A Dictionary of Arts: Mordant.

A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines; containing A Clear Exposition of Their Principles and Practice

by Andrew Ure, M. D.;
F. R. S. M. G. S. Lond.: M. Acad. M. S. Philad.; S. PH. DOC. N. GERM. Ranow.; Mulh. Etc. Etc.

Illustrated with nearly fifteen hundred engravings on wood
Eleventh American, From The Last London Edition.
To which is appended, a Supplement of Recent Improvements to The Present Time.

New York: D Appleton & company, 200 Broadway. Philadelphia: George S. Appleton, 148 Chestnut St.


MORDANT, in dyeing and calico-printing, denotes a body which, having a twofold attraction for organic fibres and colouring particles, serves as a bond of union between them, and thus gives fixity to dyes; or it signifies a substance which, by combining with colouring particles in the pores of textile filaments, renders them insoluble in hot soapy and weak alkaline solutions. In order properly to appreciate the utility and the true functions of mordants, we must bear in mind that colouring matters are peculiar compounds possessed of certain affinities, their distinctive characters being not to be either acid or alkaline, and yet to be capable of combining with many bodies, and especially with salifiable bases, and of receiving from each of them modifications in their color, solubility, and alterability. Organic colouring substances, when pure, have a very energetic attraction for certain bodies, feeble for others, and none at all for some. Among these immediate products of animal or vegetable life, some are soluble in pure water, and others become so only through peculiar agents. Among these immediate products of animal or vegetable life, some are soluble in pure water, and others become so only through peculiar agents. We may thus readily conceive, that whenever a dye-stuff possesses a certain affinity for the organic fibre, it will be able to become fixed on it, or to dye it without the intervention of mordants, if it be insoluble by itself in water, which, in fact, is the case with the colouring matters of safflower, annotto, and indigo. The first two are soluble in alkalis; hence, in order to use them, they need only be dissolved in a weak alkaline ley, be thus applied to the stuffs, and then have their tinctorial substance precipitated within their pores, by abstracting their solvent alkali with an acid. The colouring matter, at the instant of ceasing to be liquid, is in an extremely divided state, and is in contact with the organic fibres for which it has a certain affinity. It therefore unites with them, and, being naturally insoluble in water, that is, having no affinity for this vehicle, the subsequent washings have no effect upon the dye. The same thing may be said of indigo, although its solubility in the dye-bath does not depend upon a similar cause, but is due to a modification of its constituent elements, in consequence of which it becomes soluble in alkalis. Stuffs plunged into this indigo bath get impregnated with the solution, so that when again exposed to the air, the dyeing substance resumes at once its primitive colour and insolubility, and washing can carry off only the portions in excess above the intimate combination, or which are merely deposited upon the surface of the stuff.

Such is the result with insoluble colouring matters; but for those which are soluble it should be quite the reverse, since they do not possess an affinity for the organic fibres, which can counterbalance their affinity for water. In such circumstances, the dyer must have recourse to intermediate bodies, which add their affinity for the colouring matter to that possessed by the particles of the stuff, and increase by this twofold action the intimacy and the stability of the combination. These intermediate bodies are the true mordants.

Mordants are in general found among the metallic bases or oxydes; whence they might be supposed to be very numerous, like the metals; but as they must unite the twofold condition of possessing a strong affinity for both the colouring matter and the organic fibre, and as the insoluble bases are almost the only ones fit to form insoluble combinations, we may thus perceive that their number may be very limited. It is well known, that although lime and magnesia, for example, have a considerable affinity for colouring particles, and form insoluble compounds with them, yet they cannot be employed as mordants, because they possess no affinity for the textile fibres.

Experience has proved, that of all the bases, those which succeed best as mordants are alumina, tin, and oxide of iron; the first two of which, being naturally white, are the only ones which can be employed for preserving to the colour its original tint, at least without much variation. But whenever the mordant is itself colored, it will cause the dye to take a compound colour quite different from its own. If, as is usually said, the mordant enters into a real chemical union with the stuff to be dyed, the application of the mordant should obviously be made in such circumstances as are known to be most favorable to the combination taking place; and this is the principle of every day's practice in the dye-house.

