mariazur mariazur
Hello, and thank you for this wonderful site!
I am currently in east Europe and took a class on batik. In this class we dyed a silk scarf and then steamed it to fix the colors. At the end the colors weren't bright at all, they where uneven and the scarf looked somewhat vintage. Being skeptical that this dyes were permanent I hand washed the silk scarf with room temperature water and just a tiny bit of laundry detergent (the one without bleach) well, the colors lost even more its intensity the scarf is unusable. The dye we used was not any of the ones that are mentioned here, it was in form of powder without a brand, they sold it by weight and put it in a plastic bag, I know they are not safe to breathe because they told us so. This dyes had to be mixed with hot water, urea and baking soda. I invested in 16 colors so I would like to be able to use them.
So far with all the info I have come across I understand that something is missing in the preparation of the color, either the soda ash or the citric acid (vinegar?)...Ludigol maybe?
Please let me know in which category do you think this dyes stand. Maybe they are acid dyes? which formula would you recommend me for color preparation?
Thank you very much!!
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[Deleted User] [Deleted User]
Hi Mariazur,

Thanks for writing in.
Based on the recommendation of mixing baking soda with the dye you purchased I would guess (and guess it is) you have Procion MX dyes. If you take a look at our instructions for using Procion MX as a painting/printing medium we also recommend using baking soda in that specific application. This is what leads me to believe that you have Procion MX dye.
The lack of brightness and subsequent wash out suggests that the steaming process was insufficient to fix the dye to the fiber. The other, very strong, possibility is that the fabric wasn't actually silk, but a synthetic fabric.
For future projects of this ilk I would recommend using the recipe on our Procion MX page (, specifically the Silkscreen Printing & Hand-Painting instructions. I would also recommend a test run on fabric similar to that which you will use in your final project.

Hope this all helps - would love to hear how your next project turns out!

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mariazur mariazur
Hello Annette, thank you for your reply,
the steaming time took a total of 3 hours, first hour, removed from the steamer pot, then they changed the newspaper and put it back to the steaming pot 2 more hours.
Could it be just the absence of soda ash what is causing this problem?
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[Deleted User] [Deleted User]

Three hours should have been sufficient time to fix the dye on the silk.
When steaming, it isn't necessary to use the soda ash (baking soda is sufficiently base) as the increased temperatures achieved with steaming reduces the need for the higher ph. This is especially true with silk as silk loves dye and needs very little encouragement to bond with dyes.
I've been thinking about this over the past couple of days and it occurred to me that your dyes may be old or perhaps compromised? If the vendor you purchased from has not been careful to keep the original container of dye well sealed between uses, if your environment is especially humid or if any moisture was introduced to the original container the dye may have begun the chemical reaction which normally happens during the dye process. Unfortunately, if that reaction begins in the jar it means less of the dye is available to the fabric.

not the greatest news, I'm sure, but I hope it helps you get to the bottom of this.

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mariazur mariazur
Dear Annette,
Thank you very much for your answer.
Well, after reading a little bit further thanks to your directions, I realized that the dye once mixed with the baking soda don't last very long so that may be the bottom of the problem...just what you just wrote above . Those diluted dyes we used in the class where sitting there from week 1 and we where still using them in week 3.
Before coming to this conclusion and reading your last post I made some tests:
I prepared 6 dyes with urea in warm water then added the dye but I didn't add baking soda (I figure since I had soda ash).
I took three prewashed pieces of silk and three of cotton. I soaked one pair of fabric (1 piece of silk and 1 piece of cotton) in soda ash mixed with water and let it dry. Then I painted all 6 pieces with the same "design" same portion of colors in the same order. I let it sit for about 15 hours.
I didn't steam one pair of fabric just to have something to compare with the colors.
Results: The pair of fabric with the soda ash soak came out sort of dirty looking and with little wholes in it. The colors where very washed out. The remaining pair of fabric came out very bright (the silk) and the cotton not very bright but ok. Since they where small pieces of fabric I steamed them for 1.5 hours. Then washed them with some laundry soap until the water came out (sort of) clear.
I have one last question (for now ) I should still add baking soda to the dye mix... right?
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[Deleted User] [Deleted User]
Ah-ha! Yes, indeed, using hydrated Procion MX that has been sitting around for 3 weeks will most definitely result in less than perfect results.
I love that you are being so methodical about all this...the tests you ran are really the very best way to get a handle on just what you can expect with a dye process. I can offer some explanation for why you got the results you did with the different methods.
First, regarding the pair of fabrics you soaked in soda ash - if the fabrics did not stay wet during the entire batch time you may not have had good bonding of dye to fiber giving you the 'dirty' and washed out look. I use the pre-soak and batch (allowing the fabric to rest for 12 - 24 hours) method quite a bit and always have very good results so I'm not quite sure what might have given you such unsatisfactory results other than poor bonding.
The holes in the fabric are a bit of a mystery. I do know that silk is susceptible to damage from high ph levels, but generally speaking a few hours wouldn't result in the type of damage you describe. The cotton shouldn't be showing that sort of damage at all so I'm really not sure what might be causing that. While on the subject of silk and soda ash - I always give my silks a final rinse in a diluted vinegar bath when I've used soda ash in my dye process.
Another thing to keep in mind when painting with Procion MX on fibers pre-soaked with soda ash is that once your brush touches the fabric you will be introducing the soda ash to your pot of dye. That means the dye in the pot will begin the reaction process before it ever reaches the fabric. I generally work with about a tablespoon of dye at a time in an ice cube tray, replenishing from my larger pot of dye as I need more. Soda ash in a pot of dye will render it useless for painting in about an hour - a mistake I only made once - but a harsh lesson.
The results from the steamed pair of fabrics is exactly what I would expect. Because silk has such an affinity to dyes it will show brighter results without the use of the baking soda, but the cotton will definitely benefit from the addition of the baking soda to the process. So yes, when painting and steaming adding the baking soda will give you best results. Mix small batches as baking soda 'activates' the dye in the same manner that soda ash does, but with a slower reaction time (about 4 hours vs 1 hour).
Hope all this helps
Would love to hear your results.
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