Storing Dyes

 
 

Traditionally, pysanka dyes were not stored for any significant length of time.  Dyes were prepared from natural materials–grasses, flowers, bark, leaves–and used right away.  Most botanical dyes do not last very long (unless they are refrigerated); the will begin to spoil within days.

The dyes would be boiled up in pots, and then transferred into earthenware bowls.  Pysanky were not usually dyed one at a time, but in batches.  Natural dyes took long to set (up to a day with some colors!), so several eggs would normally be soaking at any given time.

With the transition to modern chemical dyes, storage has become necessary.  Dyes can be saved for months (if used frequently) or even years. And, with refrigeration, botanical dyes can be saved for longer periods of time.


Where should you store the dyes? 

If you use them seasonally (e.g. for a few weeks a year), it is best to find a cool, dark place to stash your dye collection away. The dyes are fairly heat stable–after all, they are mixed with boiling water to get them into solution, and can be boiled to re-dissolve any crystals. They are not, however, light stable.  If you’ve ever left any pysanky in direct sunlight, you’ll have noticed how quickly and how profoundly they fade.

A dark corner of the basement or a closet is a good choice.  Keeping them in a box (to keep stray light out) is also a consideration. 

I use my dyes year round, so I keep the ones I use all the time (yellow, orange, red, green, blue, black) out on my dyeing table.  The less commonly used dyes I store away in two file cabinets that I use to support my dye table. (A legal size file cabinet drawer is wide enough to store three TwistnLoc jars across and, depending on its depth, up to five jars deep. You can also stack the jars, 3 pints or 1 pint and 1 quart.) My work area is in the basement, though, where it is fairly dark most of the day, unless I turn the lights on.


What sort of containers should you use?

I’ve seen how-to movies and booklets about making pysanky where the dyes are contained in what appear to be drinking glasses.  While this may be useful for dyeing pysanky, it is not a good way to store the dyes. You want to store your dyes, if possible, in an airtight (and watertight) container. This will help to avoid evaporation, and keep airborne fungi (molds, etc.) out.

I know of at least one person who stores her dyes in Tupper-ware type bowls. Some people with large dye collections have begun using zipper-type plastic bags.  Most of us, however, use jars of some sort, preferably with a screw-type lid. A discussion of the pros and cons of various types of jars can be found on the next page.


How long can dyes be kept?

When discussing aniline dyes, the best answer to this question is “until you use them up.” Your dyes have enough solute (dye particles) in them to dye a given quantity of eggs–many dozens, in most cases. When you notice that the dyes are taking a very long time to work, or the resulting colors are weak, it may be time to replace them.

Before chucking out the dyes, try adding a tablespoon or two of vinegar; this may be enough to get them working well again (the dyes need an acid environment to work properly).

I usually throw out old dyes and mix up a new batch from scratch.  Others (Helen Badulak, according to her book) will add more dye powder to weak dyes and just keep using them.  I assume that she heats up the old dye before adding the new, but she does not explicitly say so.  Old dyes can also be kept and used to experiment with custom colors by mixing different shades together.

Sometimes old, depleted dyes can be repurposed.  I find that depleted black will give you a lovely brown color (sort of a walnut) over yellow, red or orange dye, and a quick dip will turn red into a nice terra-cotta color.

The colors that I use frequently–yellow, black, orange–usually last me a year......or less.  Others (those that I use infrequently) I’ve had around for many years, and just add a tablespoon or two of vinegar to them every once in a while.




  Preparing        Containers



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