April 17, 2013

Dyeing Silk Hankies (Mawata)

Dyeing Silk Hankies is a lot of fun and really easy to do.  Silk Hankies, also known as Mawata, take up dyes brilliantly, can be spun or knit (see this post by Stephanie Purl-Phee), they are relatively cheap to buy, and are a lot of fun to craft with. This week I thought it would be fun to show you how to dye silk hankies, so grab your dye equipment and let's go!

You will need:

  • either one of the following: professional acid-based dyes, Kool Aid or food colouring (easily found in the baking section at the supermarket)
  • undyed silk hankies (you can buy these online - just do a search)
  • wool wash
  • white vinegar
  • plastic cups to mix up your dyes
  • measuring spoons
  • gloves
  • cooling rack
  • dust mask
  • scales to weigh the undyed hankies (optional)
  • dye pot with lid (stove-top method) or microwave-proof container (microwave method)
  • colander (if using stove-top method)
  • cling wrap

Just a word of caution: never use equipment that will later be used for cooking.  Keep all your equipment separate and use it for dyeing purposes only. It's safe to use your kitchen microwave with food dyes or Kool Aid, but never put professional acid- based dyes in your kitchen microwave; they are toxic. Instead, use the stove-top method to heat set dyes. As always, use gloves when handling dyes and dye solutions, and a dust mask when measuring and mixing them. Dyes will stain anything they come in contact with, so it's a good idea to cover benches/work areas before you start.

So, here goes!



Step 1 - Weigh (optional)

This step is optional. I like to know how much fibre I have to dye in order to work out the fibre-to-dye ratio. This is essential if you want to repeat a colourway; otherwise, feel free to skip this step. I usually dye my hankies in small 1oz batches.



Step 2 - Soak

Fill a basin or your laundry sink with enough warm water to cover the batch of silk hankies. Add about a 1/3 cup of vinegar and a small splash of wool wash to the water. Vinegar is an essential element in dying: it is a weak form of acid that, in conjunction with heat, helps bind the dyes permanently to the fibre.



Next, add the hankies to the soak water and push them down to help absorb the water quicker. Silk takes a while to become completely saturated: you can see in the picture above the white areas where the hankies are still dry. You want the them to be fully saturated, so make sure they don't have any white/dry spots as these areas won't take up the dye.




Step 3 - Mix the dye!

While your hankies are soaking, mix the dyes. Use your gloves and dust mask, then measure out the dyes into plastic cups. The amount of dye you use depends on whether you're after saturated or subtle colour.  I wanted saturated so I used 1/2 spoon of each colour per 1 oz of fibre (I'm using professional acid-based dyes).  Don't forget to add the water (I always use warm water) to your dye, that way your dyes will mix evenly and you won't get clumps of undissolved dye. If you're using liquid food colouring, you can add these straight onto the fibre. The colours I've chosen are bright orange, turquoise blue and brown.








Step 4 - Prepare your dye area.

I'm using the sink in my studio to dye these hankies; it's a great area to dye as it helps limit the amount of mess made. You can also use a large plastic tub or laundry sink. I have placed two racks in the sink. This method elevates the hankies off the floor of the sink and allows the excess dye to run freely underneath.  Otherwise, the dyes will collect under the hankies and the colours may mix and become muddied. Any type of rack will do: e.g. a cooling rack (like the ones used for baking) or whatever you have handy. 


When your hankies are completely soaked through, gently squeeze out excess water and place them on the rack ready for dyeing.  You want them to be wet but not dripping wet.



Step 5 - Dye

There are so many ways you can apply dyes. I've just poured the dyes onto the hankies but you can also use a baster for a little more control.  I like a 'marbled' look, so I randomly splash dyes here and there, but you can also stripe them or make patterns; it's up to you!  You need to apply dyes to BOTH 'sides' of the hankies, so don't forget to turn the batch over.



As you can see, some of the dye has soaked through but there is still a large area that remains undyed.  Apply the rest of the dye to this side.



Step 6 - Heat Set

Once you've applied your dyes, gently roll up the hankies.  They must now be heated to set the dyes permanently to the fibre. There are two ways of doing this: the first uses a microwave and, the second, a stove top.


Microwave Method (food dyes only): If you have a microwave that is soley used for dying then you can use this method when heat-setting professional acid dyes, but if you don't then use the stove-top method. 

Either wrap your hankies in some cling wrap and place them in a microwave-safe container, OR, place your hankies (without the cling wrap) in a container with the lid on.  Set your microwave on high and cook for 1 minute.  Heating times will vary so check and re-heat if necessary.  Leave to cool.


Stove-Top Method (food and professional acid dyes): Place a colander at the base of your pot so that the hankies are not sitting directly on the bottom.  Fill the pot with enough water to sit under the colander, as you don't want the water to come in contact with the hankies.  Place the pot on the stove and heat to simmer.  Meanwhile, wrap the hankies in glad wrap and place into the pot, covering it with a lid.  Let the hankies steam set for around 20 minutes.  Carefully remove and leave to cool.



Step 7 - Dry

To help the hankies dry a little faster, place them in the washing machine to spin dry them, then hang out to dry.


And voila!  Your own hand-dyed silk hankies to spin or knit with!



Are there any other tutorials you would like to see, dyeing or otherwise?  Let me know :)


Have a great week!