Daubeny Project: Slowly Dyeing

September 6, 2009

The experiments on the dyeing of spine materials for the Daubeny slotting programme has taken up my time and almost all my thought since my last post on this project.  This is due to it being uncharted waters for me and the criteria being fairly demanding.  I needed a process that was simple and could be achieved in a normal studio setting with the equipment available, and which provided a strong depth of shade using a dye recipe that was easy to accurately replicate.  As the Daubeny books are stored on open shelving good light fastness was also important.  Finally, I did not want a dye which altered the texture or handling properties of the aerocotton chosen for the new spine material.

This search for the holy grail of toning and dyestuffs was quickly narrowed down to 2 dye systems: direct and reactive dyes.  Direct dyes, specifically the Ciba-Geigy direct dye Solophenyl, are used extensively by textile conservators.  They have excellent reproducibility and light fastness but their relatively low wet fastness is an issue.  They also require heat and pH monitoring during the dye cycle leading to a reasonably elaborate procedure.

Reactive dyes, such as Procion MX and Cibaron, or its new incarnation Novacron, are highly solvent resistant due to the strong covalent bond they form between the dye and the fibre.  The dye cycle does not necessarily require heat as the dye is extremely reactive under normal ambient conditions.  This category of dyes have fair to very good light fastness, with the reds being the poorest.  However, this is so with all dyes types.  On the negative side, the highly reactive nature of the dyes can make them difficult to reproduce accurately and can cause unevenness in colour, or unlevellness, across the textile.

Having worked with collections stored in historic buildings I was all too aware of the water based events that can occur involving library and archive materials.  Also, having attended a course on dyeing, arranged by the Textile Group of Icon at the much mourned Textile Conservation Centre (TCC), and witnessed first hand the relatively complicated procedure involved in using direct dyes, I knew reactive dyes were the way forward.

My early results with Procion MX dyes have been very encouraging.  I have benefited from the advice and expertise of Stuart Smethurst at Kemtex, a UK distributor of these dyes, my colleagues at the Oxford Conservation Consortium and the Bodleian, and the mass of literature available on the subject.  I have listed supplier’s information and a brief sample of essential reading for anyone embarking on a reactive dyeing programme below.  These sources also detail recommended dye colours and the dye cycle very clearly, so I will not repeat it here.  However, the problems I had with levellness and reproduction of an exact shade may be avoided by taking care in the following areas:

1. Wetting out: it is important that the fabric is thoroughly wetted before making contact with the dye bath to ensure even uptake into the fibre.

2. The thorough mixing of the salt in the dye solution is also crucial.  The sodium sulphate used is very reluctant to dissolve, and the course information from the TCC recommends making a strong solution of the salt and adding that the dye bath, rather than trying to dissolve it in the bath itself.

3. Agitation: you can not rock the dye bath to much!

4. Rinsing and drying: the smallest amount of residual dye can cause unlevellness, so thorough rinsing in hot water to include a brisk boil wash for around 5 minutes is also important to achieve even dyeing.

With regard to light fastness, the 3 colours I am using have fairly good to very good light fastness.  I have set up light tests on my samples and will report in due course.  Finally, with regards to the inconsistencies in colour reproduction, I am looking into more accurate methods of measuring.  The quantities of dye in solution are so small that even minor discrepancies may cause differences in colour when a recipe is repeated.  A more accurate pipette has been ordered so hopefully this will result in more accurate colour reproduction from the ratios of the stock colours than I have so far been able to produce.  I’ll let you know how I get on.

Toning cloth for boardslotting using Procion MX dyes. Reproduced with the kind permission of the President and Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford.

Sources of information and suppliers:

Ruth Norton, Dyeing Cellulose-fibre Paper with Fibre Reactive Dyes, The Paper Conservator, Vol 26 2002

Edward Simpson, Dyeing Aerolinen and Aerocotton with Reactive Dyes, Paper Conservation News 71, September 1994

Dyeing Techniques Manual, Textile Conservation Centre, 2008

Timar-Balazsy and Eastrop, Chemical Principles of Textile Conservation, Butterworth Heinemann, 1998

Lerber, Karin von, Cibaron F (reactive dyes) versus Solophenyl (direct dye) for Support Fabrics in Textile Conservation, Newsletter, ICOM Committee for Conservation, 1/96, 3-5

Stuart Smethurst, Kemtex Educational Supplies, Chorley Business and Technology Centre, Euxton Lane Chorley, Lancs, UK, PR7  6TE.  www.kemtex.co.uk, 01257 230220.  Suppliers of dyes and auxiliary chemicals.

Victoria Stevens


7 Responses to “Daubeny Project: Slowly Dyeing”

  1. Jeff Peachey Says:

    Thanks for this excellent post, Victoria. (and a great title!) Two questions:

    1. Do the reactive dyes affect the flexibility or stiffness of the cloth?
    2. Did you happen to notice a North American distributer or supplier of the Procion MX dyes?

  2. vks1 Says:

    Hi Jeff, and thanks for your comments and questions.

    The handling properties of the cloth, in terms of stiffness or a decrease in flexibility, do not seem to be altered in any way by the dyeing process. The initial fabric was mercerised and as such was fairly shiny. Some of this sheen was lost in the dyed textile but for the work I am undertaking this is a benefit rather than a disadvantage. The dyed textile remains flexible and soft.

    Ruth Norton’s article gives details of suppliers in the US and I think Australia at the time of publication. There are many international manufacturers and suppliers of Procion MX-type dyes, with the US licence being held by Dystar from memory. Most suppliers of dyes to craft textile workers should carry Procion MX dyes but they may be under a different trade name. Procion MX is the name given to this type of reactive dye by the initial manufacturer ICI. I know they have a different name in the US, which I will check out for you. The problem with identifying manufacturers is that licences or aspects of a particular chemical business are sold so it is difficult to follow a supply chain over time. However, I will check the mass of information I have on this and post the results.

  3. vks1 Says:

    I’ve looked again at Ruth Norton’s article, as well as hunting around on google, and both seem to point to Earth Guild being a reliable source of Procion dyes in the US. Their website can be found at http://www.earthguild.com/index.htm

  4. Jeff Peachey Says:

    Thanks, I will look into them.

  5. Ribon Biswas Says:

    I am a new student of Textile engineering.The foundation day of our Versity is on 24Feb,2010. I would like to represent a Project on ”GREEN INDUSTRY”
    What should be the information if i want to Present it on “DEYING INDUSTRY”
    i want a model of a DEYING INDUSTRY,INFORMATION about THE DUST THEY EMIT,AND how to REFINE it.

  6. vks1 Says:

    Hi Ribon

    Thanks for your query. The best starting point I can give you is to consult Chemical Principles of Textile Conservation, Timar-Balazsy and Eastrop, Butterworth Heinemann, 1998. It has an excellent bibliography and will give you a broader range of titles from which you will be able to gain the information you need. I also found google searches to produce quite a lot of articles available online. Good luck.


  7. […] warned.  Direct dyes, such as Ciba-Geigy direct dye Solophenyl are also difficult to control, requiring heat and pH monitoring to apply. Traditional leather dyes, like Feibings, are very fugitive and not used in modern conservation. […]

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