The Time Factor: a Day versus Two Months

As we all are aware of the extreme importance of the Time in the dyeing process, an awfully generalized instruction ‘The longer the time, the better the results” is very often applied, especially by the newbies, to all stages of the process unquestioningly and with no doubts

Some novices are certain that the reason for not getting the right color and/or print is them having been impatient and not letting the roll of dyed fabric sit for too long…

Of course, Time and Temperature are the two key factors of the dyeing process!

But there are also such inputs, as fibers condition, plant material quality, mordants, length of bath after all… Though the last value is the least popular aspect I’d say… All these and quite a few other things may influence the outcome. 

Nevertheless, the question that I am asked more often is about Time! Specifically about that sort of the Time which, say, starts right after you take off your pot from the heat source and ends up when you open the dyed fabric.

To finally separate the wheat from the chaff and not to rely upon the random outcome, I decided to run a comparative test to see how the Curing Time affects the result of the dyeing process in terms of the color yield/intensity and the sharpness of the prints, if any. In this test I was going to estimate only the visible side of the deal, not dwelling upon the Colorfastness at this point.

Fabric: Two lengths of silk previously sandwiched in between rusty sheets of iron, sprinkled with vinegar and cured for up to one week.

Plant material:My local favs – Sumac, Cotinus, vine leaf, Prunus Padus, maple leaf.

Process: The fabric folded with plant material and steamed. One length was left overnight and opened the next day; the other was left for two months.

The Visual Part: the Fast and the Slow Piece

The Fast Piece

The Fast Piece

The Slow Piece

The Slow Piece

And here are some details of the Fast Piece:

Sumac Print in the Fast Piece

Sumac Print in the Fast Piece

Various Plant Material in the Fast Piece

Various Plant Material in the Fast Piece

An Outstanding Maple Leaf Print in the Fast Piece

An Outstanding Maple Leaf Print in the Fast Piece

The details of the Slow Piece:

Cotinus Print in the Slow Piece

Cotinus Print in the Slow Piece

Cotinus and Prunus Padus in the Slow Piece

Cotinus and Prunus Padus in the Slow Piece

Various Plant Material in the Slow Piece

Various Plant Material in the Slow Piece

Now as we see, there is a very distinct difference in these two pieces. Using my sight as the only measuring instrument assigned for this experiment, I can tell that

  • The background in the Fast Piece is whiter;
  • The background in the Slow Piece is more muted;
  • The multicolor palette achieved in the Fast Piece is bright and crisp;
  • The color combination in the Slow Piece is more of the earthy tones, yet clear and intense

Of course, I have just scratched the enormous area of the Time Factor in the Dyeing Practice, and to positively state any consistent pattern here one should have run numerous number of tests and experiments.

But at this point I come to conclusion that not only it is an illusion to believe that the longer curing time gives better results, there is NO universal recipe in terms of Time use;

Time is one of the variables of the dyeing process, altering which we can get varied results. 

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19 responses to “The Time Factor: a Day versus Two Months

  • Gala Lo

    Лена,ты здесь и ягоды какие-то использовала?Очень симпатичная и элегантная россыпь.

  • James Dennison

    Elena, this is a wonderful discussion, and I would like to add one of my personal findings. I have done fast and slow dyeing with natural extracts and gotten beautiful solid colors which I split into two groups. One group was kept in my house and the other was placed in a plastic container on the back seat of my car. The container in my car has been there for about a year. I recently opened the container and compared the two groups of fabric again. Wow! What a difference. I live in sunny Florida, and the heatl is not lost inside my car can climb to a 100 (F) easily. The light is also super bright. The cotton fabrics lost nearly half their color or oxidized to another shade. The silk samples had little change in color, but did lose significant brightness. Of course, the advantage of natural dyeing is that I can put those fabrics back into another natural dyebath and easily over dye them again. I realize that it would not be possible to reproduce prints in the same manner.. I have not tried any of my paper prints in this same way, but I think I will. I will help build a store house of knowledge about light fastness with plant printing.
    Keep up the good work…

  • Jen Eddington

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful experiment. Great need for not rushing.

