I am often asked whilst flying my kites, "Is it painted?" and when I come to explain that its not and that all the colours are obtained by dyeing, I nearly always get the reply - "but I thought you couldn't dye ripstop". Well you can, it's quite easy and as some of my dyed kites are now over ten years old and still going strong it obviously does little or no damage to the fabric.
The dye I use is Dylon hot water (yes HOT) dye, the sort that you can find in most dress shops and department stores. It comes in a range of colours and one pot would be enough to dye about 5 metres of ripstop. When choosing your colour you must remember that the ripstop probably takes up about 25% of the colour, so if the tin shows a scarlet you will only get a rosy red. Of course you can always go for multiple dyeing which deepens the colour.
For the process of dyeing I use a large curry saucepan (now dyed an interesting colour due to repeated use) and a pair of wooden tongs. There is no need to pre-wash the ripstop unlike natural fibres there will be no colour loss or shrinkage. Make up the dye solution as per the instructions on the tin (basically a couple of pints of hot water and a couple of teaspoons of salt), add the ripstop and top up with more hot water. Then gently simmer the ripstop. it is important not to boil the dye solution as the ripstop will definitely not like it. You can keep the ripstop in for as long as you like but after about 15 minutes there will be no more colour uptake. Rinse the material under copious amounts of cold water. It is important to make sure that there is no more dye solution on the surface because if you use dyed ripstop for a kite AND you kite gets wet AND there is some dye left on the surface it will run, I know I've done it!.
Hang out to dry and iron on a cool iron and that's all there is to it. You can experiment with tie dye, batik (yes even this works, and no the wax doesn't melt the ripstop), multi dyeing with different colours, using coloured ripstop as the base for dyeing etc, etc. It really is just a case of experimenting. One last thing, if you like me have a white acrylic sink keep the dye well away - it is very difficult to remove! My last kite ended up being rinsed down our well to avoid a blue sink!
First Published in THE KITEFLIER July 1995
Updates to the above. Polyester (shiny) material does not dye using this method. Dylon have also stopped making the small round tins of dye but they are often available on Ebay. The replacement hot dye does not dye ripstop at all however , Idye - the new multipurpose dye from Dylon works well using the same method.