A Journey to Dye For by Ben Knause

Posted on Oct 19, 2016

The focus of professionals in our industry is always shifting as the constant advance of techniques and technology breathe new life into established practices and concepts.  This process has accelerated rapidly with the rise of social media.  Through online forums and networks, knowledgeable instructors gain exposure to the ever growing ranks of rug care professionals seeking to hone and improve their skills.  This has proven particularly useful as “outliers” with new ideas and technology have a very convincing platform with which to demonstrate their abilities to a mainstream audience.  One topic generating quite a buzz right now is dyeing and color restoration.  Given all the recent interest, I was asked to share my journey into the world of color restoration, not as an expert or instructor, but as a rug cleaner looking to improve his skills. The following is my journey into the field, where I am now and where I see myself in the future.  I hope that it inspires some of my fellow ARCS members to explore the subject as I believe it to be a useful skill for rug care professionals.

I’ve been doing color repair on a limited basis for about ten years. Like many of the corrective treatments I’ve learned over the years, it was out of necessity that I started doing color restoration. When performing stain and dye removal , it’s very easy to find yourself in trouble. We all want to be the hero and I’m no exception. By overzealously trying to correct a stain or due to collateral damage that the stain has caused, one can end up making the customer’s rug appear worse than before.  The learning curve to stain removal can be unforgiving at times and when it bites you what do you do? Rather than try to explain a mistake on my part to the client, I would try and fix the damage at any cost.

Enter my first experience in dyeing. It was a problem with a rug we cleaned years ago. We tested every rug for color fastness at the time. The rug in question showed no signs of color on the test so we proceeded with our cleaning. The rug cleaned well and gave us no signs of concern during the cleaning. We finished our washing for the day and set up for overnight drying. When I returned in the morning I found the the bottom two inches of the rug had turned blue. I was able to correct the blue that had bled up from the weft yarns however my corrective treatment removed so much color the ends no longer matched the sides or field. I had no choice but to attempt to recolor it. I tested dozens of colors in various consistencies and combinations before I achieved a color that was acceptable. It took multiple applications to get the correct shade but i was pleased with the results.

All I really knew about color correction at the time was the dye needed to be hot and the fiber needed to be in an acidic state, so I had that going for me. We had a “deluxe dye kit” for nylon and wool on our shelves. You’ve probably seen it in a catalogue somewhere, It consisted of powdered dyes in 34 different colors with an instruction manual, formic acid to ID nylon, striking agent, color wheel, and some other odds and ends.

I’ve used this kit successfully for many years to correct my mistakes as well as the occasional color loss spot caused by the client or their beloved pet. While I would do my best, I didn’t feel comfortable enough in my abilities to charge for this service and only did it when the clients really pushed for it. For me, it was a time consuming process that yielded satisfactory results, most of the time.

In the beginning I was lucky really. I had a good ability to pick a color that was close enough to fool the eye and would bring the color back incrementally to prevent too drastic of a change in a single application. The dyes were tricky. I could wet out and prep the area, add dye and feel like I had a good match only to let it dry and find out that the area was still ten shades too light. So I would do it again. And again. And again until I was happy with it. It certainly wasn’t the most efficient process but it got the job done, slowly.

A few months back I enrolled in my first dyeing class. I had seen work done by the instructor on some Facebook groups and was impressed by what I saw. We had a client with a sun faded rug they wanted repaired. I took this opportunity to outsource the job and see his work first hand. He completed the repairs in a timely fashion at the price he originally quoted. I was happy with the repair but more importantly the client was happy with the rug which was now restored to like-new condition. I was interested in taking the class at this point but the timing wasn’t right. In the intervening months I was able to consult with several colleagues whose glowing reviews cemented my interest in this course. I committed to the next available class in my area and off I went, eager and excited.

