Microwave and Solar Small Batch Dying

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I love being able to dye my materials to whatever color matches my vision for a project, but if you have done much dying you know that it can be a time consuming and messy endeavor. I’ve been especially unmotivated when it comes to dying things for small projects. That wasn’t good enough, so I figured out a way to dye small batches with much less drama. Microwave dying is a really addictive project that’s so fast and fun (it only takes about 2 minutes once it’s in the microwave). It’s also a great way to sample a small piece before dying a large amount.




My plastic wrap was labeled as “microwave safe” and still fused to itself a little. You would be smart to test your plastic wrap on 1 or 2 pieces before trying to do a bunch, especially if it’s not labeled for microwave use.


If you’re going with the solar option you need hot, sunny weather. It won’t work in the middle of winter – the black plastic and sun combo needs to really heat up your dye and cotton. It’s little less predictable than the microwave method, but it uses no power and could be efficient for dying lots of things. It’s also fun to let a little random luck into your project.


Cut the pieces you want to dye. Loosely tie them or restrain them in some other way. (No, of course I didn’t get ahead of myself and just drop a bunch of cut strands together into water. Why would you even think that? Unrelated tip – wet string is easier to untangle underwater than in the air.)


Soak them in a solution of washing soda and water for at least 5 minutes, swishing it around a few times. I used a teaspoon of washing soda in just under half a cup of hot water. This step is optional but has dramatically improved my dying results. The washing soda seems to do a really good job of pulling finishes and oils out of cotton. Rinse well and put back into a cup of water.


Pull out the strands you want to dye. For this group I folded them in half because I was going to use them folded in half, then wrapped them into a circle. Set your strands on the plastic cling wrap, leaving lots of extra plastic around for wrapping up later.


Use the brush to apply dye. I love these disposable brushes because they’re just plastic and don’t absorb any dye, so they’re easy to clean up and use again.


I used yellow on one side and orange on the other as shown.


I lightly misted this loop with water to encourage a blend between the colors.


Carefully wrap up the bundle of string in the plastic wrap. Once it was wrapped I mushed it around a little to encourage that blend between the colors, then set it so the yellow was higher than the orange to keep the yellow bright while I was working on the other groups for dying. Keep this on paper towels or something you don’t care about – it will probably leak a little dye, no mater how well you wrap it.


For the teal ombre I laid out the strand straight (folded in half a couple times) and propped the end I wanted white up on the little plastic cup I was using. I applied teal heavily at the top, then used a little misting water and tipping of the plastic to encourage the soft blend. Again, keep the light color higher than the dark until you’ve heat set the color.


For this group I wanted a speckled scarlet look, so I used string that was just a little damp, lightly dabbed on the dye, and didn’t add any more water. You need some water or the dye won’t set, but a lot of water would have encouraged a lot of bleeding.


The fourth packet in this picture is a solid dark blue. That Looked exactly how you think it looked before I wrapped it up.


Microwave directions: Cut a few small holes on the top side of each packet to allow steam to escape (but obviously don’t cut the string). Set them on a few layers of paper towel in your microwave and add a sheet of paper towel on top, then microwave on high for 15 seconds at a time, for a total of 2 minutes of microwave time. The packets will probably still puff from steam each 15 seconds, allow them to deflate before starting again. If you’re worried about them exploding microwave for shorter increments. When you’re done they will be very, very hot. Let them cool before you handle them.


The RIT dye website says that you can reuse things for food after using them with dye if you clean them with soap, hot water, and chlorine bleach. In the unlikely event that you do get dye on the inside of your microwave that’s how I would clean it up.


Update: I did manage to make a packet explode in my microwave. I cleaned it up right away and the dye wiped off with a damp paper towel. Now I drop all of the packets into microwave safe containers before microwaving (usually something clean diverted from the recycling bin, like little yogurt cups) cover the cups with a piece of paper towel, so if they do pop open it’s a contained mess!


Solar directions: Wrap your packets into the black plastic bag and set them in the hottest, sunniest spot you can find, and leave them there all day. Move them if necessary to keep them in the sun. As long as there is moisture in the packets the dye will keep setting. This method might result in slightly less dye absorption but it’s still a whole lot easier than standing over a simmering pot for an hour.


This is what my packets looked like fresh from the microwave. The plastic was a little bit fused in places. Carefully cut each one open and rinse in warm, then cool water until the water runs completely clear. Do one color at a time so they don’t bleed on each other.


Set them out on the waxed paper or something else you don’t care about to dry. I kept them in the same configuration as I dyed them in case any residual dye wanted to run while they were drying. Once dry they’re ready to use!


These colors are all straight from the bottle for maximum brightness. RIT dyes can be intermixed to make different colors, and if you’d like a lighter shade just dilute some dye with water before applying to the cotton.


That’s it! No more settling for an okay off-the-rack color when you can make your own perfect color so quickly!

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