays that would hold a piece of fabric whilst dye was applied (washed out food trays, empty seedling trays etc.). Our message for this was flexibility… it’s usually possible to find something around the house that will work!

To begin the workshop our workshop leader explained how Procion dyes work. They’re a cold water dye, that work on cellulose fibres. They require alkali conditions in order for the dye to bond to the fabric, which is why the materials pack includes Soda Ash. We used 8 different dyes to allow a wide range of colours. These shades are all pure shades (ie the dye powder isn’t a mixture of 2 different colour dyes). There were 2 different sets of traditional primary colours, and a black and brown for easy colour darkening and saddening. Scarlet MX3G, Royal Blue MXR, Gold Yellow MX3R, Magenta MX8B, Cerulean Blue MXGN, Acid Lemon MXBG, Black K2247, Dark Brown MX3G Using these colours it’s possible to mix a wide range of shades.

We included some colour theory explanation at this point to make sure members understood how to mix shades like orange, and purple, or how to make colours lighter and darker. If you wanted to reduce cost and complexity you could modify this to just one set of primary colours and black. After all this members are ready to mix their dyes and soda ash to form a solution. This is the most hazardous part of the workshop. Inhaling dye powder is not good for your lungs. Best practice is to wear a dust mask at this point, though if this isn’t possible it’s a good idea to work in a well ventilated area (outdoors is best), and to work in a way that minimises the amount of dust generated. Upending a whole bag of dye powder is not a good idea, reaching in to a bag with a teaspoon, whilst the bag is resting on a table (so you can’t drop it) are all things that you can do to minimise the risk. The aim is to reduce the chance of dye powder ending up floating around in the air. Soda Ash is also potentially hazardous when mixed with water. Add the soda ash to the water, and not the other way round. As the soda ash dissolves it gives off heat, for this reason a glass jar is a better option than a plastic cup. It has the potential to cause skin irritation, so gloves really do need be worn when members are dyeing.

The solutions were created as follows- 1tsp soda ash to 1 mug (300ml) water 1/2tsp dye to 100ml water This isn’t a strictly scientific method but weighing out the small amounts required for this workshop requires scales that are more precise than most have access to. Once the dyes were mixed, guild members gathered in front of our screens again for our first set of demonstrations showing how to put dye on the fabric to produce specific effects. We generally did 1 or 2 effects at a time, and then sent members back to their make-shift work spaces to try for themselves, arranging to all be back online 20-30 minutes later. Before we knew it the whole day was gone!

simple shibori
simple shibori

Pieces of this size require very little dye, as little as 10ml can produce quite vibrant effects. Changing the time when you add the soda ash can also effect how much the colours blend. If you pre-soak the fabric in soda ash solution the colours will be quite crisp, if you add it after the dye then the colours will blend more. The fabric needs to be left in a warm place for a couple of hours and can then be rinsed to remove any unbonded dye. This is best done in cold water to start, with dissimilar colours kept separate, and then in hot soapy water. We used lots of variations on simple shibori and tie-dye techniques as a way of creating different patterns. Members picked their own colours, so by the end of the workshop we had a huge variety of hand dyed cloth to look at.

range of simple shibori and tie dye results
tie dye effects


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Our workshop was led by Jill Shepherd, a Montgomeryshire Guild member, but one who has a huge experience of teaching textiles to guilds and in schools. Some of the pictures in this post are courtesy of the powerpoint she wrote to accompany the workshop, and the rest are from Montgomeryshire Guild members. If your guild like the sound of this workshop, and would welcome an experienced pair of hands to lead the session then we’re all starting to venture in to the brave new world of teaching online, and Jill welcomes enquiries from guilds who want to explore this new medium of teaching. Equally, if you have a guild member who has experience using Procion dyes, a working knowledge of shibori techniques, and a guild who is willing to work things out as you go along there’s no reason at all why you can’t do this workshop in-house.

Following the workshop one of our members who is a teacher then used the same techniques in a session with students who are the children of key workers. They dyed bandanas that could be used as emergency face coverings on public transport (they were shown how to double them and tie them securely over their face to create a mask).

hanging out to dry
results of procion dyeing workshop

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Further Resources that may be helpful-

Dyeing in Plastic Bags and Magic Dyeing Made Easy by Helen Deighan.                         

Tray Dyeing


Notes on Health and Safety - When using any natural or synthetic materials for dyeing, dyers should fully inform themselves as to the possible toxicity of the substances they are choosing to use. They should be aware of local environmental law on the collection of material from the wild - and adhere to it. For information on recipes, safe handling and disposal of substances used in dyeing, dyers should consult the most up to date dyeing reference books or company material safety data sheets and refer to their health and safety sections. Older information may be inaccurate, or otherwise misleading. Also note that equipment used for dyestuff preparation and dyeing should never be used for any stage in food preparation or cooking. More information can be found at:


Blog Author - Katie Weston

by Jo Finlow

Categories: Dyeing Synthetic

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