Unlevel Dyeing of Protein Fibres -repair and prevention

Unlevel 2

You enjoy your crafts and home dyeing sounds interesting and fun,  so you think “why not give it a go”. Trouble is, the wool you dyed came out patchy and uneven, not the solid colour you were hoping for. Well, take heart, you’re not the first. You’ve produced an unlevel dyeing, and even in professional dyehouses this can still happen.

What’s happened is the dye has gone onto the fibre too fast (strike) and in the subsequent completion of the dyeing process the dye hasn’t dispersed through the fibre (migration).  Control and management of these two factors- strike and migration – are the key to level dyeing of protein fibres.

Repair of unlevel protein fibre dyeings

Can my unlevel dyeing be repaired?

Maybe. Firstly, lets look at the type of dye you have used.

If you have used reactive dyes (Lanasol, Procion, Drimalan) then I’m sorry, these dyes don’t shift, you’ll either have to use your item as it is or overdye it to a much darker colour. Typically, reactive dyes on wool are only used for very dark colours where a high wash fastness is required. I would recommend that you don’t use them unless it is unavoidable.

However,If you have used Acid dyes (Lanaset, Acid milling, pre-metallised dyes etc) then re-levelling your item is worth a try.

Re-levelling without a levelling agent.

Set a neutral dyebath (no vinegar/acid) using 35% of the original amount of dye. If you normally use salt in your dyeings, then add 5 to 10% on weight of goods (eg.5 to10 grams for a 100 gram item).

What you also need is a levelling agent that will promote the even migration of the dye throughout your item. You could try using a plain dishwashing detergent; 4 grams for every litre of your dyebath. For this method keep you liquor ration to 10 or 12:1 (eg. dyebath volume of 1.2 litres for a 100 gram item.)

So if you have  210 grams of yarn,  you will need about 2.4 litres of water, a little over 8 grams of detergent and 35% or less of your original dye amount. (Plus10 to 20grams of salt if you use it)

Heat your dyebath to a weak boil & hold for 15 to 20 minutes, then cool, rinse & finish as normal. Hopefully you have now got a level dyeing.

Re-levelling with a levelling agent.

I can’t guarantee that the method above, using dishwashing detergent will work.

A far better option, especially if the garment or yarn is precious, would be to use a purpose designed wool levelling agent. Use the above method but instead of the detergent use 3% on weight of goods of the levelling agent. Albegal SET is a very good product.

So, for  210gms of wool, use about 6.7mls of Albegal SET, 2.4 litres of water and 35% or less of your original dye amount. Heat your dyebath to a weak boil & hold for 15 to 20 minutes, then cool, rinse & finish as normal.

Please note; re-levelling may alter the colour of your item, it’s more likely to be weaker than darker. If this is a concern add more dye at the start of the re-levelling process.

Prevention of unlevel protein fibre dyeings

  1. Pre-wash your items. Use a small amount of a mild detergent and hand wash your item in warm water (40-50’C) for 5 minutes. This will help to thoroughly wet out your item, remove any water repelling oils & in the case of machine washable wool, help neutralise the pH. No need to rinse afterwards, just squeeze out the excess water.
  2. Use Sodium Sulphate (Glaubers Salt) in your dyebath – between 5% and 10% on weight of goods. Glaubers Salt has a retarding/levelling effect when using acid dyes.
  3. Buffer your additions of acid (vinegar or citric acid). Instead of adding it all at the start, break it up into 4 or 5 portions and add it in stages throughout the dyeing process. Protein fibres require an acid pH (below 7) for the dye to bond to the fibre. The lower the pH the faster the dye will strike onto the fibre. Pale colours only need a mildly acid dyebath; very dark colours need a lower pH. Note: The process to make wool machine washable gives it a higher dye affinity, dyeing pale colours may not require any acid.
  4. Use a levelling agent. You could try dishwashing detergent – between 1 & 2 grams for every litre of your dyebath. Much better is a chemically product designed for the job. These work in two ways, either they join with the fibre or the dye. These bonds slowly break as the dyebath heats allowing even absorption of the dye onto the fibre. Use 1% on weight of the item being dyed.
  5. Don’t start the dyeing too hot and control your heating rate. Begin at around 38’C (starting cold is also okay) and heat to 96°C at around 1°C per minute. Use pauses in heating to achieve this. Be patient, slower is better.
  6. Some sort of movement of the dyebath is needed. Stir, shake or rattle, find some way to have the dyebath gently moving through the fibre.

Hopefully some or all of these steps will help you achieve a nice even dyeing of your items. If you have any specific questions pass them onto Jade (jade@platypusyarn.com.au)and I’ll attempt to answer.

Dr Dyer.



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