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The Needlework Shop With The Incredible Inventory

Bleeding Colors in Threads

The following article was prepared by our framer for the Stitchers' Paradise newsletter some time back.  This web page is not copyrighted and you may copy and disseminate the material as you see fit.  Please credit Stitchers-Paradise.com for authoring the article.


"NO thread is guaranteed colorfast by manufacturers." Bleeding colors are reasonably rare, but they do happen. This article will tell you how to minimize the risk, if you so choose. (Information enclosed in parentheses within this article are direct quotes from a September/October 1993 article in the Stoney Creek Collection magazine. Stitchers’ also consulted with two experts in the field, Jay Paterson of Rainbow Gallery and Elaine Warner of Needle Necessities.) Even though this article deals with threads, bleeding can also occur with fabrics, beads, paint on painted canvases, etc., and the information is valid for all materials used to stitch a finished piece. Years ago, when the environment and worker safety were not an issue, chemicals used for dyeing were really strong and colors were truly colorfast. In today’s world, with some form of regulations in most countries, having confidence in colorfastness is a thing of the past. Consequently, things we used to do (like steam blocking) need to be re-thought and new methods developed to avoid problems with bleeding colors.

Bleeding can occur either due to excess dye or water soluble dye. When a fiber with excess dye is laundered, it can be rinsed until the excess dye is flushed out. After the dye is flushed, the fiber remains the original color. If the dye is water soluble, it cannot be laundered. If laundered, after the dye is flushed out of the fiber, all color will be gone. The danger with either type of bleeding is that the surrounding fabrics/threads will become contaminated and discolored.

Jay, of Rainbow Gallery, told us two very informative things we did not know:

1. Manufacturers could probably make all threads 100% colorfast, but the increase in manufacturing costs would make the cost of the threads prohibitively expensive. Therefore, bleeding will sometimes occur.

2. Within a single bunch of thread (skein, ball, hank, etc.), there may be some thread that will run and some thread that will not run. That is, you cannot color test a few inches of thread, find it colorfast, and assume the rest of the bunch is colorfast. Shucks!

You have only three choices:

1. Gamble. It’s a pain to wash or try to set the color before you stitch, so you can gamble that your threads won’t bleed and plan on re-stitching if they do.

2. Try to set the colors by prewashing your threads

3. Don’t ever get your piece dirty!

You can blend choices. For example, many beads are not colorfast. You can set the colors in your threads, stitch your piece, launder the piece, then add the beads. Another example of a blended choice are those who decide to gamble if they know the manufacturer...but with an inexpensive kit they prewash threads of unknown origin. If you decide to gamble and you have your framer launder the piece, please be kind and don’t blame the framer if the color runs!

To set the color by prewashing: "Fill your bathroom sink half full with cold to tepid water with 2 Tablespoons of white vinegar and 2 Tablespoons of salt. [Soak your thread, one color at a time] in the basin for 1-2 minutes. Remove [the thread] from the sink, blot it with an old, clean towel, and allow it to dry. PLEASE NOTE: HOT WATER or using a STEAM IRON can re-activate the dyes and could cause bleeding." (we actually recommend that you use another container rather than the sink for the vinegar and salt solution, and, after soaking the threads in the vinegar and salt solution, use the sink faucet to thoroughly rinse residual vinegar and salt out of the threads before blotting dry.) If bleeding occurs while soaking in the basin or color transfers to the towel during blotting, rinse the threads until the bleeding stops. If there is no color left, the threads cannot be laundered. If the color is OK, soak it again for a couple minutes in the vinegar and salt solution and blot dry.

When laundering a piece, use only cold water and a pH balanced detergent. Examples: "No tears" shampoo, Dove, Clear Ivory or Sunlight dishwashing detergents. (If the fibers are wool, you can consider Woolite. Some people, including leading conservationists, swear by it, others swear at it. Contrary to popular rumor, Woolite does not contain bleach.) Launder the piece in a bucket. Slosh gently. Check for cleanliness. If stains are stubborn, let the piece soak. The piece can literally soak for months as long as you change the water/detergent once or twice a week. If you leave the bucket in the bathtub, you can conveniently slosh it a couple times a day.

If the piece is old and delicate, use a big enough basin to launder the piece flat. With an old, delicate piece, it is better in the long run to launder it to remove stains and contaminates that can speed future deterioration than to avoid laundering for fear of ruining the piece.

If colors bleed during laundering, the rule is rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse... Don’t be afraid to rinse 40-50 times! If the bleeding contaminates other fibers, it is possible the piece may be salvaged, even after drying. "Soak the piece in ice cold water until the color starts to come out. Then, rub ice cubes over the area and put it back into fresh ice water and soak again. Repeat these steps until the area is clear. This process may take a few weeks, but often works. (However, the earlier you treat the problem, the higher the rate of success.)"

Once clean, rinse thoroughly until bubbles stop forming in the rinse water. Blot with a clean towel and allow to dry. If the piece needs blocking, block it while drying. Iron, with a press cloth, face down on a terry cloth towel.

If a piece does not need laundering but does need blocking, the framing shop at Stitchers’ Paradise uses a fine cold water spray to ease the fabric. Spraying is preferred because the fibers are lightly misted instead of being soaked. Never use steam to block a piece.

Radish Roots LLC

Radish Roots LLC
Palm Coast Fl. 32137
PH. 386-264-5046 Email hello@radishrootsnpt.com

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