In order that a combination may result between two bodies, they must not only be in contact, but they must be reduced to their ultimate molecules. The mordants that are to be united with stuffs are, as we have seen, insoluble of themselves, for which reason their particles must be divided by solution in an appropriate vehicle. Now this solvent or menstruum will exert in its own favor an affinity for the mordant, which will prove to that extent an obstacle to its attraction for the stuff. Hence we must select such solvents as have a weaker affinity for the mordants than the mordants have for the stuffs. Of all the acids which can be employed to dissolve alumina, for example, vinegar is the one which will retain it with least energy, for which reason the acetate of alumina is now generally substituted for alum, because the acetic acid gives up the alumina with such readiness, that mere elevation of temperature is sufficient to effect the separation of these two substances. Before this substitution of the acetate, alum alone was employed; but without knowing the true reason, all the French dyers preferred the alum of Rome, simply regarding it to be the purest; it is only within these few years that they have understood the real grounds of this preference. This alum has not, in fact, the same composition as the alums of France, England, and Germany, but it consists chiefly of cubic alum having a larger proportion of base. Now this extra portion of base is held by the sulphuric acid more feebly than the rest, and hence is more readily detached in the form of a mordant. Nay, when a solution of cubic alum is heated, this redundant alumina falls down in the state of a subsulphate, long before it reaches the boiling point. This difference had not, however, been recognized, because Roman alum, being usually soiled with ochre on the surface, gives a turbid solution, whereby the precipitate of subsulphate of alumina escaped observation. When the liquid was filtered, and crystallized afresh, common octahedral alum alone was obtained; whence it was most erroneously concluded, that the preference given to Roman alum was unjustifiable, and that its only superiority was in being freer from iron.

Here a remarkable anecdote illustrates the necessity of extreme caution, before we venture to condemn from theory a practice found to be useful in the arts, or set about changing it. When the French were masters in Rome, on of their ablest chemists was sent thither to inspect the different manufactures, and to place them upon a level with the state of chemical knowledge. One of the fabrics, which seemed to him furthest behindhand, was precisely that of alum, and he was particularly hostile to the construction of the furnaces, in which vast boilers received heat merely at their bottoms, and could not be made to boil. He strenuously advised them to be new modelled upon a plan of his own; but, notwithstanding his advice, which was no doubt very scientific, the old routine kept its ground, supported by utility and reputation, and very fortunately too, for the manufacture; for had the higher heat been given to the boilers, no more genuine cubical alum would have been made, since it is decomposed at a temperature of about 120° F., and common octahedral alum would alone have been produced. The addition of a little alkali to common alum brings it into the same basic state as the alum of Rome.

The two principal conditions, namely, extreme tenuity of particles, and liberty of action, being found in a mordant, its operation is certain. But as the combination to be effected is merely the result of a play of affinity between the solvent and the stuff to be dyed, a sort of partition must take place, proportioned to the mass of the solvent, as well as to its attractive force. Hence the stuff will retain more of the mordant when its solution is more concentrated, that is, when the base diffused through it is not so much protected by a large mass of menstruum; a fact applied to very valuable uses by the practical man. Om impregnating in calico printing, for example, different spots of the same web with the same mordant in different degrees of concentration, there is obtained in the dye-bath a depth of colour upon these spots intense in proportion to the strength of their various mordants. Thus, with solution of acetate of alumina in different grades of density, and with madder, every shade can be produced, from the fullest red to the lightest pink; and, with acetate of iron and madder, every shade from black to pale violet.

We hereby perceive that recourse must indispensably be had to mordants at different stages of concentration; a circumstance readily realized by varying the proportions of the watery vehicle. See CALICO-PRINTING and MADDER. When these mordants are to be topically applied, to produce partial dyes upon cloth, they must be thickened with starch or gum, to prevent their spreading, and to permit a sufficient body of them to become attached to the stuff. Starch answers best for the more neutral mordants, and gum for the acidulous; but so much of them should never be used, as to impede the attraction of the mordant for the cloth. Nor should the thickened mordants be of too desiccative a nature, lest they become hard, and imprison the chemical agent before it has had an opportunity of combining with the cloth, during the slow evaporation of its water and acid. Hence the mordanted goods, in such a case, should be hung up to dry in a gradual manner, and when oxygen is necessary to the fixation of the base, they should be largely exposed to the atmosphere. The foreman of the factory ought, therefore, to be thoroughly conversant with all the minutiæ of chemical reaction. In cold and damp weather he must raise the temperature of his drying-house, in order to command a more decided evaporation; and when the atmosphere is unusually dry and warm, he should add deliquescent correctives to his thickening, as I have particularized in treating of some styles of calico-printing. But, supposing the application of the mordant and its desiccation to have been properly managed, the operation is by no means complete; nay, what remains to be done is not the least important to success, nor the least delicate of execution. Let us bear in mind that the mordant is intended to combine not only with the organic fibre, but afterwards also with the colouring matter, and that, consequently, it must be laid entirely bare, or scraped clean, so to speak, that is, completely disengaged from all foreign substances which might invest it, and obstruct its intimate contact with the colouring matters. This is the principle and the object of two operations, to which the names of dunging and clearing have been given.

