Published Nov 10. 2011 - 12 years ago
Updated or edited Sep 13. 2015

Book review: Dyeing and Bleaching

Natural Fly-Tying Materials, second edition

This is a real classic written by the renown fly tyer and tying book author AK Best. The book was overhauled in 2004 and reprinted in a second edition with color images. It's the bible when it comes to dying fly tying materials, and is extremely thorough and useful - even for those that have no plans of dying, but just want to treat their materials as well as possible.

A. K. Best
The Lyons Press
Publishing year: 
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As you probably already know I'm an avid proponent of buying used books, and because of this you often see reviews of books with a few years on their back.

This book by the renown AK Best isn't that old - less than 10 years in fact - even though the first release of the book dates back 10 years further than that. The book at hand is the second edition and the one you should acquire if you want to own the book. It's thoroughly updated and has been completely revised, not least with excellent color photos.

AK is not known for being superficial and both his fly-tying books as well as this title are very in-depth and factual, covering most aspects of the subject. This book deals specifically with dying feathers and fur and covers necks, bucktails, squirrel and calf as well as fur patches from deer, elk and rabbit. While there's no mention of "modern" materials like Arctic fox, mink, nutria or racoon - or even fox for that matter - there's enough general advice to guide you to handle these materials. AK is a US stream fly tyer, dries and wets streaming from his vice, and that is quite obvious in his approach. Both material choice, handling and colors reflect his own tying. But as I said: the advice is still good for many other types of materials, and you can simply apply it as you need.

Even though the title says dyeing and bleaching, the book also describes other parts of the process in detail, mainly cleaning (degreasing as AK refers to it) and drying. He also covers handling and preparing quills and biots in particular (can you say dry fly bodies?) and has a final chapter on blending fur for dubbing using a coffee grinder.

AK's angle is that of the professional, and his background as a production fly tyer is pretty obvious. Like any good professional cook he is precise and meticulous in his approach. If you want consistency and efficiency that's how you need to go about it! A good cook in a restaurant makes sure his sauce is the same thickness and taste (and color) every time. The good fly tyer and material-dyer will use the same method every time to get the same result from batch to batch.

I have dyed a few fly-tying materials in my time, and like my cooking it has been a lot more happy-go-lucky than methodical. Like my cooking the result has been good, and I still have and use some of the materials. But for a more controlled result, I'd definitely need a lot more discipline.
That discipline can be learned here. Not only is every step covered, from choosing tools to using them, but AK also shares his dye mixes and recipes, making it possible for you to replicate his fine results. There is of course a lot of brand names, which might not be available to people outside the US, but the facts are there and available, so the basic knowledge is provided, and you yourself can build your own recipes on that.

My personal way will probably remain as it is: gung-ho! I fool around with small patches in small batches, and just enjoy when I get something I like. I don't aim for anything particular, but improvise. For people who want more control and more consistency, this is the book to get.

The book has a cover price of 24.95 US$, but as some of the older books that I review here, some sellers price it in a sphere by itself, and lists it for as much as 200 US$!
Don't go there!
It was available new at a very reasonable £9.95 (about 15 US$) from Paul Morgan's excellent shop Coch-y-Bonddu Books in Wales where I also bought my copy, but unfortunately it's now back at a whopping £29.95 (almost 45 US$) and not that good a deal any more.


Martin Joergensen's picture

John, Don't let t...


Don't let them cheat you. It should be even less than 25 US$!
Order it from Coch-y-Bonddu at 10 UK£ or about 16 US$! Plus postage of course, but still...

I have no idea whether you can air paint with fabric dyes. Try it! And let us know.


I am interested in a...

I am interested in airbrushing additional colors and patterns to feathers for fly tying. A Google search finds nothing waterproof in acrylics or ink. I looked into this book. BUT, Where do you find it at US$24.95
Amazon is: $44.80-$900 Barnes & Noble: $65-202.50 eBay: $123.72-$225.30 and The Lyons Press does not list this book. Yikes!!! Can I airbrush on fabric dyes?

Got the book from Co...

Got the book from Coch-y-Bonddu Books - best book on the subject I saw. I will try some of the recipes this winter and dye my own fur and feathers.


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