Fiber Reactive Dye – cold cure process

Fiber Reactive Dyes (Jacquard Procion MX or Dharma Trading Co.) are amazing to use – one reason is they do not have to be heat-set when used on cotton.  (I would imagine all cellulose based fabrics, but so far I have only printed onto cotton.)  I apply the dye by hand with brushes and sponges – actually anything you would use to put a paint finish on a wall.  The backgrounds become less uniform than vat dying, but I think they are more interesting and take on more texture often looking aged or worn.  This is perfect for making commentary on time and history as in Homage to Seamstresses. First I soak the fabric in a soda ash bath and let it sit for awhile making sure the fibers are well saturated. Here I mixed coral pink with a small amount of alginate (just enough to get the dye to stay on the applicator) and a combination of a wide brush used for paintin faux linen textures and a fuzzy paint mit. (Next time I may add calsolene oil to aid dye spreading for the base color.) The fabric was canvas that had a very soft surface on one side.  The effect is worn cotton velvet.


Then the pattern is silk screened using a mixture of jetblack dye, sodium alginate, and rice paste.  Here I added soda ash to the mixture as I did not trust the soda in the fabric was still affective.  I am not sure this is necessary and new problems arise as a result.  For some reason, the soda ash causes the rice paste to congeal and it becomes very gelatonous and difficult to apply.  For some applications this may be fun as the pattern can become crackled. If the dye is not worked through the screen well enough, it will not pass through onto the fabric.  In addition, the rice paste causes the dye to stay on the surface so the fabric has to be damp enough to attract the moisture of the dye into the fibers.  Too much moisture causes bleeding.  I suggest experimenting with an open mind onto scrap fabric in small quanities – my first attempts at home did not work out so well – I kept trying and now this!!

Now to the COLD CURE Process – After each color application, I roll it in plastic overnight, for at least 12 hours.  For the background colors I usually roll the fabric pretty much immediately as the dye will bleed and feather for more uniformity.  I then unroll the fabric and let it sit to dry to damp for screen printing.  Again test on small pieces to get a feel for what works for you.  When you print the next layer, you need the pattern to sustain and not bleed and feather into itself like an old tattoo.  Again -I roll the fabric into plastic to let it cure overnight.  Please be careful with the screen printed pattern. You will have to wait until the dye is touchable before you roll it.  When you can touch the printed dye and your finger comes away clean, you can safely and carefully lay a piece of plastic over the length of fabric and roll it up.  I try to roll it crease free just to make sure the dye does not smudge.

Next, let the fabric dry thoroughly – I prefer a clothes line or as you can see my apparatus works well too –


After drying, I rinse and wash.  Sometimes, I rinse and wash twice as the rice paste takes a little more to remove and you may see a little bleeding.  This will wash out the second time, especially if you use synthrapol or Dharma’s detergent subsitute.

3 thoughts on “Fiber Reactive Dye – cold cure process

  1. Katie Griffin

    Hi Laureen, I can’t say much about textile technique, but I can comment on the realities of the textile industry in Argentina. It continues to be run by sweatshop types of labor. Many women work out of their homes, with their own sewing machines. They are paid pennies for each item they piece together. If they are able to work for 8 hours in the day, in addition to taking care of their children, their homes, and their often absent men, they might earn the equivalent of $5.00, with no benefits. Minimum wage in argentina is calculated on a monthly, full-time basis at about $350 plus benefits, so you can see that approximately $100 a month with no benefits, is not even close to a viable wage.
    In factories, many immigrant women from Bolivia, Peru, Korea, China, Ukraine, and the northern provinces of Argentina work as slaves and are not allowed to leave the factories.
    The injustice of the textile factory continues around the world.

  2. Susan

    Hi Laureen, what beautiful fabric! I am contacting you – hoping that you can answer what I thought would be a question easily answered.. I am a textile designer and printmaker, I mostly have done hand painting, block printing and silk screening with light sensitive film. I need to make much larger screens for a project and I can not figure out what size mesh I should use, I have been told everything from 110, 125, 160, 200 – I am using fiber reactive dyes with alginate. If you could answer this question I will be forever grateful… 🙂 Susan

    1. laureen

      Hi Susan – I’m sorry to have taken so long to get back to you. I have been swamped with spam and just found your comment. Thank you for the complement! I have been using 200 mesh so the ink doesn’t pass through so quickly. Although I often have to pass the squeegee over the screen 2-3 times, it is better than too much ink all at once.

Comments are closed.