Colours to dye for

Published on: Author: sarahfoskett Leave a comment

by Charlotte Lolita Cameron and Chuance Chen, first year students, MPhil Textile Conservation.

Textile conservators are often required to dye materials such as fabrics and threads for stitch or adhesive supports. Due to the high standards required, dyeing our own materials is preferred, ensuring the end result is light and wash fast and exactly the right colour. At the end of last semester, we had the opportunity to practice dyeing materials for conservation purposes. Over the course of five days we prepared the materials and synthetic dyes to be used: LANASET® for wool, nylon, silk crepeline and silk-thread and NOVACRON® for cotton. Preparation was key and the exact measurements of dyes and additives were calculated in advance.

Chuance – how did we work it all out?

Having previously worked with a different method in Singapore, I thought that the dye class would be beneficial in rethinking the methods used in conservation dyeing. There are two formulas for making the dye recipe calculation: the Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) method and the 100% method. The ‘TCC’ method had been used at the TCC/CTC up until 2013 and will be familiar to those who trained here up until then. The 2 methods are not really that different – only that in the ‘100% method, depth of shade is expressed as a percentage of the total volume of dye, while in the ‘TCC’ method it is expressed as a proportion of the total depth of shade.

I had been practising the ‘TCC’ method for years and was quite comfortable with the way the dye recipes were calculated. However, with an open mind, I worked out my calculation using the 100% method for dyeing the brownish-bordeaux coloured silk habotai samples below.

In applying the new method, I realised there are many advantages to the 100% method:

  • it is easier to visualise the colour direction when the balance of colours is expressed as a percentage.
  • Individual dye percentages remain unchanged when the depth of shade changes
  • it easier to fine tune the dye distribution by making incremental changes to the dye recipe.

The 100% method has quickly become my preferred method, and I am already looking forward to our next dyeing session!

Charlotte – how did we do it?

Conservation dyeing is a precise art and a world away from my previous experiences at college tea dyeing metres of silk dupion with salt! Working to a recipe and using a bain-marie (heated bath) containing beakers we followed each step, with different fabrics requiring differing dye cycles as to when to add the different components and when to raise or lower the temperature of the dye bath. We found that during the dye cycle a balance needed to be achieved between frequency of stirring and the risk of producing blotchy, mangled and/or tangled fabric samples.

Beakers of dye concoctions.


The end result of the course was a range of colours, dyed at different depths of shade and colour combinations. These were put together to form portfolio sheets which can be used to help in deciding future dye recipes. The advantage of such a measured process is that the same recipes and measurements can be followed in the future allowing for reproduceability.

Related information:

Sarah Glenn, V&A blog, ‘Textiles: Dyeing support fabric’ –

Historic Royal Palaces, ‘Dyeing Materials for Conservation’ video –





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