Can Procion MX colour dyes be applied to dry cotton?

Name: Matthew
Country or region: Hong Kong
Message: Hello Paula,

With Procion MX colour dyes can this be applied to dry cotton? The reason I ask this is because I would like to use the dye to draw on to the cotton. Nothing fancy but just simple? I am more thinking that you cannot because the cloth needs to be damp in-order for the procion to be permanently applied? I know I could probably still achieve this but just worried about the dye kind of blotting when applied to the wet cloth?

In this case, which type of dye could I use to achieve this? I would prefer something that like soaks into the shirt like the above dye.

Many thanks


You can use Procion MX dyes to draw or paint on dry fabric. As always, you will need to use soda ash or another high-pH fixative, but there is more than one way to do this.

One method is to mix up your Procion dyes as usual, then place just enough for you to use up within an hour into another container. In this smaller container, dissolve one-half teaspoon (2.5 milliliters) of dry soda ash in one cup (250 milliliters) of dye solution. After an hour, throw away any that remains of this activated dye, and dissolve soda ash in a fresh batch of the dye. The dye itself will stay good for at least a week at room temperature WITHOUT soda ash, but as soon as the soda ash is added, it starts to go bad, so you need to mix only enough to use right away.

Another method is to soak your dry cotton fabric in soda ash, as usual, then take it out of the soda ash mixture, let it drip, and hang it up to dry. As it dries, the soda ash will stay in the fabric, ready to react with the liquid dye as it comes into contact with it. Be careful that you do not put your pen or paintbrush into the main container of dye color that you have mixed up, because some soda ash will inevitably be transferred from your brush to your dye container, and shorten its lifespan dramatically. Just pour out enough to work with for a while, throw it out within an hour, and then pour out a fresh amount to continue painting. Be careful when handling the dry fabric that has soda ash in it, because the soda ash is irritating to your hands, and, if it dusts up into the air, it is irritating to the lungs to breathe it. Wear gloves or a dust mask if needed.

A third method is to skip the soda ash, and paint your Procion MX dye liquid onto the fabric, then let it dry. After it is dry, you can paint on a liquid for of sodium silicate, which is also called Water Glass. The sodium silicate has a high pH and works as a fixative just the same way that soda ash does. As soon as you are done painting, cover with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out in the fabric. Do not allow sodium silicate to dry in fabric! It will be too difficult to wash out. Be careful not to get water glass on your skin or onto any glass or furniture. It is best to wear safety glasses in case it spatters. For more info on using silicate to fix Procion MX dyes, see my page, “Sodium silicate as a fixative for dyeingā€.

Sometimes dyers place the soda ash, dissolved in water, into a spray bottle, and use it to spray onto the dry Procion MX painting. This can work well, but of course the dye lines on the fabric may soften and get wider. Another method is to place the soda ash mixture in a basin, and dissolve as much salt as can be dissolved in it, so much that a little salt remains at the bottom of the container. This saturated salt solution reduces the solubility of the dyes, so that they spread less when the fabric is dipped into it. Using a soda ash/saturated salt solution for spraying may help. You should expect some dye movement, however.

When using any of these techniques, be sure to try it on a quick test project, before using it on a complex piece that has taken you time to make. Testing your methods is always important. It would be sad to make a complex beautiful painting and then see it smeared by the fixation step.

For more information on using soda ash for fixing dye, see my page, ā€œWhat is soda ash, and what’s it used for in dyeing?ā€.

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2 thoughts on “Can Procion MX colour dyes be applied to dry cotton?

  1. Jennifer callan

    Iā€™m considering the possibility of using soda ash in the first hand rinse Has anyone tried this/think it will work?


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