The Art of Dyeing

The Art of Dyeing


Assuming you aren’t in some weird cult and can only wear white clothing, you have some clothing that has been dyed. Different color effects are achieved depending on when in the manufacturing process the material is dyed and what method is used at that time. This is a brief overview of what these methods are, what articles of clothing are dyed by which method, and what the benefits and drawbacks of each method are. Pretty much all dyeing occurs in a water or acid bath with some dye or pigment dissolved in it–the differences come in the small details.

Fiber Dyeing


(photo via)

The fiber has been shorn or picked, cleaned, and, if necessary bleached. This loose fiber is then added to the vat and dyed. The fiber usually takes the color on quickest when dyed at this stage because the loose fibers have high surface area and allow for easy dye penetration. This method isn’t very efficient and can be wasteful if the short fibers aren’t combed out beforehand. It also can produce unevenly dyed fiber, which may not be desired.

Fiber dyeing is most commonly used to produce tweed and heathered fabrics. Both of these are made by blending different shades of dyed fiber together during the spinning process. Once the yarn is knit or woven, the different colors become apparent. Worsted wool suiting fabrics are dyed this way as well.

Yarn Dyeing


(photo via)

The fiber has now been spun into yarn and will be dyed before being knit or woven. Depending on the type of fiber and what color effects are desired, there are a few different methods of yarn dyeing. Yarn can be wound into loose coils and knotted and place directly into the vat, which is known as skein dyeing. Skein dyeing is most common with wool yarn. Cotton is more frequently dyed by package dying, where the yarn is wound onto perforated tubes or spring and then placed into the vat and agitated to increase contact and dye penetration. Warp beam dyeing is another method where the entire loom with the warp threads (but no weft ones) is dipped into the vat and then removed.

Yarn dyeing is used for pretty much all forms of colorwork where there are distinct lines of color, such as stripes, plaids, fair-isle knits, intarsia, and others. It is also used for denim and chambray where the warp and weft threads of the woven fabric are different colors.

Piece Dyeing


(photo via)

Like yarn dyeing, there are multiple methods of piece dyeing. It is also the most common method of dyeing used and the most economical. Beck dyeing places little tension on the fabric, which is very useful for delicate fabrics; more economical and efficient methods can’t be used with delicate fabrics because they are too harsh and put too much strain on the material.. In beck dyeing, the fabric is bunched up into a rope-like form and placed into and out of the dyebath with a winch in a circular motion with most of the fabric staying in the bath at any given time. There is a variant of beam dyeing for piece dyeing where the fabric is again wound onto perforated beams and placed into the dye bath. The drawback of this method is that it makes it difficult for the dye to penetrate and cannot be used for tightly woven materials.

In jig dyeing, the fabric is kept flat and placed on rollers which move it back and forth into and out of the dye until the fabric is the correct shade. The rollers place a lot of stress on the fabric and can damage delicate fabrics. Continuous dyeing makes much larger quantities of finished fabric than the other methods, but like jig dyeing, it places a lot of stress on the fabric. It’s a three step process of pad, dry, and cure. First the fabric goes through the dye bath, then it is dried and the excess dye removed, and finally the dye is set and cured, either chemically or thermally.

Piece dyeing is the best way to achieve a solid color in a blended fabric through a process known as union dyeing. Because different fibers require different dyes to achieve the same color, union dyeing blends the required dyes for each together in a single bath.

Pretty much anything and everything solid color is piece dyed. Pants, shirts, underwear, coats, suits, etc.

Garment Dyeing

Dye_Project1 Dye_Project2


At this point the item has already been cut and sewn, and all that’s left to be done is dyeing. This process is more expensive than piece dyeing, but it is more compatible with the lean manufacturing principles of smaller inventories and quick turnaround and is better able to adapt to changes in color trends. Typically, this is only used for pure cotton fabrics to ensure that all fiber takes the dye evenly, but under special circumstances, blended fabrics and other fibers can be used. Even with cotton fabric and cotton thread, the final product can still end up unevenly dyed if the dyer isn’t careful. The same bolt of fabric has to be used for all pieces, thread and fabric have to have the same pre-dye treatments done, all notions must compatible with the process and not shrink differently than the main fabric. Different color dyes can also cause the fabric to shrink in different amounts, and a careful company will take that into account during design, cutting, and sewing.

Because this method is best with cotton fabrics, t-shirts and sweatshirts are the most common items dyed this way. Some button-ups are also dyed this way, but the majority are still piece dyed. Special subtypes of garment dyeing are tie-dye, dip-dye, and over-dye. Whenever you re-dye your faded black jeans or that hideously colored t-shirt, you’re garment dyeing.


This isn’t an exhaustive list of how colors and patterns are created; it only covers the major dyeing methods. There are other less common ways to dye, and there are patterns and color effects that can’t be achieved with dyeing. Polka dots, graphic tees, marble prints, and many others cannot be created by dyeing and require other methods that may be covered in future posts.

So what does all this technical info mean for you? Honestly, most of it is just background info that you might find interesting, but there is some practical info to be gained. Be extra careful washing a yarn dyed piece the first few times, especially if you have very contrasting colors like bright blue and white stripes because dye can bleed from one yarn to the one next to it, potentially ruining the piece. Knowing how something was dyed can also help you if you ever want to redye it. Many items of clothing are sewn with thread that has a different fabric content than the body of the piece, which can make it difficult to dye if you don’t want oddly contrasting hems and seams, but if you know that the piece was garment dyed, then you can be assured that the thread and body will take dye the same way.



An unapproved and unsupervised segment added last-minute by Bhoka

During the writing and research phase of this post, overlord and resident Slugcore PhD, Ab167, decided to experiment.

I am on a cop freeze, in part because I am very busy and was spending too much time online shopping. So I found another way to spend time on clothes.”

Ab167_Dye_Shirt Ab167_Dye

Thrifted Blue Button-Up [Fit Page]

During my impromptu interview, I find out that she’s not quite sure what this shirt started out as, but suspects that it may have been baby pink before her previous attempts to bleach and dye it into submission.

I am the queen of thrifting clothes that would be cool if they were not the color of an infant’s gender-normative swaddling” she proudly states, wiping away a single post-gender tear. 

Right: Old Navy x Ab167 [Fit Page]

I have been sadly burned by grocery store dyes, but I wanted all my clothes to be black, especially the clothes that were baby pink, so it was worth another try.”


Above: Wolverines

They have blue laces, black are on the way.” Ab167 insists in our group discussion.
“My world just exploded.” – Bhoka,
having an earth-shattering realization that she could dye her entire closet black.


Above: Thrifted Jacket [Fit Page]

“Sorry for no before pics, but the jacket was baby pink […] Because I used dye for synthetics, the jacket is totally dyed. Even the plastic zipper (?!).”

I asked if she had helpful tips or tricks to grace our readers with, as one would expect of any blogger. She looked off to the side and paused for a moment before gracing me with following wisdom:

“I feel like I should say something actually helpful, but my only comment on the process is basically ‘Follow the directions, stupid.'”
























Nightwing | Writer
LadySyrupp | Shopping List
Bhoka | Graphics
Ab167 | Interviewee & Hypetrain Conductor

Intro Photo via Flickr

Bonus: For anyone who appreciates a man willing to dye half of his closet to make the perfect tutorial, this is for you:

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