Cultured freshwater pearls are created by mollusks which secrete a coating to protect themselves from the tiny particulate embedded into their body. The coating is known as nacre. Nacre is lustrous, fragile and extremely porous and can be easily stained by body oils and perfumes--and fabric dyes. Due to the dyeable nature of nacre and the availability of fabric dye--it's easy to create your own custom colors of pearls. Just like anything you dye, do a test run before you begin dyeing a full batch of pearls.
Choosing a type of dye is a personal preference. You can buy single-step fabric dyes or you can buy two-step artisan fiber-reactive colors that can be mixed and matched for that perfect subtle shade. Other dye options include natural substances such as botanicals or minerals. Natural dyes will produce an artistic hand-created effect; however, it will be challenging to replicate a color due to the nature of organics.
Preparing the Pearls
Wash the pearls with water and a gentle soap, like Ivory Soap®, to remove any oils from the surface of the pearls, because oil will affect uniform dye saturation. Let the pearls air dry for about two hours after they are cleaned. Do not scrub the pearls, as you could damage the nacre layers.
This technique gives a beautiful mottled and eclectic spray of different colors.
|Sprinkle the dye powder directly onto the pearls. Let the pearls and dye sit for a while, until dye has taken to the extent you desire.|
Dye Bath Method
Prepare your purchased dye according to the manufacturer's directions. Never mix outside chemicals to industrial dyes as this might cause a harmful reaction.
|Place the pearls onto the paper towel. You can choose to keep them on a strand, just be sure to separate the pearls so they can receive the dye all around the perimeter.|
|Or, you can choose to place the pearls onto the paper towel loose, just be sure to leave space between the pearls.|
|Pour the dye gently into the pan so it doesn't move the pearls. The dye should saturate the fabric or paper towel and rise above the top of the pearls so that they are completely immersed.
The amount of time you let the pearls sit in the dye depends on the intensity of color desired. The longer the pearls remain in the bath increases the intensity of color they will exhibit. To achieve a lighter shade, check your pearls every minute. If you over color your pearls, bleach them with a color remover (sold next to the single-step dye products). Re-dye the pearls until they come out just right. When the pearls have reached the color you desire, rinse them thoroughly with water until the water runs clear. Let the pearls dry for at least one day before handling them.
After you feel at ease with this basic process, you can experiment to create your own unique method with varying colorants and timing. It's a good idea to keep a process journal that includes volumes of dye and water as well as measures of time so that any process you try can be re-created with similar results. Artisan fabric dyeing books provide variations of these techniques as well as an abundance of inspiration.
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