Couldn’t You Just Dye?!

There are few things in the fashion industry that are as straight-out fun as fabric dyeing. It feels a bit like someone offered you a box of crayons with no limitations. In fact, after you immerse yourself in the world of dyes and washes, you might find alternative options for your collection that you had never even considered.

This article offers up only a few of the dye and wash possibilities available to you. There are so many more! We recommend you research in even more detail. 

So let’s jump right in, starting with different types of dyes and the appropriate fabrics for each.

Types of Dyes and Their Recommended Fabrics

  • Fiber Reactive Dye. First thing to keep in mind is not all fabrics absorb dye the same way. Fiber Reactive Dye is often recommended for Cotton, Linen, Rayon, Silk, Wool, and Nylon. As you’ll note, they are all natural fibers (except for Nylon). Fiber-reactive dye works exactly as the name implies. A chemical reaction takes place between the dye molecules and the fabric molecules. The acidity of the dye requires the fabric to be relatively basic in fiber content in order to form this bond, hence the natural fiber requirement.
  • Direct Dye. This dye is applied directly to the fabric without the aid of an affixing agent. Direct dye can be either fermented (natural dyes) or chemically reduced (synthetic vat and sulfur dyes) before being applied. Direct dyes are largely used for cotton fibers and are water-soluble.
  • Acid Dye. This type of fabric dyes is used in dyeing protein fibers such as wool and silk. Acid dye, by itself, is a large category of fabric dyes and includes various other types. Leveling acid dyes and lancet acid dyes are the two popular types of acid dyes.
  • Basic/Cationic Dye. These are commonly used to dye fabrics such as pure silk, nylon, wool, and other modified acrylic fabrics. It is a very common choice in our industry. Usually, acetic acid is added to the dye bath to increase the absorption of the dye. 
  • Other dye types include Mordant Dye (often used for polyester, silk, rayon, acrylic wool, and nylon), Sulfur Dye (inexpensive and commonly used for cotton fabrics) and Disperse Dye (for great results on synthetic fabrics). 

As you can see, there are many different types of dye; suitable for many different types of fabrics. But before you think that’s all there is to fabric treatments, read on.

Textile Washes

To a layperson, washing is a matter of simply tossing something in a washing machine to clean it. Conversely, industrial apparel washing is a cutting-edge technology. This technology is commonly used to modify the hand, appearance, aesthetic, and comfort of your fabrics.

  • Normal washing is the simplest type of washing with the lowest washing cost. Normal wash removes finishing agents often present in new fabrics. The fabric typically feels a little softer after the wash. 
  • Bleach washing is exactly as it sounds. In this case, a partial color fading effect is produced. In case of bleach washing, the fabric is normally dyed with direct or reactive dye prior to bleaching.
  • Stone Wash is often done on the garments made from heavy fabrics like denim and jeans. Due to this type of washing, different types of irregular color fading effect is produced. 

  • Acid Wash. Garments made from denim and heavy fabrics are great candidates for acid wash. The use of a pumice stone produces an irregular (yet controllable) fading effect. 

  • Enzyme Wash is another great option for garments made from heavy fabrics like jeans and denim. As with traditional stone washing, the intended effect is a faded appearance and softer feel. 

  • Sand Blasting is a mechanical process designed to create a faded effect on heavy fabrics like denim and jeans. The sand blasting process is normally followed by a wash or dyeing process. 

  • Super White Wash is typically done on the PFD fabrics. Due to this type of the step-process, the fabric becomes extremely white. 

  • Caustic Wash. In case of caustic wash, printing is done on the fabric without pre-treatment of the fabric. During caustic wash 20% – 30% pigment is washed out, creating different color fading effects. This is how you can achieve that vintage look.

A World of Choices

This article would not be complete without a discussion about the environmental impact of dyeing. It comes as no surprise to anyone that traditional fabric dye and fabric dyeing techniques have a very high environmental impact. Traditional methods tend to leave a big negative carbon footprint.

Here’s the good news. According to Eco World Online, “Cold dyeing, dry heat fixation, and vegetable tanning or chrome-free tanning are some processes that textile manufacturers and dyeing houses use to develop eco-friendly fabrics.”

They cite advanced processes such as eco-bleaching, green bleaching, low temp bleaching, fiber-reactive dye, biodegradable dye, azo-free dye, and herbal dyes.

Excuse the Colorful Language: A Glossary of Terms

We are certain you’ve noticed that our industry has a whole language unto itself. At times it can be a bit confusing, and nowhere is it more evident than in the fabric treatment segment. Allow us to decipher some of it for you.

  • Piece (or Fabric) Dyeing. Piece dyeing refers to dying fabric material before it is ever cut into a finished garment. The PFD fabric is dyed in large pieces and can be done on knit or woven fabrics. Piece dying is also more economical for single color dyeing in large volumes. Another word for piece dyeing is fabric dyeing.
  • Framing. Once the material has been dyed, the dyed “pieces” of fabric will be sent directly from the dye house to the framer. Framing is the process of stretching the treated fabric back into its original shape, making sure the grainlines are aligned again.
  • Garment Dyeing. Garment dyeing is the process of dying a garment after it has been cut and sewn. The dye is absorbed in the piece of clothing during the washing process, which results in even color coverage. Garment dyeing is a popular choice for knit fabrics, as it results in a softer fabric. Garment dyeing is also a popular choice for darker colors, as it produces richer hues.
  • Pigment Dyeing. This may be one of the most confusing terms of all. Pigment dyeing is really a “subset” of garment dyeing in that it’s typically done with finished garments. In this case, the pigment acts more like fabric paint than a traditional dye. The dye sits on top of the fibers versus embedding, or penetrating the entire garment. The pigment adheres to the garment but does not actually saturate it. Pigments are more likely to wear off after several washes and the color typically fades, but the end result is a vintage, lived-in look. 

Regardless of what dye or wash method you choose, be sure and let your development partner know that you plan on using a treatment on your fabric or garments. Many fabric treatments can result in shrinkage (due to the hot water involved). Your pattern maker can make the appropriate adjustments to your pattern, providing they have a head’s up! 

At Teg, our Fabric Treatment Managers are quite familiar with the myriad of dye and wash processes available to you, even the newer eco-friendly ones. We’d love to talk with you about the creative plans you have for your collection. Find us on the web at or give us a call at 800-916-0910.

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