Dyeing Straps for a Tote Bag

Have you ever started a project that somewhat took on a life of its own? That’s how I feel about this project. It started off simple. My daughter Lizzie is getting married and we wanted to make special gifts for her six bridesmaids. The idea was for her to design the fabric and I was to weave it and then sew tote bags. My aunt Dee Dee made these beautiful tote bags for all the women in the family for Christmas and we wanted to model our bags after those. Well, six tote bags grew to ten, then twelve and then sixteen- and now finally twenty tote bags! Yikes! We will be busy. Here are Dee Dee’s bags- aren’t they awesome!

Dee Dee wove the fabric and then dyed the webbing for the handles. That’s what we’ll be doing today- dyeing the handles for our tote bags.

Let’s first talk a little bit about the webbing and the dye we will be using. I purchased this webbing at our local Hobby Lobby. It’s one inch cotton webbing and it’s pretty sturdy. The dye we will be using is Pro MX Reactive Dyes from ProChemical. It’s important to purchase the correct dye for your project. A dye designed to work on protein fibers (such as wool) will not work. We will be using the directions provided on the Pro Chem website specific to this dye.

Prior to dyeing, there’s a little prep work that needs to be done. First cut your webbing to the desired length. For our tote bags we cut the webbing into 55 inch strips. Each bag will need two 55 inch straps. Since we are dyeing with five different dye colors – meaning making five different dye baths- I decided the best way to approach this is to weigh a single strap and multiple that by how many straps I put in my bath. In this case each strap weighed 25 grams. If you are only making one dye bath, weigh the total amount of what you intend to dye (must be dry).

Now wash the straps (or material you are using) in the washing machine in hot water with regular laundry soap and about 2 TBS of soda ash. After the cycle is complete, transfer the damp straps into a water bath making sure all the material is submerged. I put my straps in a tub and put small plates on top to keep them submerged. Let this soak overnight. We want the material fully saturated so that the dye is distributed evenly.

It’s finally time to dye! First let’s gather the materials we will need for the job. Just a safety note: Never use materials used for dyeing for cooking- never, ever. Be sure to keep these materials separate. So here’s what you’ll need:

  • Scale(s) for weighing your dry material, dye, salt, and soda ash. We are weighing in grams.
  • Stainless steel pot. Must be large enough to hold your material and the water. Your material must be able to move easily.
  • Spoons. Large metal spoons for stirring and small plastic spoons for scooping.
  • Measuring tools- measuring cups, measuring spoons and a container to measure out a gallon.
  • Dye powder
  • Soda Ash
  • Salt
  • Metaphos (water softener)- Optional
  • Cupcake cups
  • Safety equipment – gloves and N95 mask.

Let’s take a peek at this chart contained in the directions for this specific dye.

I’m going to be dying 10 straps- enough to make 5 bags. Each strap weighs 25 grams making my total dry weight for this batch 250 grams. This translates to .551 pounds. I’m going to be rounding it to a half a pound to make the calculations easier. I’m going to be dying this batch of straps using the “Brick” color dye and I want it to be of a medium saturation. So my calculation for the amount of dye powder, salt and soda ash (dye activator) will be taken from the “Medium” column: Dye Powder- 3.75 grams, salt- 340 grams, soda ash- 22.5 grams. Here we go:

The first step is to dissolve the dye powder. Measure out two cups of room temperature water. Now put on that N95 mask (always needed when working with dye as the powder may become airborne) and measure out the dye. Put the dye in the water and stir until the powder is completely dissolved.

Now to prepare the dye bath. The directions for this dye say that you will need 2 1/2 gallons of room temperature water for every pound of fabric. For my dye bath that means I will need to put 1 1/4 gallons of water in the stainless steel pot. Now measure out your salt. I need 340 grams. After measuring the salt, add it to the bath and stir until it is dissolved. If you opt to use the water softener, add on teaspoon in at this time. Stir until dissolved.

Now add the fabric to the dye bath and stir continuously for 10 to 15 minutes.

It’s time now to dissolve the soda ash. For my batch, I need 22.5 grams of soda ash. I measured it out and then dissolved it in two cups of warm water.

Now we need to briefly remove the straps from the dye bath (be sure to put on those rubber gloves), add the soda ash to the pot and give it a good stir. The straps are then returned to the pot.

Stir the pot with the fabric continuously for 30 minutes and then once every five minutes for the remaining 30 minutes (total 60 minutes). After the time is up, dump the dye bath and rinse the straps.

You’ll want to continue rinsing until the water runs clean. After rinsing, wash the straps in the washing machine to be sure all excess dye is washed away. Well, that’s it. Now we have dyed straps for our totes. Here are the four colors we dyed. They turned out great!

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