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Bleaching/Dyeing

Dyeing/Bleaching 1I typically use a sparse color scheme on my flies.  I am fanatical, however, about those colors matching my artistic vision and each other perfectly.  It is nearly impossible to find commercially available materials with just the right colors, which means that I often have to modify or create them myself by bleaching and dyeing.  This project presented a particularly interesting problem, in that I found commercially available all the materials I would need in gorgeous colors.  I found a ginger ostrich plume at a local flyshop that was exactly the color I was looking for, and the flax that I ordered had a wonderfully grassy color.  The problem was that the colors weren’t the same.  In fact, they weren’t even close – they clashed.  In this project more than any other, the colors had to literally blend into one another seamlessly.  That was dictated by the fairy tale.  So I had work to do.

Dyeing/Bleaching 2Fortunately, my mother is a hairdresser widely recognized for her ability to dye absolutely perfect colors.  Anyone who does any dyeing, even commercial dyers, will tell you that dyeing is an extremely sensitive process, and that matching results even from lot to lot using the same substrate and same dye is nearly impossible.  I am an amateur dyer at best, so for me the goal was less lofty – I just wanted the colors to look good together.  I called my mother and came up with a tentative strategy.

First, I wanted to lighten the colors, which were too distinct and had to be muted.  I used a professional-grade hair color remover and bleached both the flax and ostrich herl.  I used several different exposure times to get a wide range of colors.  That worked well, getting the colors much closer to each other, but I still wasn’t satisfied.  I wanted a little more yellow in the ginger and a little more orange in the flax.

I prefer natural dyes for aesthetic purposes in spite of the difficulties they present.  I attempted to dye both bleached materials with osage orange.  Having never used osage, I was expecting a more orange color than I got – the osage turned both materials almost lemon yellow – not at all what I was looking for.  I then tried overdyeing the original ginger ostrich for a short time with osage, hoping the heated bath would leach some of the ginger out and the osage would give it a slightly yellower hue.  That improved the color somewhat, but it still wasn’t quite right.

Dyeing/Bleaching 3At last I came up with an idea that just might work: I would attempt to transfer the dye from the ginger ostrich herl to the flax.  Assuming it was an acid-leveling dye (the most common type used on protein substrates like feathers), I thought that I could leach the color from the ostrich by heating it in water, then remove the ostrich, add acid and salt to the bath, and add the flax.  My hope was that the acid and salt would help the flax absorb the dye.  I was quite excited when I added the flax and saw it immediately turn a beautiful ginger color, but my excitement was short-lived, because the color washed right back out again when the material was rinsed.  While my assumption that the dye was acid-leveling might have been incorrect, it was more likely that the types of materials were too different from each other for the transfer to work, one being animal protein (ostrich) and the other being vegetative cellulose (flax).  After drying the flax, though, I realized that some of the color had stayed in the flax, and that the color was actually quite close to that of the partially bleached ostrich herl.  The colors were pale but straw-like, and I felt that they matched each other and the gold very nicely.  I had also learned a dye-transfer technique potentially valuable to me in the future.

 

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