November 10, 2017

Dyeing the Magnoli Tenth Doctor Blue Suit Fabric

Earlier this year, I (Alex) began a series of dye experiments on Magnoli Clothiers' current (2017) replica 10th Doctor blue suit fabric, with the goal being to shift the color toward what I believed to be a more "accurate" representation of the original (dyed) fabric used on the show.

Don't get me wrong; I believe Magnoli's replica blue fabric is, by far, the best option presently on the market!

But to my eye, it simply didn't look dark enough, especially in outdoor lighting, so I began trying to nudge the color a bit darker.



Although I'd had a modest amount of experience with fabric dyeing, I really want to thank my friend, Michael Cowart, for taking the time to teach me how to take my fabric-dyeing skills up to the next level (and the one after that, and the next)! 

He also recommended a fantastic book to me, entitled Synthetic Dyes for Natural Fibers by Linda Knutson, which I read and now recommend to you, if you're interested in "properly" dyeing fabric - that is, as a very precise science with reproducible results!

Synthetic Dyes for Natural Fibers - Linda Knutson


Being 100% cotton, the Magnoli fabric would require fiber-reactive dye, and my first strategy was to hit it with a "primary" (single-pigment) dye, both for the sake of simplicity and maximum amount of control over the end result. 

Naturally, my first choice was to dye the fabric with blue - specifically, Dharma Trading Company's "cobalt." 

I did three initial tests, each at a different depth of shade, just to get my bearings.

Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric
Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric
Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric


At a glance, the preliminary results looked promising. 

However, at this point I quickly realized that I was firing blind ... we all know how much the screen-used fabric seemed to respond differently to various lighting (etc.), to say nothing of post-production "color-correction!" So it was really anyone's best guess as to what the actual color of the fabric was.


I needed a solid target to aim at, so I contacted Louise Page, showed her some examples of my work, and explained what I was trying to accomplish. In addition to a personal letter, she generously provided me with a swatch of the original (dyed) blue fabric for reference!

10th Doctor blue suit fabric (screen-used)


Here's a comparison of the current Magnoli replica blue fabric and the screen-used swatch, in outdoor lighting:

Magnoli blue fabric vs. screen-used
Magnoli blue fabric vs. screen-used


As you can see, I had my work cut out for me - but I also had a solid target! 

With a swatch of screen-used fabric for reference, I made an important determination: dyeing the Magnoli fabric blue wouldn't work

(Obviously, the fabric will take the dye, but I'm speaking in context of the goal of color-matching the screen-used fabric.) 

The current Magnoli replica fabric is a green-ish blue ("teal") with "fire engine red" stripes, whereas the original fabric was more of a purple-ish cobalt/navy blue with "rust" pinstripes. 

Hitting the Magnoli fabric with cobalt dye darkened the blue base, but it only resulted in a darker (albeit slightly bluer) teal. Furthermore, the cobalt dye shifted the pinstripes toward the purple range, and I definitely didn't want to go there! 

Time for a different plan of attack!

My aforementioned friend Michael, who has far more experience (and intuition) than I do regarding these things, suggested using a magenta dye. It made sense; the red would theoretically pull the teal more toward the blue range while simultaneously darkening it and not turning the stripes purple! 

Dharma's "fuchsia red" was another primary (single-pigment) dye that seemed to fit the bill, so I gave it a shot at a 1% depth-of-shade to get my bearings with the second color, as well as to compare the results to those of the previous cobalt tests.

Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric


Yeah ... obviously, even 1% was CRAZY overkill for this!

So, I scaled it way the hell back and did a couple more tests.

Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric


These results were more promising, but alas, it didn't seem that either blue or red ("cobalt" or "fuchsia red" single-pigment) dyes were going to singlehandedly yield the results I wanted. 

We've already covered the inherent problems of exclusively using blue dye, but the problems with exclusively using red were that while it had the intended effect of nudging the teal away from green and toward dark blue, it wouldn't sufficiently darken the fabric before turning it purple, and it also left the pinstripes seemingly unaffected. 


Nevertheless, I felt as if I were on the right track with the magenta, but something was obviously missing. 

After mulling it over, it hit me: Magnoli's current fabric needed to be dyed orange

Orange, after all, is a combination of red and yellow; the red would have the aforementioned effect on the blue, but the yellow would theoretically shift those atom-red pinstripes in the orange ("rust") direction! 

Of course, the trick would be finding the right balance; too little yellow, and nothing would really happen to the stripes, but too much yellow, and it would push the blue fabric right back in the green direction. 

I used Dharma's "lemon yellow" (another primary/single-pigment dye) in combination with the aforementioned "fuchsia red" to test this theory.

Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric
Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric


I was getting closer with each test, but no combination of red/yellow seemed to yield a satisfactory result. 

I'd tried two different primary/single-pigment dyes individually, I'd tried custom-mixing two primary/single-pigment dyes, and I simply resigned myself to the fact that to accomplish my goal, I was going to have to determine a custom-mix of three primary dye colors. 

Testing a three-way color balance and various depths of shade can not only be infuriatingly slow going, but it also quickly eats up one's fabric supply; dye formulas are determined by weight and I typically test 5g swatches, which are rather large with a lightweight cotton fabric like this. At $60/yard, I wanted to reach a solution as quickly as possible!


When determining a custom dye recipe, my plan was for the magenta to nudge the teal towards a purple-ish navy, the yellow to nudge the stripes towards the "rust" red, and for the cobalt to simultaneously darken the blue and "keep things on track" - that is, keep the magenta from turning the fabric too purple, and keep the yellow from turning the fabric too green. 

In addition to injecting a bit of blue ("cobalt") into the mix, I also increased the yellow quite a bit to see what would happen to the stripes. Unfortunately, the stripes still remained (almost?) unchanged, and the blue base was too green (damn it).

Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric


Unfortunately, I was ultimately unable to achieve a decent color match with the stripes; if you'll closely examine the Magnoli stripes in comparison to the stripes on the screen-used fabric, you'll notice that the latter stripes are actually lighter (or at least paler) than the former, and fabric-dyeing basically only goes in a darker direction ... 

Here are some fabrics I had sitting around, used solely as an approximate color reference for the pinstripes:

Pinstripe color references
Pinstripe color references


Even if the pinstripes' color discrepancy was entirely independent of the blue base, I don't see how it could be done. Throw in the blue base itself, and it basically entails shifting two separate colors on the color wheel in two separate directions, all at once, with only one dye recipe. 

(To be clear, I'm not saying it can't be done, only that I don't see how.) 

So, having accepted that little to nothing could be done about the stripes, I prioritized the blue fabric base.


With that goal in mind, fast-forward a few weeks, and I'd narrowed it down to four contenders.

Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric
Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric
Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric


I believe the "winner" (and I use that term loosely) to be this particular formula:

Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric
Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric
Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric


However, I offer that formula with the following caveat: trying to dye the current Magnoli fabric to match the screen-used fabric is like trying to color-match a kaleidoscope. 

I could go into yawn-inducing detail as to why, but suffice it to say that I've learned the two fabrics are simply woven differently and, as a result, will never truly match. 

For example, those four "final contenders" I just mentioned all looked fantastic (well, at least tolerable) from directly overhead, but when viewed from the side, they weren't anywhere close!

Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric
Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric
Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric


And as a final, more specific example that may blow your mind: the following two photos are of the exact same test swatch, on the exact same background, photographed with the exact same camera in the exact same light within moments of each other, and neither have any color-editing at all. 

The only difference between the two is the direction of the light; in the second photo, I simply rotated the swatch 180° in relation to the direction of the sunlight. (Observe the directions of the shadows.)

Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric
Dye experiments w/ Magnoli blue fabric


As you can see, with the light hitting the test swatch at one angle, it looks pretty good, but with the light hitting it at the opposite angle, it looks terrible.


So where does that leave us? 

Well, we can at least achieve a better color match with the blue base (facing one direction, anyway), so for those of you who want to try to darken your Magnoli fabric, feel free to use any of the dye recipes I've presented here! 

As you've seen, I believe the best results to be with a combination of 60% fuchsia red, 15% lemon yellow, and 25% cobalt, dyed at a 0.6% depth-of-shade. 

All of those dyes, as well as other necessary supplies (synthrapol and soda ash fixative) can be ordered on Dharma's web site. 


If you do give this a shot, I'd be curious to see your results, and if you're somehow able to improve upon them, I'd love to hear about that, too! 

Stay tuned here on the blog (or, better yet, subscribe to our "Costume Guide" e-mail newsletter) for more regarding the blue fabric, as well as a corresponding dye project with the brown, plus as our upcoming 11th Doctor waistcoat patterns and sewing tutorials!


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