Fabrics: Color and Fabric Pattern

PREV: Finshes Next: Fabric and Fiber Facts

Color and Pattern Fabrics

We can be sure that when cave men first began painting hunting scenes on walls of caves, the first textile designer was also painting the animal skins he wore. Though the content, construction, and finishing of a fabric provide all of its essential properties, richness of color and pattern have always held the most primary appeal. For centuries, special formulas for color and fabric have been jealously guarded secrets. Vast industries have developed on the basis of changing tastes and new technical developments in color and applied textile design in order to satisfy our unquenchable decorative instinct.



The complex science of dye chemistry has developed in response to demand for fast, vivid color that will withstand wear, sunlight, and the rigors of modern laundering.

Natural fibers, which frequently have distinct colors of their own, often require bleaching before they can be dyed. Many fibers naturally resist color, and among the chief advantages of such innovations as mercerizing is the improvement of a fabrics affinity for dyes. With the advent of synthetic fabrics and the increased importance of the chemical industry in textiles, the number and quality of synthetic dyes has grown by leaps and bounds since their inception in 1856.

Dyes are classified in several ways, including the chemical category and fibers to which they can be applied, the hue produced, and the method of application. The appearance of a fabric is often determined by the stage in manufacturing at which the dye is applied.

STOCK DYEING is used to produce color in a mat of fibers before they are spun into yarn. Colors penetrate the fibers thoroughly, and are likely to be fast. This method is commonly used on wool; hence the expression “dyed in the wool.” It permits the spinning of tweed and mottled yarns from several batches of variously colored fibers.

SOLUTION DYEING is a procedure for coloring man-made fibers by introducing pigment into the chemical spinning solution before it is formed into filaments. Since the color is an inherent part of the fiber, it is extremely permanent.

YARN DYEING is one of the oldest methods of coloring textiles. The spun yarn is dyed in a skein, or it may be wound on a cylinder known as a package, which is then dyed from the inside out in a machine similar to a pressure-cooker. Typical yarn dyed fabrics are ging-hams, plaids, checks, stripes, and those with iridescent effects.

PIECE DYEING is the most common and economical means of coloring fabric. It involves immersing the woven goods in a dye bath. The procedure is practical because it permits manufacturers to store a volume of undyed goods and dye to order as preferences in color change. Piece-dyed fabrics are usually a solid color, but an exception to this rule occurs with cross dyeing. Fabrics to be so treated are woven of a combination of fiber types, each with a different affinity for certain dyes. Those dyes, which are accepted by one fiber, are rejected by others, resulting in fabrics that can resemble either yarn-dyed or fiber dyed fabrics. Difficulties may be encountered in attempting to dye fiber blends a solid color, and many must be dyed twice to impart the same color to both fibers.

(article continues below...)

Recommended Reading


Recommended Products

Learn more about sewing, knitting and related arts and crafts: Browse our reading list.

Applied Design

The surface of a fabric provides enticing stimulus to an artist’s creative imagination. An infinity of surface patterns can be reproduced in many ways.

TRANSFER PRINTING is the process of applying the print to paper and then transferring it to the fabric by the use of heat and pressure. Fine sharp registry of the design can be achieved by this method as well as the ability to obtain multiple colors and tones. Transfer printing is less expensive than roller printing.

ROLLER PRINTING, or direct printing, is a simple procedure used to produce large quantities of a design that is engraved on a series of rollers, one for each color to be used. These print rollers are arranged around a large drum in exact positions, and color is applied to them. When the fabric feeds between the rollers and the drum, the areas of color coincide to form the complete design. Discharge printing uses a bleaching paste to bleach out the design on a solid color fabric. Resist printing uses a dye-resistant paste to print the design. The fabric is then dyed and the paste removed, leaving a lighter print. Burn-out printing uses chemicals to dissolve one of the fibers in the fabric, creating a raised motif on a sheer ground. Flocking adds textural interest by printing a design on the fabric with an adhesive and then applying short fibers to the surface. The fabric can also be completely flocked to give the appearance of a velvet or velour.

SCREEN PRINTING is a sophisticated version of the stencil process. The design is cut out of a thin sheet of film, which is then adhered to a frame covered with a fine, strong mesh fabric. The fabric to be printed is stretched out on a table, the screen laid on top, and the pigment or dye is forced through the screen in the areas where the non-porous film does not act as a barrier. Adapting photographic processes to cutting the film has allowed screen-printing to produce fine gradations of tone and delicate detail. Though it is slower than roller printing, it is often used to produce limited quantities of a print.

TIE DYEING is an ancient craft that produces interesting and varied textile designs. Puffs of fabric are wrapped in waxed thread or sewn and tightly gathered, then dipped in dye, creating intriguing sunburst effects as the dye penetrates the fabric unevenly. The blending of several colors and the combining of techniques contribute to the unique effect. A machine process has copied the technique effectively.

BATIK is a process that can be used to create striking and delicate designs. It is a method of resist dyeing in which wax is applied to the cloth in areas that are not to receive color. After dying, the wax is boiled off, and the process repeated for each color used. It has now been adapted to machine printing.

EMBROIDERY was originally a hand technique executed on a base fabric with thread, yarn or other materials and a needle. Now there are many types of machine embroidery using different threads, yarns and a variety of stitches.

The production of eyelet embroidery, mechanized with the invention of the Schiffli machine, involves poking holes into the fabric as the edges are finished by machine.

Surface design on fabrics has evolved dramatically over the years. With the introduction of the computer and very sophisticated home sewing machines, the average seamstress can literally create her own embellished fabric before construction of a garment. Printing and dying processes are available to anyone who has a little imagination and time.
PREV: Finshes Next: Fabric and Fiber Facts HOME

This page was last modified on: Tuesday, 2007-09-11 2:48 PST