A dyeing conversation

Julie writes:

From your experience, are there any special requirements I should look for when sourcing a dye house?  It seems there are several (US & Canada) who have sample dyeing capabilities, which is my most immediate need.  Important questions I should ask? …you’ll get a kick out of this newbieism: I have been pronouncing greige  “greege” instead of “grayzhe” or “gray” for a week. 

I know almost nothing about dye technology. Worse, when I looked up greige, I found I hadn’t been pronouncing it correctly either. In school, I was taught to say it like “grayg” (rhymes with craig). The dictionary says gr or grzh. For the technical portion of your question, I forwarded it on to Miracle who’s had experience in dyeing and sourcing dye houses.

Miracle responds:

Honestly, I cannot be of much help, because when I had my trims dyed, I used the dye house that my trim supplier uses.

And with my ongoing dye issue, I have no clue as to requirements, I’ve just been working from referrals. I asked my contractor for the name of the dye houses their clients have worked with, because they already have a working relationship. And honestly, I’m probably not going to stray from that because the contractor has years of experience dealing with them and they already know how each other is used to doing things.

My recommendation would be to work that way than to just find a dye house from scratch.

Julie responds:

It is crazy…the recommended dye house only charges $60/per color, but no lab dip!  Yikes!  Seems like other dye houses I have contacted charge upwards of $200/color including the lab dip.  I know it’s worth it, but I am having a hard time finding industry “standard” pricing. 

Miracle writes:

Where are you located? I’m in California, and there are a lot of dyehouses. Most of the ones in So Cal have a $50 min dye charge. And your $50 min could be either your dye run OR your lab dip, either way, you’re paying $50. It’s a commodity down there. Some will do a minimum of $30, but that was 2 years ago, they might all be up to $50 now. Contact Cotton Incorporated, they have a list of garment dyers and they can help you out.

They don’t have a standard per se, but the competition is tougher in southern California, so that’s what keeps prices in the same range.

And they will dye light weight items as well, because I had trims dyed and the dye charge was $20 per color. Now I don’t know if that’s because the trim supplier has a deal with the dye house, or if that was the dye house’s going rate for trims (it was La Carona, if you need to know, they have a good reputation).

Julie responds: 

I want to use a reputable dye house for my show samples.  I spoke to several & felt comfortable with the house Miracle recommended.  I also decided to cut first, dye later, rather than dye greige at this point.  So, I need my completed garments dyed, as well as some trims for another garment in progress.   I had hoped to dye it all in one batch to save costs & keep the color consistent between the 2 styles. 
What they tell me: they no longer dye trims, only garments; my finished garments are no problem.   After more discussion the manager tells me they will dye zippers if they are 100% cotton.  So I take this to mean they may dye trims altogether…depending.  Depending on what?  I didn’t want to push my luck with more questions seeing as I had gotten them to agree on zippers! 
Question #1:   What is the resistance to “dyeing trims”…if they say they’ll dye zippers & garments anyway?  Are small pieces a pain?
Question #2:  What is the difference in dyeing infant-sized tops vs. a bunch of pocket & collar pieces?   I can’t see how a zipper is any more (or less) of a pain than collar pieces, but then again, I have never done this & have no idea how all this works.  I admit my ignorance in this area.  Maybe there is a BIG difference for the dyer?  Educate me.

Question about process:
Let’s say I want to dye zippers, drawcords, and collar pieces Pantone #123.  I also want to dye 15 completed garments the same exact color. Is it safe to say they’d get my bundle of garments, zippers, collar pcs, etc. (all 100% cotton) labeled “Pantone #123″ & throw it all in the vat?

I imagine it to work something like this.  I guess I can’t understand why they look at certain pieces as apples & others as oranges.  I could have understood it with a zipper– has metal teeth, could snag fabric, etc, but since they are willing to do those, why not waistbands or collars?

My hunch is they can do it, but would rather not.  They will do it, but only if they must.   Apparently it is a pain?  I’m sure they don’t profit a great amount.  Why even do sample garments, then?  In hopes of production business? By the way, they were extremely nice, though very busy.

