Thursday, June 23, 2016

Dyeing with old Cushing's Perfection Union Dyes

Last year, I bought a huge stash of vintage (mostly pre-1980) rug hooking supplies from a wonderful lady who was downsizing. Both she (Myrna L.) and her mother (Velma B.) had been McGown-Hookrafter-Guild-trained rug hookers, so she had boxes upon boxes of tools, books, patterns, and wool. I'm so very grateful to her, and I'm going to do my best to pay it forward by sharing the supplies with other rug hookers and sharing curiosities and treasures here on the blog. This is the first post in that series.

Among the supplies I inherited from Myrna were three boxes of Cushing's Perfection Dyes, which I have just finished sorting and alphabetizing - there's at least one envelope of each colour of the Ordinary Type (union) dyes. As near as I can tell they date to the mid-1980s at the latest. The All-Fibre Type dyes (which can also be used on nylon and synthetic fabrics, and have three different styles of pakaging) have been set aside in a ziploc bag. See below for more photos of the pamphlet.
A typical Ordinary Type dye packet, although the ink and paper colours vary a little, and the interior envelope of dye is sometimes made of paper instead of foil. Notice that the instructions don't call for added vinegar, likely because there is something like citric acid in the blend to bring the pH of the solution down. Some of my packets feel a little lumpy inside, but as long as all the dye dissolves in boiling water it should work fine.
Side 1 of the undated pamphlet, printed on heavy cardstock, has more dyeing instructions. The "Perfection Plurosol" detergent they refer to is a wetting agent, like Synthrapol of Jet Dry.
Side 2 of the pamphlet gives you an idea of the colours - although many rug hookers used recipes developed by teachers in their community to mix the dyes for custom shades. has good advice on using vintage union dyes, and notes that it probably contains the carcinogen benzidine. So, wear gloves and a dust mask when working with it, and (as always) never ever use your dye pots for cooking.

page 124 of Maryanne Lincoln's wonderful book (I need to get my hands on a physical copy!) via Google, explains in a sidebar the history of Cushing's Perfection Dyes and how the dye formulations changed from union dyes to acid dyes in the mid-1990s.

Because they are union dyes and I want to exhaust the dyebath before disposal to protect the environment as far as possible, I need to also throw cotton into each bath. So I will also have a stack of white cotton fat quarters (for a quilt, someday) and some cotton twill binding tape on hand for that purpose, in addition to the wool I'll be dyeing.

I'll follow up with some photos of my dye results when I give these a try!

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