DIY: Chemistry, art equals science to dye for

Maila Rible, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 3:03 PM ET

I'm not going to lie. I'm not a fan of the hippie look. Tossing flowing locks over my shoulders and dancing barefoot at a Dave Matthews concert with the scent of Patchouli wafting through the air just isn't my style.

But if there's one area where flower children and I do see eye-to-eye it might be the awesomeness of tie-dye. Give me a shirt that looks like a rainbow threw up on it and I am in heaven.

My inner craft nerd has spearheaded some interesting attempts at getting vibrant colours to stay put on various fabrics. My inner science geek has then taken a look at the results to better understand the sparkling successes or epic fails.

Whether it's a desire to reinvent an outfit on the cheap or the costume parade that's barreling toward us, folks might be thinking about dipping their hands into a dye bath. To get the best results, repeat after me: Permanent covalent chemical bonds!

It's a mouthful but the concept isn't that scary. In a nutshell, a covalent bond happens when electron pairs are shared between atoms. That's right, your art project involves chemistry on a molecular level. It's at this point the light bulb might be going off as to why it's so hard to get some stains out of fabric - that red wine splotch is now part of a permanent atomic hug.

But one man's stain is another man's dye, so if you want a new colour to adhere to a fabric you also need to know that not all bonds are created equal. Some fibers, especially natural ones like cotton, bond easily with all sorts of dyes. Synthetic fibers aren't nearly so compliant and require special dyes and even heat to get the chemical changes needed for the colour to stick.

Even if you've never taken an art class, your dreams of dressing up as the boss at a Grateful Dead concert can come true. Just do a little prep work.

Experiment with fabric! Before you dunk the T-shirt you got at last year's corporate team-building event, test out a swatch of similar fabric. Maybe even grab a few different fabric blends and seal them in a bag with the dye you plan to use. When you pull them out, note which ones gave you a great shade.

Experiment with a fixer! To really get the colour stuck on your fabric, you might need a little extra something. Soda ash is an example of a dye fixer. It helps attract and bond the dye molecules to certain kinds of cloth. A good thing if you don't want those lovely hues to come out in the wash.

Experiment with dyes! Commercial dyes are available in craft, fabric and even grocery stores. If you're planning a project that requires multiple colours, you can buy a tie-dyeing kit.

But why stop there? People used to make their own dyes from plants, sea snails and even - wait for it - cow urine. If you don't want to go that far, just check the cupboard for some Kool-Aid or a bottle of red wine. The colour from these sources might not be as bright as a store-bought dye, but at least you can drink the leftovers.

 

 


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