Miracle responds:

1- In my experience, they often don’t dye all trims in the same dyebath even when they can be dyed together. I had to dye nylon lace and elastic trim and they used different dye baths. Those two items can be dyed together, but I didn’t want to argue on a technical level about it. BUT, most of the time, it is because there can be different absorption rates for different items. They could dye zippers and drawcord together and the zippers could come out a darker shade and the drawcord lighter, for example.
2- They may dye trims only when the trims are given to them by a trim company they already work with, as I have mentioned before. They will have experience working with that vendors’ items.
3- Cut pieces are harder to dye than finished garments, I don’t think many dye houses want to dye cut pieces. There are too many issues to consider. Have your pieces been adjusted for shrinkage that might occur during dyeing? Will they fray or fall apart?

Is it safe to say they’d get my bundle of garments, zippers, collar pcs, etc. (all 100% cotton) labeled “Pantone #123” & throw it all in the vat?

No, they would not. Even if you dye 100% cotton, usually (for example) they will not dye jersey with fleece. Different absorption rates. They often are not very high tech, but they often aren’t very sloppy either. It may be a good idea for you to work with a contractor that does a lot of garment dye, so they can guide you accordingly.

In a similar vein, I received an email from Angela at Estephanian Originals about their dye services. I haven’t ever used their services so I can’t say either way about the company. Here’s a portion of the email Angela sent me.

You see it everywhere, garment dye.  And why garment dye? Because garment dye gives the flexibility to have many looks on the same PFD (prepared for dying) blank, minimizing inventory.  But garment dye and dye techniques are difficult to achieve,  they require A LOT of experience. In the world of fashion your ideas are only as good as the people who produce them for you. We are Estephanian Originals located in Duarte, southern California.  A team of master craftspersons and artists that have been producing hand made apparel for over 20 years.  We work with garment dying and cut parts on ALL fabrics (except poly). We achieve beautiful results on cotton, nylon and wools using: airbrush, silkscreen, tie dye, hand dye, saturate, honeywash, splatter, antiqued, most anything.  

A lot of companies offer “basic” dying but not developed designs and techniques and NOT on all fabrics ( except poly).  Dye types and processes also differ! We only use the highest quality products, cheap products and cheap labor do not pay off! We use reactive dyes on cottons and other knits,  acid dyes on nylons, silks and wools and set with steam leaving very little waste water. Other companies use salts to set their dyes and excessive amounts of water waste or nasty pigment dyes, all which are hard on the environment. 

Remember Estephanian Originals for all your hand crafted garments, we have a in house design team to assist you. Call with any questions (805) 648-2084. 

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  1. Karren says:

    As a dyer I have some comments to add.

    First different fibers take different dyes. Different fabrics of the same fiber come out of the same bath different colors — may be not the same colors to start with, or different chemicals in the fibers, shiny fabrics look lighter than matte ones.
    You can not one dye batch of mixed fibers and have the same color on each fiber.

    Example: I had a color formula for a pale aquamarine I wanted to use on a Rayon/silk velvet. I used my formula for that color on silk and got a yellow silk ground with a pale blue nap. No aquamarine. The aquamarine was mixed from a yellow dye and a blue dye and the yellow had more affinity for the silk and the blue for the rayon, I say with hind sight. To get aquamarine on this mixed fiber I would have to reformulate (new lab dip) or dye twice.

    I recently dyed a test piece of a silk shantung gazar in with my usual china silk and it came out much darker. Gazar still has the sericin (gum) in it that makes it stiff. The sericin is also a protein and dyes too, making it darker.

    The big problem with trims/fabrics are unknown fiber content and finishes. Wash and wear finishes, etc. prevent the penetration of dye. Fabrics /trims from sources that you can not trust must be tested first. Testing is dyeing it to see if its takes the dye properly– same process as dyeing, could cost the same. We dyers buy fabrics that are prepared for dyeing (PFD). Dirt, spinning oils, wax from cutting blades can all make for spotty dyeing.