The course was straightforward and easy to understand. The classroom time was minimal to allow for ample hands-on training. To start, the class spot dyed multiple bleach spots on various nylon carpet From there we moved on to a custom color matching exercise where each student picked a color from anywhere in the room and tried to match it their carpet square. I learned to perform a procedure the instructor referred to as “color clean” which imparts a small amount of color into a monotone rug or carpet. The teacher over-dyed a Spanish Wilton carpet to a nice deep red for one of his clients using nothing more than a portable carpet machine, five-gallon bucket and a bucket heater. The last thing the class did was restore the faded reds on a Hamadan to their original glory with an airbrush.

As a result of the class, I’ve discontinued the use of my trusty powdered dye kit. Instead I’ve learned to repair using the three primary colors in liquid form. They are dyes he sells but the principles can be applied with any good liquid dyes. I made the change because I really like how well the liquid dyes impart color onto the textile.

Moving from 30+ dyes to three is a challenge. Most colors we are restoring are tertiary colors, meaning the contain all the primary colors in various amounts. Red is not just red. Instead the red in question is predominantly red mixed with yellow and even a little blue. Trying to determine how much of each primary color to use to get the damaged area to match the original color is no easy feat. It requires an extensive amount of practice to become proficient. Fortunately, the instructor created an app for Apple devices to assist with this task. You take a picture of the area in question, picking the target (undamaged) color and the faded color to be restored and the app will give you a sliding scale for each of the primary colors needed to bring the area back to it’s original beauty. While not a fool-proof system, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of finding the right color and is helpful to understand the relationship between each color needed. There is also a dedicated Facebook group for color trainees that have completed his course which is invaluable to a new color repair technician.

When I returned from the class I was excited to implement my newly acquired knowledge. The first thing I did was acquire some scrap nylon carpet to bleach and re-dye. My first few attempts made it clear that, even with the app, practice would be vital to perfecting the art of color repair. It wasn’t long before I had a few good candidates for spot dying on wool rugs. We were lucky to have a string of rugs come in that had previously been repaired and the color had either faded at a different rate or never matched to begin with or perhaps a little of both. So far the clients have been very happy with the repairs I’ve made.

I have one important tip from a relatively new technician to help you deliver satisfied customers.  When setting expectations for the work don’t over promise, which can be said for many areas of rug cleaning, repair, and restoration. There are variables that one can’t control.  One thing I’ve learned is, no matter how close the color match may be, if the weave balance or fiber denier of an old repair does not match that of the original rug, the color will not reflect quite the same.

On top of these spot repairs, I recently embarked on my first over-dye project and overall re-color of a faded rug. The over-dye project is a fun learning opportunity. I mentioned in passing to a client that I was about to take a dye class and she offered to let me dye her rug purple for practice. I decided to strip the color first as the rug was pretty dark to begin Once I removed enough color, I mixed some red and blue and voila, she had a purple rug. The initial treatment was a little splotchy in places but with some follow up spotting the color evened out well.

The re-color project will be my first time using the airbrush and liquid dyes to add color back to a rug. The hardest part is getting the depth and shade of color correct. The field is open so I won’t have to spend a lot of time detailing around intricate designs. It’s amazing how much color repair work is out there if you have the confidence to do it.

I still have so much to learn about this niche service but it seems to have great potential. For the sake of comparison, I would like to take some of the other classes offered on color repair and try other dyes in the market. I do believe this is an area that will require practice, practice, practice to become proficient, regardless of how much class room time you have. Even though I’ve been told they are permanent and colorfast, I’m anxious to see how the dye holds up on the repairs I’ve made. I’ve been told they are resilient but I am naturally skeptical so I need to see it to believe it. I am told the dyes I now use will dye cotton and rayon as well so I will be curious to see how the colors take on such fibers as these are, as I understand, traditionally dyed with fiber reactive dyes in an alkaline solution.

As for the future, I can see the value of having a dedicated color repair department doing repairs in-plant and on-location.  I believe it could be another service that distinguishes our company from the rest of the pack and of great value to our customers.  If nothing else, it has certainly made me a better rug cleaning and restoration professional.

Area Rug Cleaning Company cares for the finest to the most basic rugs from around the world.  Please do not hesitate to call us to answer questions and to schedule your next appointment for our rug cleaning and care services.

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