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The Material Dying Process

Material Dying ProcessHave you ever wondering how clothes get their colour? More often than not it comes from a dye added to the material during the early stages of manufacturing. We’ve written a short article which explains one method of dyeing material and how it is used to colour garments of different types.

What is a dye?

A dye is a coloured substance that has a chemical affinity to another substance – in this instance, material. There are two types of material dye, natural or man-made.

Pre-19th century the only option for colouring material was to use a natural dye. These dyes were derived from plants, invertebrates or minerals. During this time the most common form of natural dye came from plant roots, berries, bark, leaves, wood, fungi and lichens.

In the late 19th century, however, the first synthetic dye was invented and these are now widely used in the colouring of material. Man-made dyes are formed from different chemical compounds, the most popular being the Azo types. In mass manufacturing, synthetic dyes have become very popular due to their low production cost and easy manipulation. The broad range of colour in clothing manufacture has become possible thanks to synthetic dye.

The Dyeing Process

In reality there are many different techniques available for the application of synthetic dyes to fabric. It is usually dependant on the type of fabric you are dying. A common method for applying dye to material however is by using a mordant.

A mordant is a chemical substance used to help set dyes on fabrics by forming a “coordination complex” with the dye which then attaches to the material. The term mordant derives from the French term mordre, which means "to bite".

Types of mordants include tannic acid, alum, urine, chrome alum, sodium chloride, and certain salts of aluminium, chromium, copper, iron, iodine, potassium, sodium, and tin.

The process for dying material with a mordant happens in three stages.

  • Pre-mordanting (onchrome). This is where a fabric is initially treated with a mordant on its own e.g. soaked in tannic acid.
  • Meta-mordanting (metachrome). The next stage is to add the mordant to the dye bath. The material is then soaked in the dye bath.
  • Post-mordanting (afterchrome). The final stage of the process is where the newly dyed material is again treated with a mordant to ensure the dye takes to the material properly.

The type of mordant used in the manufacture process affects the shade and fastness of the dye.

Dye Finishing

After the application of dye the material is treated with extra chemicals for stain resistance, texture and anti-pilling protection etc.

The application of dye, natural or synthetic, is what gives our garments an almost indefinite range of available colours. The mixing of different pigments creates a rich blend of tones that we see popularised through the different seasons of the year.

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