Steam Fixing Acid Dyes

Silk ScarfSilk dyes will produce more vibrant colour results than iron fix silk paints. The dyes penetrate the fibres and are locked within the fabric through the steaming process, ensuring greater wash and light fastness. The results of this process far outweigh any inconvenience as the silk remains supple while silk paints tend to leave a residue on the surface making the fabric stiffer. The colours from silk paints (which contain water, pigment and an acrylic binder) are set on the fabric when the heat from an iron ‘melts’ the binder to create a bond. The handle of the silk fabric is less fluid than silk fabric that has been painted with steam fix dyes.

The first thing to know about steam fixing is that it is a ‘dry’ process. The dye is bonded to the fabric at the temperature of steam. The fabric itself must be kept dry throughout the fixing process, any water in contact with the painted areas will cause the colours to run or smudge. Yarns and fibres dyed with acid dyes can also be heat set using the steam method.

To Steam Fix your Work

  1. Silk folded for steamingExpensive equipment is not necessary to steam fix your work. A pressure cooker is useful for small pieces, and a bamboo rice steamer, or colander, fitted over a saucepan of boiling water can be very effective. The use of a large, specially designed steamer (the Uhlig steamer is pictured right) is only necessary if you are fixing longer lengths and quantities and would be a useful addition to a workshop or classroom.
  2. First make sure that all the painted surfaces are completely dry. Lay the work flat on a sheet of paper slightly larger than the silk fabric, several sheets of overlapped paper may be needed if the length of fabric is quite long. The purpose of the paper is to avoid any contact between layers of the painted silk and to prevent gutta, where used, from sticking to the next layer. Lining paper will do for small items, but it is fragile and may rip, allowing contact and transfer of the dye between layers. Special steaming paper is advisable and is significantly stronger.
  3. Keep silk dry and wrap in foilStarting from one side, fold the packet gently until it is small enough to fit within the steamer leaving a space around the edge; this is the point at which tears in the paper can occur. Now wrap the packet in aluminium foil. Remember water must not get into the packet, so ensure the edges are sealed tightly, and any steam condensing on the packet in the heating up period can not run inside and ruin your work.
  4. Run about 5cm of water into the pressure cooker and put the pack inside, keeping it well above the water surface by placing it on a basin. Put a further disc of foil over the pack to act as a shield from any drips of water.
  5. Setting silk dyes with steamSeal the lid, without using the pressure valve, and raise to the boil over 15 minutes before steaming gently for 45 minutes. Allow to cool and open carefully. Steaming over an open pan will take up to 2 hours. The steaming paper can often be reused, but the foil may well leak and allow water in to ruin your next project. Our image (right) shows silk dye being set in a colander set above the level of the boiling water. The colander is covered with a lid to contain the steam.

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