  • Ginny Huber

    Yes, Elena,you are very generous in sharing your learnings and experience; inspiring!! Thanks.

  • Rosemary Malbin

    Valuable information is appreciated! Thank you for the article and reply’s.

  • Adele Thomas

    I like the idea that a variation of results can be achieved. I like the fact that it is not a one way only recipe. Experimentation is creativity!

  • prairiefibers (@kbaxterpackwood)

    Excellent article and reiterates what I wrote in my books that time is your friend when it comes to natural dyeing! One thing to note is that your quickly dyed items WILL tarnish, ie get darker, over time as well due to the oxidation process.

    • theimportanceofprocrastination

      Dear Kimberly,

      Thank you so much for your attention to my writing! I highly appreciate my results having been reviewed by such a well-known expert in natural dyeing as you are!

      And thank you for your remark on colorfastness; in fact, it has been subject to my regular examination ever since the samples were done. Actually, my worst fear in general is that the bright colors can tarnish due to the oxidation. But on the other hand, there are all those multi colors of ancient carpets and samples from the excavations which are over 500 years old, after thorough examination of which the lac on the fibers from the natural dyes is unbelievably strong, and the bright color is still bright.
      Well, all these are just a piece of my convoluted thinking in regards of the Natural Dyeing, what it was like a few centuries ago and what it is nowadays!

      My objective here is to summarise my theoretical background and based on my practical experiments arrive at a conclusion about the feasibility of some certain natural dyeing procedures in conditions other than professionally equipped dye-house. Out of my sheer curiosity!

      Getting ahead of my planned blog post on this subject, I can say that since the Fast Piece was done in late August 2012 and till the moment it was compared to the Slow Piece, which happened in the mid January 2013, no evident color fading occurred with the Fast Piece. To tell the truth, I was surprised great deal, for I’d thought that by that time no nice and bright colors would remain on this piece! The subject-matter of my article would have been different in that case.
      But of course, to be dead sure no color fading took place one should take measurements with a spectrophotometer, however.

      But anyway, at this point I will keep on monitoring any change in the samples appearance and will report the result after some time. So at least I will be able to tell what is the ‘shelf’ life of my silk fabric dyed via a certain procedure.

      Thank you, Kimberly, once again!

      • Adele Thomas

        I wonder how the heat from the different times of year effected this experiment also. It would be interesting to do a slow on in July/august and a fast one in January x

      • theimportanceofprocrastination

        Well, talking of July/Aug in this area the temperatures rise as high as +45C and up, the heat is unbearable some time! I felt like it was not the right time for a slow experiment at Summer. I judiciously scheduled the time for the slow experiment on this particular season: neither hot, nor too cold.
        I can only suppose that the slow experiment at higher temps may result in corroded fabric and lots of mold. I try to avoid contacts with mildew.

        Thank you, Adele!

  • wendyfe

    Lovely experiment, Elena! I have to say I agree with your findings wholeheartedly. Taste for fast or slow? Both are beautiful but one is not more virtuous as a practice than the other, I feel, and not a firm value. It is just a value-free option sometimes. In my recent eco prints with winter leaves and walnut dye, I do believe I left some of the paper bundles in the dye bath too long. The leaves lost their distinct ouitlines. Also I noticed that deep red rose petals printed violet within 15 minutes in the steam bath but became brown after an hour or so…I left them in that long because the rose leaves they were with needed longer processing. I have found that rose petals can keep their red-violet colours on silk, in my experience. One lesson is: Love the variability! Do not expect to replicate. Your post is very exciting – it helps to move us forward and gain more knowledge in this fascinating field. I so much enjoy your generosity.

    • theimportanceofprocrastination

      Dear Wendy,
      You opinion and appreciation of my experiment is so much valuable to me! Thank you so so much!

      And thank you for adding to the subject of this post too!

      Sharing my practical experience is a real pleasure for me. It is much more fun this way!

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