Yesterday I found some dyes that I bought five years ago. Before throwing them out I decided to try a test to see if, by some miracle, any of them were still useable. Surprisingly, several of them were absolutely fine! I’ll show you how to test any dyes you have in question, and give you the results of my test down at the end of this blog post. These were mostly Tinfix silk-painting dyes and had been stored inside my house in a dark, temperature-controlled environment.
My first word of advice is to write the purchase date on the lid or label of each dye bottle as soon as you buy it (a fine-tip permanent marker works great for this). Do this for gutta as well; just a note for you, Jacquard black gutta seems to last a little less than a year for me. It might be different for you depending on your studio/storage environment, and what condition the gutta is in when you buy it. Okay now, back to dye…
Make a color swatch of each new dye color as soon as you buy it (see my blog from May 2013 “Silk Painting Dyes: Making New Colors and Keeping Records). That way, you’ll have something to compare your test piece with to see if the color has stayed the same. Swatches are also useful when picking out the colors you want to use when planning a silk painting.
Here’s the testing process:
1. On a scrap piece of silk, outline some shapes with resist that are at least 4 x 6 inches or so. You need a shape big enough to give the dyes an opportunity to “misbehave” if they’re going to. I like rectangles or squares because that’s the simplest and most efficient use of space. Leave some white silk showing between shapes so you can tell if the colors run after steaming. I left one inch of space between rectangles.
2. Shake all the dye bottles you are testing.
3. Number each bottle of dye you’re testing. You can do this by writing on a piece of masking tape and sticking it to the bottle, or by writing directly on the bottle or lid with permanent marker.
4. Number the shapes on your scrap silk to correspond with each dye bottle. I used gutta for this, but you could also use permanent marker. If using marker, write the numbers somewhere outside the shapes so the marker won’t effect the dye in any way.
5. Paint the shapes on your silk with the appropriate dyes.
6. Steam the silk the same amount time you usually do (I steam for 3 hours). Wash out the silk and hang it to dry.
7. Iron the silk and look closely at each color sample to see how well it steamed. Any unevenness, blotchiness, or change in color quality means the dye is no longer viable. If any of the colors ran during the drying process, they must be thrown out as well.
Just in case you’re interested, here are the test results:
1. Tinfix Ebony Black 104 OK
2. Jacquard Magenta 715 Color ran after steaming
3. Tinfix Celadon 60 OK
4. Tinfix Turquoise Light 57 OK
5. Tinfix Brazil Green 61 Uneven color after steaming
6. Tinfix Violet 41 Color ran after steaming, accumulated solids in bottle
7. Tinfix Opera Purple 39 OK
8. Tinfix Celadon 60 OK
9. Tinfix Bright Orange 15 OK
10. Tinfix Lacquer Orange 13 OK
11. Dupont Cuivre 426 OK
12. Tinfix Pearl Red 18 Color ran after steaming
13. Tinfix Helios Brown 83 Uneven color after steaming
14. Tinfix Olive Green 74 OK
15. Tinfix French Blue/Primary Blue 54 OK
16. Tinfix Copper Brown 77 OK
17. Tinfix Copper Brown 77 OK
18. Tinfix Burnt Sienna 88 Uneven color after steaming
All of the above colors matched their original color swatches, so there were no changes in dye colors. A word about yellows: I’ve found that Jacquard Yellow dye runs after just a couple of years on the shelf. Tinfix Canary Yellow will change to a watery brownish color after a couple of years. If you have any kind of yellow dye that you aren’t sure about, definitely test it before using it on a painting.
Jacquard Black also runs after a couple of years on the shelf. Test it to be sure.
A couple more notes: Some colors are repeated in the above test results because I had more than one bottle of dye in that color. Results seemed unaffected by whether the dyes had been opened or were still factory-sealed.