Dyeing in China.

Scientific American 44, 21.7.1849

Dobel in his "Residence in China" says, "The perfection of the mechanic arts in China cannot be denied in certain instances; but this is evidently not the result of a regular combination of scientific improvements. It appears to be the effect of the labored experience of ages, brought slowly and difficultly to a certain point, where it is stationary, and cannot advance further, until science shall dispel the prejudices of habit and the clouds of ignorance. There is certainly a superiority in several of their silk manufactures, as it regards the loss and the fixing of the colors, and the rendering them so bright and permanent; but this is not produced by any secret mordant or process unknown to Europeans. I was once present at the dyeing of silks; and, on examination, found the process conducted in the simplest manner, with the commonest mordants used in England. - They know very little of the chemical agents, the use of which has become so common in Europe; and the brightness and permanency of their colors must be derived from a great experience of the application of the mordants the climate, and other favorable and concurring circumstances. Owing to the cheapness of labor, a very large number of hands are employed; therefore the work goes on with a rapidity almost beyond conception, and the silks are immediately hung out to dry, during the prevalance of the north wind, called by them Pak Fung. Certainly, in other climates and under different management, more time would be required, and that circumstance would suffice to alter very much the apprearance of the colors.

The Chinese never attempted to dye any fine silks with rich colors until the Pak Fung commences, which generally happens towards the last of September, or by the beginning of October. The wind is so remarkable in its effects, and so immediately felt, that should it begin at night, even when all the doors and windows are shut, the extreme dryness of the air penetrates into the house immediately, and the furniture and floors begin to crack, with a noise almosst as loud as the report of a pistol. If the floors have been laid down in summer, when the air is damp, or if t he planks be not exceedingly well seasoned, and secured with iron cramps, they will open an inch at least when the north-east monsoon commences. The Chinese will not even pack tea or silks for exportation in damp weather; that is to say unless they are hurried to do it by the strangers who have business with them and wish to get their ships away sooner than ordinary. I have known a ship detained three weeks longer than the captain wished at Canton, because the security machine would not pack the silks which formed pack of her cargo, until the weather become favorable. This will account, in some measure, not only for the permanency and beauty of the dye, but likewise for the care which is taken to preserve it. The Chinese say that if newly dyed silks be packed before they are perfectly dry, or in damp weather, they will not only lose their brightness of the color, but will also become spotted.

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