Dye Stuff

Dye Stuff

Copyright © 2015-08-04

By Ben Whisman

All Rights Reserved

In the Pink

Back in July, 2015, I posted at Jane Fancher’s blog and at the Shejidan.com fan forum, to get some discussion: Could boys wear pink? Could boys wear pink dress shirts or pink t-shirts; in other words, was there a level of formal or casual dress or a status or class issue; or were there limits on the styles for which boys might wear pink, or was it doable at all? Was there an age range where younger or older boys could or could not wear pink, or teen boys or young men or older men, and so on?

There were some good responses and differing opinions, but not surprisingly, in America and Europe, the American cultural bias about boys and pink holds out. Now, I should remind you, the reader, that I’m male, I grew up in Texas in the 1970’s and 1980’s, in a conservative religious family. I’m also gay, but I was definitely not out as a teen. I wore pink dress shirts occasionally in high school and college, and have since. Other guys I know, very confidently straight and fairly popular, have worn pink dress shirts or hot pink sport shirts and carried it off without anyone questioning anything. And the girls seemed to like it. I’m not sure if the boys liked it, but the guys who wore pink didn’t get hassled, so far as I know.

So this was an interesting topic, because it’s based on our notions about gender roles and sexuality and what’s acceptable for boys or men to wear, and what it says (or doesn’t say) about them, or about us.

About three years ago, friends got me interested in ball jointed dolls. I had been looking for realistic posable figures to use for models for drawing. But I saw how much fun my friends were having with these, including story possibilities, and well, I had to try it. I hadn’t really played with action figures much since I was a kid or early teen, but I’m a writer/artist kind of guy, and amateur voice actor, so the fun of pretent and make-believe and storytelling are still important and familiar to me. Well, I liked it.

Earlier this year, I got Robby, technically, Robert, a Kidz n Cats 18 inch / 45cm doll by Heart and Soul / Sonja Hartmann of Germany. So I have gotten some outfits and props for him.

When I got a pack of t-shirts, several colors, one of the t-shirts was pale pink. I was having a little trouble seeing a little guy Robby’s age wearing a pink t-shirt and not getting teased pretty badly by other boys. This seemed like a real story possibility. But the outcome would likely be to dye the t-shirt.

I then decided I’d get another pink t-shirt and dye one and keep the other for later story use.

Meanwhile, I’d ordered a lavender or lilac (light purple or light violet) polo shirt for him. When the polo shirt arrived, it was not the color in the photo or description. It was a slightly stronger pastel pink with a tiny bit of lavender bluish cast to it, but still “pink.”

Robby might look sharp as a preppie kid, but it seemed a little much to think, real world, that a little boy would not get teased badly about a pink shirt. He didn’t seem like the kind of boy who’d carry it off so well that the other boys would accept that. I’d decided Robby was a sweet kid with an overactive imagination, and not such a little tough guy, or the type of boy who’d just roll his eyes and laugh and go right on and wear it anyway, and be popular with all the girls and boys, just the same. Some boys can do that, of course, but not all of them. That was also a story possibility.

Do or Dye

So I’d decided to dye one of the pale pink t-shirts and the slighly brighter pastel pink polo shirt.

I had some dye left from an attempt a year or two ago to dye a doll / figure to a darker tan. That didn’t work because it was ABS plastic instead of resin. So I had some Rit dye, cocoa brown, and a couple of other bottles of dye I hadn’t used.

I had in mind a slight change: from pink to a light brown, somewhere between the rosy taupe or fawn color popular in the mid-80’s, to about a chocolate milk color. A weak dye bath of the cocoa brown ought to do that, right? So how much to use for the two little shirts, each hardly bigger than a washcloth?

The dye bottle gave instructions for a half batch and a full batch. The bottle was 8 ounces. So if I scaled the recipe, I could do this easily, I thought. But then it hit me, why not use less, a tablespoon of dye and either the salt or vinegar thay recommended, and approximate the hot water amount. Aha, that should work fine, less waste.

I went by the instructions and used what should have been more water, for a weaker dye job. I used one tablespoon of Rit dye, cocoa brown; one tablespoon of salt, because the t-shirt is all-cotton; and a bit more than 2 cups (over 16 ounces) of very hot water, not boiling. I submerged the shirts and shook them constantly for over two minutes, then let them sit in the dye bath while I put things away. I estimate they had between ten and fifteen minutes to sit in the dye bath and soak.

Then I came back, shook vigorously again about a minute, and poured out the dye water, and rinsed out the two little shirts.

As soon as I saw the shirts, I knew immediately things did not go according to plan, in a big way!

The polo shirt barely took the dye. It’s a bit brownish, but not what I’d envisioned. I realized I’d forgot to check its fabric content. I think it’s likely a synthetic that needed vinegar as the fixative instead of salt.

The t-shirt is all-cotton. It soaked up the cocoa brown, chocolate dye color like crazy. It is now a medium to dark cocoa brown. It looks really good, but I had in mind a very light brown, a very weak dye wash.

Well, I’ve learned a whole lot. I am not sure if I’d used less dye and more water, if that would’ve given me the lighter brown I was after. But now I’ve dyed cloth for the first time, and now I know the results can be very different from what you’d expect. So the trick is to get the experience and to learn how to adjust the process to get the colors or effects you want.

The two little shirts are drying now, before I put them in to wash, to fix the dye and get out any excess. I plan to be careful not to leave the shirts on the little guy, to avoid the chance he might pick up dye into his vinyl skin.

Once the shirts are washed and dried, I’ll have pictures of the results. This should be interesting.

I expect to be happy with the medium-dark cocoa brown t-shirt, even though I would’ve liked it to be a lighter brown. I could always try again with another shirt later.

I might want to adjust the color on the polo shirt. We’ll see how it turns out.

I still feel I learned a lot and had fun doing it, and now I think I could try other dye projects and learn more. If I like it, I could try selling projects, with a little more experience.

To Dye For

Now I am very curious about cloth dyeing. I know this is a very old art process, related to inks and paints, long used for dyeing cloth and fibers for all sorts of purposes. I know from art and calligraphy that dye stuffs were prized in ancient times for things like indigo, sepia, Tyrian purple, and a great many others, and teas and onionskins and so on were other sources.

So I know that ancient and medieval peoples used many natural substances to dye cloth (and leather) and to create paints and inks and colored wax.

I know also that with the refinement of modern chemistry beginning in the 1700’s through the present, people began creating more stable and less toxic synthetic dyes, along with refinements of natural dye stuffs.

Therefore, I’m curious to learn some about dyeing as an art and craft, for fun and potential profit.

I’d welcome pointers to books, ebooks, videos, and rescources.

I am a science fiction fan and so the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), though I’m not a member, and their crafts are of interest.

I studied liberal arts (English, French, etc.) and some computer science in college. So history and culture, including pioneer, New World, and Old World crafts, are also of interest.

Demonstrations at pioneer villages or Ren Faires, for instance, have always been interesting.

So comments and suggestions and resources are quite welcome!