Dyeing Silk Mawata

Silk can seem tricky to dye, but the results are almost always stunning!  Silk soaks up color and has an unmatched sheen.   Mawata (sometimes called hankies) is a versatile preparation and one of the most forgiving forms of silk.

You will need:

  • silk mawata (homemade or purchased)
  • 1 gallon zip top bag
  • food dye or professional acid dye
  • vinegar or citric acid
  • water
  • plastic wrap
  • a small pot
  • a steamer basket or strainer
  • heavy, plastic gloves
  • squirt bottles, like condiment bottles
  • tongs

Before you attempt any dye experiment, please remember safety. While food dyes are safe to use in your regular cookware, many dyes and their mordants are not. You may wish to have a separate set of dye pots, lids, spoons, eye protection and gloves which are only used for dyeing.


Soak Your Silk

Place silk mawata into a plastic zip-top bag.  Fill the bag with water and squeeze out as much air as possible.  Leave this bag in the sink overnight up to 48 hours.  Silk needs to be fully saturated to absorb dye properly.  If you skip out on this step, your colors will be pale.

Prepare Your Dye

If you are using commercial dyes, follow the instructions on the package.  For the dyes I use, I mix roughly 1/2 cup of hot water, 1 tsp citric acid, and 1/2 tsp dye in a squirt bottle and I like to prepare 3-5 colors.  To keep it simple for this tutorial, think of it as an art, not a science.   Just know that more dye will result in a richer color, less dye will result in a paler color, and if you use too much dye, the excess will wash out.  As you get deeper into dyeing, you’ll find the right balance for you.

Prepare  Your Counter

Cover your counter with plastic wrap.  I usually use two lengths of wrap overlapped in the center and I am careful that they are pressed together to form a seal.  Otherwise, your dye will leak out during the steaming process.  If you have extra-wide plastic wrap, this works better.  If you’re concerned about leaking dye on your counter, lay down a layer of newspaper before you apply the plastic wrap.  This will soak up any small spills.

Time to Dye

Press the excess water from your mawata which have been soaking overnight.  Lay your silk on your plastic wrap.  I try to dye no more than 1 oz of fiber at a time to encourage the dye to penetrate through the layers.   Using your squeeze bottle, apply the dye.  I tap the tip of the bottle into the fiber and squeeze, again, so that the dye penetrates through the layers.

If you’re not sure if your dye is making all the way through your silk, you can pick it up and check the bottom side.  If it is still mostly white, you’ll need to apply more dye.

Next, you’ll wrap your silk up in the plastic you laid down.  I fold the outside edges into the center then roll my pack up from the bottom edge.  Be careful to get a good seal; you don’t want dye to bleed out onto your counter.

Pick up your fiber bundle and place it in the steamer basket or strainer above a pot of water set to simmer.  Allow the silk to steam for 15-20 minutes.  I usually prepare my next set of hankies while I wait for the first batch to steam.

Use tongs or a set of heat resistant gloves to remove the fiber packet from the steamer basket.  Be careful, as your fiber packet may be very hot.  Allow the packet to cool before you handle it.  I usually leave my packets in the sink, just in case they decide to leak.

Finally, I remove my silk from the plastic wrap and rinse it gently with cold water to remove any excess dye or citric acid.  Once the water runs clear, you can gently press the excess water out of the silk and lay your mawata out to dry.

You are the proud new owner of dyed silk mawata which you can use to knit with, spin, felt, or weave.

Dying to dye some mawata of your own?  You can pick up natural, undyed mawata here!

Post photos of your own silk dyeing experiments in the comments below!

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