If the mordant applied to the surface of the cloth were completely decomposed, and the whole of its base brought into chemical union with it, a mere rinsing or scouring in water would suffice for removing the viscid substances added to it, but this never happens, whatsoever precautions may be taken; one portion of the mordant remains untouched, and besides, one part of the base of the portion decomposed does not enter into combination with the stuff, but continues loose and superfluous. All these particles, therefore, must be removed without causing any injury to the dyes. If in this predicament the stuff were merely immersed in water, the free portion of the mordant would dissolve, and would combine indiscriminately with all the parts of the cloths not mordanted, and which should be carefully protected from such combination, as well as the action of the dye. We must therefore add to the scouring water some substance that is capable of seizing the mordant as soon as it is separated from the cloth, and of forming with it an insoluble compound; by which means we shall withdraw it from the sphere of action, and prevent its affecting the rest of the stuff, or interfering with the other dyes. This result is obtained by the addition of cow-dung to the scouring bath; a substance which contains a sufficiently great proportion of soluble animal matters, and of colouring particles, for absorbing the aluminous and ferruginous salts. The heat given to the dung-bath accelerated this combination, and determines an insoluble and perfectly inert coagulum.

Thus the dung-bath produces at once the solution of the thickening paste; a more intimate union between the alumina or iron and the stuff, in proportion to its elevation of temperature, which promotes that union; an effectual subtraction of the undecomposed and superfluous part of the mordant, and perhaps a commencement of mechanical separation of the particles of alumina, which are merely dispersed among the fibres; a separation, however, which can be completed only by the proper scouring, which is done by the dash-wheel with such agitation and pressure (see BLEACHING and DUNGING) as vastly facilitate the expulsion of foreign particles. See also BRAN.

Before concluding this article, we may say a word or two about astringents, and especially gall-nuts, which have been ranked by some writers among mordants. It is rather difficult to account for the part which they play. Of course we do not allude to their operation in the black dye, where they give the well known purple-black color, with salts of iron; but to the circumstance of their employment for madder dyes, and especially the Adrianople red. All that seems to be clearly established is, that the astringent principle of tannin, whose peculiar nature in this respect is unknown, combines like mordants with the stuffs and the colouring substance, so as to fix it; but as this tannin has itself a brown tint, it will not suit for white grounds, though it answers quite well for pink grounds. When white spots are desired upon a cloth prepared with oil and galls, they are produced by an oxygenous discharge, effected either through chlorine of chromic acid.

MORDANT is also the name of sometimes given to the adhesive matter by which gold-leaf is made to adhere to surfaces of wood and metal in gilding. Paper, vellum, taffety, &c., are easily gilt by the aid of different mordants, such as the following: 1. beer in which some honey and gum arabic have been dissolved; 2. gum arabic, sugar, and water; 3. the viscid juice of onion or hyacinth, strengthened with a little gum arabic. When too much gum is employed, the silver or gold leaf is apt to crack in the drying of the mordant. A little carmine should be mixed with the above colorless liquids, to mark the places where they are applied. The foil is applied by means of a dossil of cotton wool, and when the mordant has become hard, the foil is polished with the same.

The best medium for sticking gold and silver leaf to wood is the following, called mixtion by the French artists: - 1 pounds of amber is to be fused, with 4 ounces of mastic in tears, and 1 ounce of Jewish pitch, and the whole dissolved in 1 pounds of linseed oil rendered drying by litharge.

Painters in distemper sometimes increase the effect of their work, by patches of gold leaf, which they place in favorable positions; they employ the above mordant. The manufacturers of paper hangings of the finer kinds attach gold and silver leaf to them by the same varnish.

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