    Garment dyers are machines that tumble the goods around , much like a washing machine, for the duration of the dye processing. With fiber reactive dyes for cotton that could be 1.25 hrs follows by 2 or more vigorous wash cycles. Would your cut pieces survive that much agitation? Your garments?

    Garment dyeing is a niche market, but and works well for T-shirts–finshed seams, no interfacings or bulky seams. Thread fiber content must be the same as the fabric or it won’t match after dyeing. Ever see 100% cotton black garment dyed T-shirts with white poly or poly/cotton thread?

    Dyeing an even color (same hue, value everywhere on the piece) is very tricky business, much depends on the uniformity of the prepartion -bleaching, desizing- before it goes into the dye, hence the desire for PFD fabrics from a known source.

    When a friend comes to me with a beloved garment they want dyed, it is a bad day. The garment usually has spots, salts from perspirations, uneven wear and dyeing will make all those small variations very noticable. I do everything I can to avoid the unhappy outcome and not dye the piece, but atlas some friend are too hard to say no to.

  2. gabriella says:

    re: the pronunciation of Greige. I think it was originally an English corruption of the French word ‘beige’ (being the French for neutral). Therefore I’m pretty sure they sound the same. Just pretend you are saying beige but growling at the beginning of the word; gr…eige.

    I also think there’s probably a dozen other variations that are commonly used and accepted.

    (P.S. Julie, I said it greege as well for years. My dyer never corrected me because he’s a very nice man.)

  3. Suz Summers says:

    I did a short, (very short) stint as a freelance designer for a fabric jobber here in Georgia. I had to travel to the printers when they were printing my designs to approve the colors as they proofed them. My boss had been in the fabric biz forever, and his dad before him. He, and all the guys at the printers, said “grey goods”; without the slightest hint of an ending to the “grey”.

  4. Miracle says:

    He, and all the guys at the printers, said “grey goods”; without the slightest hint of an ending to the “grey”.

    It’s actually common, and perfectly acceptable to say ‘grey goods”. In fact, I have never (audibly) heard anyone pronounce it any other way, even mills.

    The big problem with trims/fabrics are unknown fiber content and finishes. Wash and wear finishes, etc. prevent the penetration of dye. Fabrics /trims from sources that you can not trust must be tested first.

    This is a VERY good point. Way back when I raved about Mokuba to Kathleen, one of the things I loved was that the fiber content and care instructions (machine washable, dry clean only, etc.) were clearly marked for every trim.

  5. Kathleen says:

    Wow, thanks Karren!

    It’s actually common, and perfectly acceptable to say ‘grey goods”. In fact, I have never (audibly) heard anyone pronounce it any other way, even mills.

    This made me laugh out loud. Regarding vocabulary, there is a big disconnect from what is taught in schools and what people use in real life (which is why I discussed it so much in the book). I guess we can add “greige” to the list of words like croqui, atelier, sloper -and “moulage” (!)- that are rarely used by working people. Impress other designers with “croqui” but say “sketch” to your contractor. It leaves a better impression :).

    If you try to impress people with your language practices, it’s more likely to backfire than not. If a contractor thinks you’re silly, they won’t take your work and they’ll move onto to the next designer in line and there are plenty waiting in line behind you these days.

    I always caution about using design school vocabulary; I don’t even like it when people use it on this site because it’s not real life. I mean, I love a good word as much as the next guy but working in a factory doesn’t approximate successful completion of the verbal portion of the SAT. Contractors are blue collar -but they’re not stupid- who may think you’re trying to imply you’re better than they are by your language practices. They’ve been doing this their whole lives and have rarely (or ever) heard these words.

  6. Amanda Rodriguez says:

    We deal with a couple of fabric suppliers who use the terms PFD (prepared for dyeing) or PFP (prepared for printing).

  7. Erica Jong says:

    I’m interested in learning more about this source for fabric printing here in Georgia, mentioned in Suz Summers post earlier in this thread. I am in Atlanta and my focus is to only work with local artists/contractors.

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