Dyeing basketry reed can open up a whole world of wonderful design possibilities when weaving your baskets. I used to buy colored reed, and then I decided to start dyeing my own. You'll find much more flexibility dyeing your own reed and it adds a whole new dimension to an already enjoyable craft.
I really like to do this outside, but Wisconsin winters really don't allow it and for lack of a better place, I usually end up in the kitchen. My family has become used to NOT trying the interesting looking recipes I've created.
All kidding aside, I do take some very necessary precautions and these are applicable to any work area:
Protect your work area. The heavy canvas drop cloths than you can buy at home improvement stores come in handy and they also make some with a plastic type of backing that help to avoid dye from breaking through in case you spill. Keep damp rags handy. Most of the time you can avoid stains if you wipe immediately.
Avoid skin contact. I do wear gloves. You will find that it stains hands and can be pretty difficult to wash off. I've had gloves leak and had colored hands for days. While a custom manicure might be nice for your night out, a custom dye job...not so much. Avoiding skin contact with any chemical is simply a good idea.
Avoid respiratory contact. Working in a well ventilated area and avoid the fumes. If you have any respiratory problems, are working in a close area, or are going to have prolonged exposure, I would recommend a mask. Your health is important. Don't take risks.
Use stainless steel or enamel. Some metals react with the dye and plastics will often become stained by the dye. When I shop thrift stores I will sometimes look for items that I can use specifically in my basketry work.
I use Rit brand dye. They are less expensive and the powdered dyes do a very nice job of coloring the reed. I use a product called Retayne in my rinse water which does help stop bleed. Allowing the reed dry thoroughly before using it for a project will also reduce the bleed. I've read that some weavers add salt and/or vinegar to the dye bath. I don't, however that is more a personal preference and it certainly isn't going to hurt to try it. I find reds to be the worst when it comes to bleed.
Generally I do reed in small batches on top the stove, so I prepare what I need, plus extra for a project. Since I'm more of a hobbyist, seldom would I do an entire pound a reed at a time, but if preparing for a class or guild meeting, then of course you would go ahead and prepare a larger dye bath adjusting amounts accordingly.
When doing the smaller amounts I usually use 1 to 1 1/2 quarts of water in a large stainless steel sauce pan. This requires minimal amounts of the dye and not the entire package. Rit has directions for mixing a multitude of colors on their website, as well as directions for scaling up the amounts should you want to use larger amounts of water. They also publish the Pantone Seasonal Colors which I find myself using quite often.
To improve the absorption of color, you can soak reed in warm water prior to adding it to the dye bath.
You may want to test a small amount of reed to see if it is really the color you want. Sometimes your computer screen can fool you when looking at the colors online.
Bring your dye and water to a boil, then add the reed.
Initially I coil my reed with cotton string, but once I get it in the dye, I cut the string so that the dye can get between the reed. If I find an area that isn't thoroughly dyed, I just dip it in the dye for a little while longer. Turning the reed several times in the dye bath will produce a more even color.
Sometimes reed color is achieved very quickly. Other times it takes longer. The best results come through your own patience and experimentation. In my experience, 3-10 minutes is pretty average.
Lay reed out to dry on canvas, old towels or a drying rack. A fan is helpful for faster drying.
Now you can soak your reed and use as you would for any basket project.
If you want to save your dye, it will keep in a glass jar for some time if you want that color again.
There are entire websites and books devoted to color theory. Don't let it overwhelm you. Experiment, try some of your own colors and patterns. Most of all enjoy the colors and textures that you can add to your handwoven baskets.