Live and Let Dye: dyeing fabric inside the jute industry

Live and Let Dye: dyeing fabric inside the jute industry

India has a passion for abbreviation. Air conditioning is “AC”, a kilogram is a “KG” and Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan is known as “SRK”. So it comes as no surprise that everyone in the jute industry likes to be known by their initials. The distinguished gentleman below is PKB. He is the Managing Director of the dyeing factory that supplies a large percentage of dyed materials, including jute fabric, to the Kolkata based ‘bag for life’ manufacturers. What PKB does not know about dyeing jute fabric could be written on a pin head with a paint brush (his words not mine). He spends his life trying to get as close as possible to customers pantone requests and gets quite exasperated with some customer expectations. I have promised him that I will try and explain the process that goes into creating a bag for life, as well as the complications. I do it partly to blow his trumpet as to how good he is, but also to help manage your expectations when looking to order your own custom made bag for life.

The jute industry dyeing process is still very traditional. Even though it has been mechanised to a certain extent, it is still pretty Heath Robinson; but in a good way. Eco friendly jute fabric, juco or raw cotton material, arrives on very large rolls which are then washed and run through vats of special dye before coming out the other side to the colour required. The roll is then run through the most fantastically theatrical drying machine with more rollers and chains on it than I have ever seen. There may be more modern ways of doing this, but I hope it never changes as it would ruin the charm of the whole process.

“Beware of the monkey bearing fruit”

Everyone loves a splash of colour and everyone loves a great design. We do too; so when it comes to production we will rise to any challenge. We actively encourage you to be as creative as your budget will allow. We consider ourselves to be the best jute bag and juco printers in the ‘bag for life’ business. But even we cannot guarantee a 100% match to a FABRIC colour. There are several reasons for this. Jute fabric, Juco (jute cotton mix) and raw cotton are all natural products and in their raw state can vary in colour from batch to batch depending on the weather and the season. The base shade of the raw material will have an effect on the finished dyeing colour, so this can lead to slight variations across a batch. We could use strong bleaches to get a more consistent colour for the base material but we only do this if we absolutely have to. One of the greatest benefits of the jute industry, is its eco friendly product, so we try to avoid any unnecessary ‘un’ eco friendly processes.

A further complication is that the jute fabric contains variable amounts of a substance called Lignin. This differs from crop to crop, field to field and from year to year. We use “batching oils” to manufacture the jute cloth, to help the fibres line up straight so they can be spun into a yarn. Variations in Lignin means a variation in oil absorption, which in turn means each batch takes the dye differently. Then again, Jute and Juco are woven – not flat surfaces so light does not reflect evenly. This again can make a colour look different depending on the light and the angle you are looking at it from. This said, we try to get your bag for life within 1% of the required colour but sometimes have to accept that 5% is sometimes the best we can do. What does 5% equate to? Basically it would be barely noticeable to the untrained eye, so we do not consider it a critical issue and nor should you.

Inside the jute industry one thing is for certain, anyone who promises a 100% colour match is being economical with the truth and probably has no experience or practical knowledge of the processes involved. As they say in India, beware of the monkey bearing fruit! In the words of the indomitable PKB “if you want an exact colour match across a whole batch then buy a plastic or a paper bag and leave me in peace.  Colours are so close to what has been requested that your customers will never notice the difference. There are far more important things in the world to worry about”. You have been told!!

Some of the same issues with dyeing also apply to the printing process but we will cover these off in a later blog. Oh the suspense of it all!


WBC Specialist suppliers of printed jute shopping bags, cotton bags & juco bags. Ethically audited, unbeatable quality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *