Procion H and other alternatives to H. Dupont silk painting dye

Name: Juliet


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Message: Thanks for your excellent site. I have a question about Procion H dyes. I read somewhere (can't remember where, i think on your site) that it cannot cross the barrier into the cells of the body. Is this correct? I have had bad reactions to Dupont silk painting dyes and acid dyes and am hoping the H will work for me. I see Jacquard is discontinuing the Liquid H range. They are not responding to my query as to why this is. Do you know the answer? Also read on the Jacquard blog that Procion H requires only steaming and no chemical water etc - did I understand that correctly? Maiwa is now the only site that I can find ....anywhere...that carries liquid Procion H dyes ? Tx and kind regards

I wonder if your reaction to the Dupont dyes was caused by the solvents they contain. The biggest problem with the Dupont silk painting dyes, as with other brands of French silk dyes, is that they are prepared with solvents that produce harmful fumes. Their use therefore requires good ventilation, which is unfortunately in short supply in many art studios. Wearing a dust mask will not help; in fact, not even a cartridge respirator can make it safe to breathe fumes from dye mixtures that contain alcohols, as the H Dupont dyes do. Open windows or fume extraction systems are required in order to work safely with solvents. I wrote about these dyes in a Dye Forum post entitled, "What's in the French silk dyes?".

Some of the French silk dyes contain basic (or cationic) dyes, some contain acid dyes, and a few even contain fiber reactive dyes. Cationic dyes penetrate inside cells and cell nuclei more readily than negatively charged dyes, according to the US National Library of Medicine's Toxnet Toxicology Data Network. In contrast, fiber reactive dyes, as well as most of the dyes sold as acid dyes, are negatively charged. (Some basic dyes, such as Rhodamine B, are sold in several lines of acid dyes.) Fiber reactive dyes tend also to react with the proteins on the surface of the dead skin cells that protect underlying layers of skin, rather than penetrating inside living cells, which makes them useful for distinguishing between living and dead cells in scientific studies; this is reassuring for us, but it is still wise to wear gloves and avoid skin contact with all textile dyes.

Fiber reactive dyes make an excellent alternative to the solvent-containing silk dyes for silk painting. You can work with fiber reactive dyes that have been dissolved in water instead of more dangerous solvents; the chemicals used with fiber reactive dyes do not have the safety problems of the solvents used in the French silk dyes. There are several different classes of fiber reactive dyes that can be used as silk dyes, including Procion MX, Procion H, Drimarene K, and Remazol (vinyl sulfone) dyes. 

Procion MX dyes can be used for silk painting, but their rapid reactions either with the fiber or with water means that you cannot keep colors in liquid form for more than a couple of weeks. The color balance in your mixtures may shift as the fastest-to-react color goes bad. The dyes work well on silk, but you are likely to find it inconvenient to mix up your colors anew every week or two.

Procion H dyes are extremely similar to Procion MX dyes, but much less reactive; they require steaming to be fixed on the silk, and Procion H dyes that you have dissolved in water will stay good for a long time. Jacquard Products has discontinued their Procion H liquid dyes in favor of another fiber reactive dye, but you can still buy liquid Procion H dye mixtures from PRO Chemical & Dye in the US and from G&S Dye in Canada. However, since you live in South Africa, shipping of liquid dyes seems likely to be prohibitively expensive.

Remazol or vinyl sulfone dyes should work as well for you as Procion H dyes. (See "About Vinyl Sulfone Fiber Reactive Dyes".) This is the line of dyes that Jacquard Products has substituted for their old line of Procion H liquid dyes. They expect the Liquid Remazol dyes to be more popular, because they work as well, but are more concentrated and therefore less expensive. Like Procion H dyes, the Remazol dyes are fiber reactives. They are less reactive than Procion MX dyes, so you can mix up a specific color of dissolved dye and expect it to stay good for several months, especially if you store your stock solutions in the refrigerator. (Before using refrigerated dyes, allow them to return to room temperature, and shake well to dissolve any dye that has settled out.) They can be set on silk at warm room temperatures using high-pH chemicals such as washing soda, or, for silk painting, they can be used without auxiliary chemicals, or mixed with a sodium alginate thickener for a different paint texture, and then steam-set. An advantage of the fiber reactive dyes, including both Remazol and Procion H, is that they require only thirty minutes of steaming, instead of the long steaming of up to three hours that is required for the French silk dyes.

Remazol dyes can be purchased from a number of different sources in many different countries. Some sources sell only the powdered form, but you can dissolve the dyes yourself safely. Dye powders are allergenic if you breathe them, but you can work with them safely by wearing a dust mask when measuring them out. Once you've mixed them with water, no dust mask is needed, only the usual protection of thin disposable waterproof gloves made of latex or nitrile. Jacquard Products' line of liquid Remazol type dyes is called Vinyl Sulphon, while PRO Chemical & Dye calls them Liquid Reactive Dyes. You can also buy vinyl sulfone dyes under other brand names. Most convenient for you would be to buy Slipstream dyes, which are vinyl sulfone dyes in powder form that are available to hand dyers in South Africa. See Slipstream Dyes and Prints, or contact Melanie Brummer in Johannesburg by calling 0835689150 or sending e-mail to info [at] You can mail-order the dyes, or ask for the name of a local stockist who sells them.

Please let me know if you obtain powdered vinyl sulfone dyes and need help with the recipes for working with them for painting silk. Instructions for dyeing with Remazol and Procion H type dyes usually call for chemical water, but the dyes can fix on silk when steamed, even without chemical auxiliaries. Baking soda is a good chemical auxiliary, because it is converted to the higher-pH soda ash only when subjected to high heat when the silk is steamed. If you have hard water, I strongly recommend the use of the water softener sodium hexametaphosphate in your dye mixtures, or use softened, distilled, or deionized water.

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Posted: Monday - February 14, 2011 at 10:18 AM          

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