Hand Dyeing Shortcut: Make and Keep a Soda Ash Solution

6 Aug 2014

No matter which fabric dyeing techniques you use, dyeing fabric can be a fun--some might even say transformative--creative experience. Pulling the hand-dyed fabric from the dye bath to reveal the colors and patterns you have created is absolutely magical.

Yet hand dyeing, especially when you use chemical dyes, takes some preparation. You must take safety precautions, protect your clothing and work space, prepare your fabrics and resists (if you are using resist-dyeing techniques) and so on.

fabric dyeing preparating
Tiny dye baths ready for hand dyeing threads.
Unless you have a dedicated wet studio, this preparation can take a lot of time. So I'm for anything that will speed up the prep process.

One way to do this is to mix up your soda ash solution in advance. When textile dyeing, soaking the fabric in soda ash changes the pH of the fiber-reactive dye and cellulose fiber so that the dye reacts with the fiber, making a permanent connection that holds the dye to the fiber.

Many people mix up a batch of soda ash solution for each dyeing session, but you can do this in advance, saving pre-dyeing time, says Carol Soderlund. Carol and Melanie Testa write about thread dyeing in the August/September 2014 issue of Quilting Arts.

Soda ash solution can be kept from dye session to dye session, writes Carol. It never goes bad. A re-purposed gallon drink container is perfect for both mixing and storing the solution.

Here are Carol's tips for making soda ash solution for dyeing:

To mix a gallon of soda ash solution:

1. Pour 1/2 cup soda ash powder into the jug. (See Note, below.)

2. Fill the jug halfway with very warm water.

3. Shake the jug to dissolve the soda ash.

4. Fill the jug the rest of the way with more warm water.

how to hand dye fabric and threads with soda ash
Carol Soderlund shows how to dye variegated threads.
The soda ash dissolves very easily and the half-full jug is easier to shake than a full one. Once mixed, then I pour out only what I need for my project.

Note: Instead of soda ash, you can also use sodium carbonate which is found in the pool supply area of the hardware store. Called Balance + or pH Up, it is used to balance the pH of swimming pools.

Now you're one step closer to hand dyeing your own fabric and thread!

You can start dyeing your own threads even faster with our Hand-Dyed Thread Kit that includes everything you need to hand dye your own beautiful threads.

P.S. Do you have any tips for fast-tracking your fabric dyeing process?Leave them below.


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Comments

CarolineA wrote
on 9 Aug 2014 7:51 PM

Not all swimming pool Ph levellers are soda ash; some are sodium bi-carbonate which is not the same thing. Washing soda, however, is sodium carbonate. Its important to read the labels or you can buy the wrong product and it doesn't work the same way.

KelleyD wrote
on 16 Aug 2014 2:24 PM

As someone who has dyed for many years, there are some problems with this suggestion:  

1. Soda Ash settles out of solution and can be very difficult to get to redissolve into solution.....I find that i wind up with clumps and that it's easier to mix each time for consistent or good results.

2.  The soda ash reacts with the fabric, and by doing so the concentration of the solution drops every time.  I'll talk you through it, but the calculations are made up, not real.  For example, let's say you make a solution of 2 cups to 2 gallons of soda ash solution which may be enough to dye 2 pounds of fiber.  Then you dye 1.5 lbs of fiber and save off the remaining half gallon (seems like water goes down aobut 50% depending on the fiber).  That half gallon is only enough for a half pound of fiber.  The next time you dye, if you dye a half pound of fiber, you will probably have to extend the volume of the soak with additional water, which reduces your overall concentration.  That said, you still have enough to dye a half pound, but because the solution is diluted, the fiber probably won't take up enough of the soda ash to bite the fiber enough.   If you want to dye more than a half pound, you need to add more soda ash to the solution to increase the concentration of the solution.   NOw you have to calculate your starting concentration and what you need and make up the difference.

So really, if you are doing alot of dyeing, (I dye 20-40 pounds at a time and have to refresh the bath, otherwise I get lighter colors as I go) mix the solution to the amount of fiber that you are dyeing that day or weekend, and just that amount.  Why just that amount?  Because it leaves a solution with the lowest concentration of soda ash as possible which saves our water treatment processes and waterways.  Or sometimes, I let the solution dry up and then grind down the remaining solids, but this is a PITA.

KelleyD wrote
on 16 Aug 2014 2:25 PM

As someone who has dyed for many years, there are some problems with this suggestion:  

1. Soda Ash settles out of solution and can be very difficult to get to redissolve into solution.....I find that i wind up with clumps and that it's easier to mix each time for consistent or good results.

2.  The soda ash reacts with the fabric, and by doing so the concentration of the solution drops every time.  I'll talk you through it, but the calculations are made up, not real.  For example, let's say you make a solution of 2 cups to 2 gallons of soda ash solution which may be enough to dye 2 pounds of fiber.  Then you dye 1.5 lbs of fiber and save off the remaining half gallon (seems like water goes down aobut 50% depending on the fiber).  That half gallon is only enough for a half pound of fiber.  The next time you dye, if you dye a half pound of fiber, you will probably have to extend the volume of the soak with additional water, which reduces your overall concentration.  That said, you still have enough to dye a half pound, but because the solution is diluted, the fiber probably won't take up enough of the soda ash to bite the fiber enough.   If you want to dye more than a half pound, you need to add more soda ash to the solution to increase the concentration of the solution.   NOw you have to calculate your starting concentration and what you need and make up the difference.

So really, if you are doing alot of dyeing, (I dye 20-40 pounds at a time and have to refresh the bath, otherwise I get lighter colors as I go) mix the solution to the amount of fiber that you are dyeing that day or weekend, and just that amount.  Why just that amount?  Because it leaves a solution with the lowest concentration of soda ash as possible which saves our water treatment processes and waterways.  Or sometimes, I let the solution dry up and then grind down the remaining solids, but this is a PITA.