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Vat dyes are an ancient class of dyes, based on the natural dye, indigo, which is now produced synthetically. Vat dyeing is a process that refers to dyeing that takes place in a bucket or vat. Almost any dye, including fiber-reactive dyes, direct dyes, and acid dyes, can be used in a vat dye. Cotton, wool, and other fibers can be all dyed with vat dyes. Although almost all dyeing can be done in a vat, the term vat dye is used to describe a chemical class of dyes that are applied to cellulosic fibre (i.e. cotton) using a redox reaction as described below. Because of the use of caustic soda, and the very high ph of the dye bath in the dyeing process, wool cannot be dyed using vat dyestuffs. Wool is soluble in caustic soda solutions. It is possible to dye wool at room temperatures with indigo (vat blue 1) and other low substantive vat dyes using soda ash as the alkali source with very little strength loss. Vat red 10, vat violet 13 and vat orange 1 can be applied in this manner as well.
Most vat dyes, which require a reducing agent to solubilize them, are less suitable than fiber-reactive dyes for amateurs. Chemical reactions such as oxidation, reduction, pH control are often necessary; even the dissolution process necessitates measuring out appropriate quantities of caustic soda and sodium hydrosulphite in order to achieve reduction. The dye is soluble only in its reduced (oxygen-free) form. The fiber is immersed repeatedly in this oxygen-free dyebath, then exposed to the air, whereupon the water-soluble reduced form changes color as oxygen turns it to the water-insoluble form.
Indigo is an example of this dye class: it changes from yellow, in the dyebath, to green and then blue as the air hits it.
Not all vat dyeing is done with vat dyes.
The vat dyes have high color fastness, which is uncommon in other dye classes. On the other hand, vat dyes tend to have poor rubbing fastness, but this can be mitigated with special treatments to the fabric.
Indigo is subject to major crocking (i.e., rubbing the dye off onto other items) unless it is applied carefully. This means use a weaker dyebath, and dipping many times, rather than a single strong dipping.
Light-oxidized vat dyes
Inkodye is a type of vat dye that uses light rather than oxygen to "fix" the dye, with a wide variety of possible effects. These dyes, which are chemically similar to vat dyes, are developed by light instead of being applied in an oxygen-free bath and being developed in the fabric by exposure to oxygen. Inkodyes are true dyes, not fabric paints. A dye itself attaches to the fabric; fabric paint includes a glue-like binder, which imparts a stiffer feeling to the fabric. The process is more difficult than tie-dyeing.
Imagery on Fabric by Jean Ray Laury
The Chemistry of Vat Dyes by Dianne Epps
- Inkodye - Light-sensitive vat dye
- PRO Chemical & Dye - Vat Dye Instructions
- - Vat Dye Application techniques