Dying Fly Tying Materials – The Process (Part 2)

blog hendron sunburst copyGuest Blogger: Eunan Hendron, Classic Fly Tyer
Each dye manufacturer has its own set guidelines on how to use their dyes, and I strongly suggest following each guideline for the dye you choose. As you become more proficient you will know what works best and for what materials, but starting out, following the guidelines is the best route to take. For instance, ProChem and Jacquard suggest adding the dye powder then the materials to the bath, before finally adding the acid to fix the dye after the materials have taken up the dye. In this case, the dye bath remains the color of the dye. Cushings, however, recommend adding the dye, then acid, then materials, and after a period of time, the dye bath will become clear as the dye is absorbed into the materials.

I’ll briefly outline what I do, with some pictures of successfully dyed products.

blog hendron lilaca) Fill your pot with enough water to sufficiently cover all your materials to be dyed. Add a drop of Synthrapol, literally, a drop from the bottle, and heat the water until it starts to steam, but not boil. I generally use warm tap water and a high heat initially, then reduce the heat to medium when it starts to steam. If the temperature of the bath is too hot, then skins, etc. will begin to break apart after a while in the bath. During the heating process, add some dye powder, generally a quarter to a half teaspoon is good for small projects.
b) While the bath is heating, ensure your materials are clean and sufficiently wet. You can use household dish soap or some of the Synthrapol to clean them, and make sure they are well rinsed out before adding them to the bath.
blog hendron crest to blackc) Mix the dye bath a bit to ensure all the dye is dissolved. If you are using light colors you should be able to see lumps of undissolved dye – ensure they are all broken up and dissolved, otherwise you’ll end up with patchy dyeing where the lumps may interact with the material.
d) When the bath is steaming and all the dye is dissolved, add your materials piece by piece. I’d recommend starting off with at most two or three pieces at a time until you get the hang of it.
e) Leave the materials in the bath, on med-low heat until they are the color you want them, generally 30-40 minutes for light colors, stirring periodically with a wooden or plastic spoon.
blog hendron brown to olive copyf) If darker colors are desired (black, brown, olive, purple, navy etc) I highly recommend putting the lid on the pot and leaving it on the stove overnight with no burner on. The pot will retain the temperature for quite a while and the materials will have a much longer soak in the bath and a better chance to be completely dyed. If you’re dyeing something to black from white, then it’s a good idea to predye it red before dyeing it black. You’ll get a richer color!
g) Once you have your material at the color you wish, while keeping or returning the heat to medium, add some vinegar or citric acid to the bath. How much?? I usually do enough vinegar to where I can smell it, probably 10-15 ml per liter of water in the dye bath. Mix the bath for additional 10-15 minutes, turning the materials to ensure complete exposure to the fixing agent (vinegar or citric acid powder)
h) Once they are completely fixed, you can turn off the heat, and carefully remove the materials from the dye bath. I suggest placing the pot in the sink and turning on the cold water. If you lift the materials out (use tongs) and run them under cold water, the water should run off clear if the dye is properly fixed. If the water running off is the color of the dye, then return the material to the bath, turn on the heat and add more acid. Repeat this process until you have a flow of clear water from the materials
i) To dry, drain excess water by gently squeezing the materials. Twisting and harshly wringing any material, particularly if attached to a skin will likely destroy the skin and leave you with a hand full of loose feathers or fur. If you have space, hang the materials to dry or lay them on some paper towels overnight. If you want to use a hairdryer on low temp to dry them, that works too.

Provisos
• If at all possible, don’t dye in the kitchen (I do). If you must, I strongly suggest making the work space between the stove and the sink dye proof – lay down layer of plastic wrap on the work surface, that way any spillages will not adversely affect the countertop.
• If you have a workshop, use it. A simple hot plate will work for heating the dye bath.
• Work in a well ventilated area, the dye bath can give of some fumes, which can potentially be harmful. If you work in the kitchen, turn on the extraction fan. Whether in a kitchen or workshop, keep windows and doors open (weather permitting) to allow a flow of air through the work space.
• Use only utensils that you will never again use for food prep.
And that is about it. There is a lot of info on the web about dyeing, and each dye manufacturer will have more detailed instructions than this.
My main aim from this post was to bring to the forefront the simplicity of dyeing materials – so next time you have a desire to use sunburst dyed grizzly hackles, you know how to do it.

Finally, I have it on good authority that J. Stockard will be expanding their catalog to include dyes for dyeing materials, so when you make your next order, think about buying some white feathers and a dye, and give it a go.

Note from J. Stockard: Eunan blogs @http://www.addictedtovise.com. And, yes, we’ll be stocking a small selection of dyes for fly tying by early 2015.

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