This is the red thread color-bleed that I encountered while trying to block my solid apple design. Since this was one of 5 different designs in my 'Spokane Beauty Apple' series, I was concerned about what would happen when I blocked other designs in which an area of white tatting was incorporated into a design with areas of red thread (as seen in the second photo).
The thread is Anchor Mercer Cordonnet.
L: First blocking water; R: Second rinse of blocking water from the 'Spokane Beauty Apple'.
Color-bleeding happens when fibers get wet and dye leaches out into the water.
In general, there are several reasons why color-bleed can happen:
1. Incorrect dyeing techniques (ie. wrong dye type used for the type of fiber) or poor quality dyes were used.
- The dye was not properly rinsed out leaving an excess of unattached dye in the thread.
- The manufacturer did use a fixative or mordant to bind the dye to the thread/fiber.
Red dyes in general are not more prone to bleeding than similar dyes of other colors. The problem is that red-dyed fibers are often dyed with a kind of dye called 'direct dye'. Direct dye, whatever its color, tends to bleed in every wash, unless the fibers have been treated with a special cationic dye fixative. Using only cool water for washing will help, because higher temperatures decrease the ability of direct dye to remain associated with fabric. Avoid direct dye, as well as all-purpose dye, which contains direct dye. Instead, use a fiber reactive dye.
- Direct Dyes are a class of hot water dyes for use on cellulose fibers such as cotton. It is one of two types of dyes that are mixed into 'All-Purpose Dyes'. (The other type of dye in All-Purpose Dyes is an 'Acid Dye'--which will not stay in cellulose fibers for very long.) Direct dyes are usually the cheapest forms of dyes. The colors of most direct dyes tend to be duller that those colors obtained by fiber reactive dyes. Expect anything dyed with direct dyes to 'bleed' forever. The color-bleed problem can be reduced by following direct dyeing with use of a cationic fixative/mordant after-treatment.
- Fiber Reactive Dyes are the most permanent of all dye type. Unlike other dye types, it forms a covalent bond with the cellulose (ie cotton, rayon, linen) or protein (ie. wool, silk) molecule. Once the bond is formed you have one molecule. The dye molecule has be an actual part of the cellulose fiber molecule.
- All-Purpose Dyes are a mixture of Acid Dye (for dyeing animal/protein fibers such as wool as well as nylon) and Direct Dye (for dyeing cellulose fibers such as cotton, rayon, linen). All-purpose dye cannot be used to dye polyester or acrylic. It also cannot be used in cold water.
- Acid Dyes are used to dye protein fibers such as wook, angora, cashmere, silk, the milk protein fiber called Silk Latte, the soy protein fiber called Soy Silk, & the synthetic polyamide fiber nylon. Acid dyes are non-caustic and in some cases non-toxic (ie. food coloring dyes). They are named for the mild acid (such as vinegar) used in the dyeing process and for the types of bonds they form to the fiber.
- Vat Dyes are an ancient class of dye based upon the original natural dyes, Indigo and Tyrian Purple. Both cotton and wool as well as other fibers can be dyed with vat dyes. Vat dyes are difficult to work with. They require a reducing agent to solubilize them. The dye is only soluble in tis reduced (oxygen-free) form. The fiber is immersed repeatedly in an oxygen-free dyebath, then exposed to air (oxygen), whereupon the water-soluble reduced form of the dye changes color as oxygen turns it to the water-soluble form. Indigo will change from yellow in the dyebath to green, then blue as the air hits it.
- Cationic Dye Fixatives (aka 'mordants') have a positive charge. The positive charge allow the fixative to cling to the negatively-charged dyes (such as those found in direct dyes, acid dyes, all-purpose dyes and even fiber reactive dyes). They 'swell' dye molecules in the fibers so that they stick better. They cannot stick to basic dyes which already have a positive charge. Cationic dye fixatives help, if not fix, the problem of color bleed on improperly dyed fibers. There is some evidence though that cationic dye fixative may reduce the lightfastness of some dyes. This means that the color may fade faster by light than by laundering. Do not wash fiber that have been treated in cationic dye fixatives in hot water.
- Commonly used fixative/mordant agents are tannic acid, alum, and salts of aluminum, chromium, copper, iron, iodine, potassium, sodium, tungsten & tin.
- Vinegar and Salt are NOT dye fixatives. Soaking in either will not set your dye. At best it will just be another 'wash' which will help to remove some of your excess dye.
- Look for a product called Retayne, possibly found in quilt stores as a common cationic dye fixative.
For us as tatters, the why of color-bleed is really of no concern--the damage to the thread is done. The issue is how can we control the color-bleeding? How do we avoid color bleed from one area of a tatted piece into a different color region? (eg. My apple examples above.)
- Avoid use of hot water that can wash out the dye fixative/mordant. If the fixative is washed out, it will no longer hold the dye to the fibers which will allow the release of dye from the fibers = color bleed. Always use cool/cold water to block your tatting.
- If you suspect a color to potentially color bleed, then test it by soaking it in cool/cold water for a few minutes and see what happens. If you end up with 'colored' water, you have a color-bleed problem.
- If you have a color-bleed problem you have two choices:
- Keep soaking the thread, various washes, until the color-bleed is not as intense/diminished. (This is what I did with the red thread before tatting the multi-colored apple designs. I had favorable results when I did block my apples, in cool/cold water.)
- Find a cationic dye fixative such as Retayne and use as directed. (I am just learning about this product as I write this article.)