If you are like me you can't always find the right color in the quality of feather you need when tying flies. I say why not make your own?
When you search "Dying +Fly tying" you come with over 31,000 hits. Most of these links will talk about special pots and technics need to get the right color! With all that info out there I found this site, Microwave Dying to be the most helpful.
Most sites talked about using RIT Dyes, or Veniard Dyes. I have used both and I prefer Veniard dyes. They tend to have more of the colors I am looking for. But don't cut out Rit dyes. They have a wide color wheel of natural colors that could be useful to the fly tier as well.
For Dyeing feathers there are a few things you will need:
- Rubber gloves
- Something to agitate the feathers (wooden spoon)
- Dye of your choice
- White vinegar (dye fixer)
- Mason Jar (quart size worked best for me)
- Something to cover your work space. (I used card board but you could use anything that you don't mind being the color you are about to apply!)
I can't express enough about taking your time! You are working with a permanent dye. ANYTHING it gets on will become that color! (look at the spoon) USE EXTREME CAUTION when attempting this project!
In this process I used Metz saddle #2 Grade in Cream, I was looking to make them fluorescent yellow.
- First off you need to prepare you material for dying. I like to cut my saddles down. I like to work with two pieces this way I can make more then one color if I would like.
Oil is the enemy when it comes to getting dye to take. You will need to wash your feathers in soap and warm water. This also helps in making the feathers more supple.
Rinse thoroughly in warm water. Make sure to get all the soap out, again this will aid in color setting. I like to let my feathers set in warm water while I get my dye bath ready.
The DYE Bath
Take your mason jar and fill it 2/3 - 3/4 the way full. Microwave until boiling. 3-5 min
- Add Dye mix to the water, make sure your dye dissolves fully. Veniard dye states that it takes 1/4 of a teaspoon of dye to one liter of boiling water. Fallow your dyes instructions as needed.
- Add vinegar. Again Veniard dye states to add one table spoon of vinegar to one liter of water.
LET THE DYEING Begin!
- Take and add your wet warm feathers to the mix. Your water/ dye mix should still be at or just under a boil!
- Agate well! I agate for 10-20 seconds.
OK here is where it could get messy USE EXTREME CAUTION!
- Remove spoon, take and move the jar, that is all most the temperature of the sun, DO NOT DROP JAR, back to the microwave and heat on high for 45-60 seconds.
- Remove jar from microwave and agitate the feathers. This is the make or break part of the dyeing process. you need to make sure the whole feather is being exposed to the dye. If they are not then you will have a white and yellow feather.
- At this point you can remove some of the feathers to check for color.
- If correct then remove and rinse in cold water to remove any extra dye. If color is not correct then repeat a microwave and agitate cycle. If color is still not correct then remove feathers and either make a new dye batch and repeat or add more dye to current mix a long with more vinegar and repeat. Remember color will be lighter when feathers DRY
Here again I like to soak my feathers in a cool water bath after dyeing is done. This gives me time to clean up before the wife finds out what I have been up to.
You can leave you feather out to dry on a rag or on card board and brush out later. Or you can blow dry. I prefer to us the blow dry method. It tends to fluff the feathers more.
After a quick blow dry here is my final result. The chenille is just an example of what color I was going for.
Some other examples of feathers dyed with RIT dye. (The center two patches were dyed with RIT lemon yellow, each had a different dye mix)
- Clean your feathers
- Make sure you Dye is dissolved thoroughly
- Check color, Color will be lighter when dry
- If you don't want it dyed keep it out of the dye!
I hope this helps some of you out there. I know I was intimidated at first too, but you shouldn't be. Other than making a mess there is nothing to worry about. When you have all your stuff set up this whole process takes less then 10 minutes. (other then the blow drying)
Have Fun and Experiment! There is a world of color out there!
BEWARE THE SUPER-HEATED WATER
This could happen to you!
Occurrence in the kitchen
Superheating can occur when a person heats an undisturbed cup of water in a microwave oven. When the container is removed, the water still appears to be below the boiling point. However, once the water is disturbed, some of it violently flashes to steam, spraying boiling water out of the container. The boiling can be triggered by jostling the cup, inserting a stirring device, or adding a substance like instant coffee or sugar. The chances of superheating are greater with smooth containers, because scratches or chips can house small pockets of air, which serve as nucleation points. Chances of superheating can increase with repeated heating and cooling cycles of an undisturbed container, like when a forgotten coffee cup is re-heated without being removed from a microwave oven. This is due to heating cycles progressively de-gassing the liquid. There are ways to prevent superheating in a microwave oven, such as putting a popsicle stick or plastic spoon in the glass, or using a scratched container.
Water is said to "boil" when bubbles of water vapor grow without bound, bursting at the surface. For a vapor bubble to expand, the temperature must be high enough that the vapor pressure exceeds the ambient pressure – the atmospheric pressure, primarily. Below that temperature, a water vapor bubble will shrink and vanish.
Superheating is an exception to this simple rule: a liquid is sometimes observed not to boil even though its vapor pressure does exceed the ambient pressure. The cause is an additional force, the surface tension, which suppresses the growth of bubbles. 
Surface tension makes the bubble act a bit like a rubber balloon (more precisely, one that is under-inflated so that the rubber is still elastic). The pressure inside is raised slightly by the "skin" attempting to contract. For the bubble to expand — to boil — the temperature must be raised slightly above the boiling point to generate enough vapor pressure.
What makes superheating so explosive is that a larger bubble is easier to inflate than a small one, just as when blowing up a balloon, the hardest part is getting it started. It turns out the excess pressure due to surface tension is inversely proportional to the diameter of the bubble.  This means if the largest bubbles in a container are only a few microns in diameter, overcoming the surface tension may require exceeding the boiling point by several degrees Celsius. Once a bubble does begin to grow, the pressure due to the surface tension reduces, so it expands explosively. In practice, most containers have scratches or other imperfections which trap pockets of air that provide starting bubbles. But a container of liquid with only microscopic bubbles can superheat dramatically.