Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dyeing Corn Fiber ~ Part I

Corn has been around in other forms for some time now. I first remember seeing it as a biodegradable filler for packing boxes. More recently it has been applied to plastics creating eco-friendly takeout containers and utensils. Now, we are seeing it enter the textile market.

It seems to have natural benefits. Blended with cotton it creates a fabric that is lighter, more UV resistant and soft next to the skin. Since corn is an annually renewable resource, it's hard not to see the upside of these new applications. However, my focus is on my own craft. As a dyer and a spinner, how easy is corn fiber to work with? That's what I plan to find out.

I've done a little research to see what has already been written on the subject. I haven't been able to find much about the experience my fellow crafters are having with corn fiber. The best information I was able to find was on Paula Burch's All About Hand Dyeing. She has Corn fiber clearly listed under synthetic fibers and indicates that disperse dyeing is the most effective method.

So what's this? Corn fiber is synthetic? Well, technically yes. "Corn fiber is manufactured using new, cutting edge bioengineering technologies. It is produced by the poly lactic acid from corn. Then a liquid "batter" is created and cooked, then the fiber is produced by wet-spinning and stabilized by acetylating, and is then cut into short staples after curling and thermoforming.

Corn fiber is part of the new class of green textiles. These fibers provide the environment with a unique "cradle-to-cradle" approach, coming from the earth and being wholly biodegradable. Corn fiber contains no petroleum and all products are manufactured to be eco-friendly."(1)

Corn Fiber is also known under its trademarked name Ingeo(2). Ingeo (corn fiber) is a biopolymer known as PLA or polylactic acid. That's not a very natural sounding name for something that comes from corn, but let's not forget that it's manufactured without the use of petrochemicals and it's biodegradable not to mention renewable.

So as a dyer, it seems the bottom line is that I'll need to use dye that is created specifically for polyester or in other words, synthetics. While that may be true, I still want to see how corn fiber will behave when dyed with acid and fiber reactive dyes. Many of us who spin like to blend our fibers. What will happen if we blend corn fiber with wool or cotton and then dye the blended fibers together?

Today, for Part I of this post, I have the results of dyeing corn fiber with acid reactive dyes. I used the method that I have outlined in my article entitled My Preferred Way of Dyeing Soy Silk Roving. From looking at the fiber and my experience with other synthetics, I thought this would be a good approach. The result is the light amber color you see in the picture above. Had I been dyeing wool, my results would have produced a solid orange. The corn fiber took the dye, but to a much lesser extent. I am pleased that it did take some color though. What this means to me as a fiber artist is that I can blend corn fiber and wool and when dyed, the corn fiber will create natural highlights. This could be rather pretty in a yarn and subsequently a knitted, crocheted or woven garment.

In Part II, we'll get a chance to see how corn fiber takes to fiber reactive dyes. It will be interesting to compare results. It seems only right that I should also try a dye product recommended for synthetics. I don't happen to have any such dye in my studio, so I'll have to order some. I'll return soon with more on my exploration of corn fiber.

Related Posts:
Corn Fiber!
Dyeing Corn Fiber ~ Part II

(1) Louet North America
(2) NatureWorks

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