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Staining cloth sails?

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Many folks advise against tea staining because of the acidic nature of tea; others will tell you that they have used the technique for years with no obvious ill effect. But you can avoid the question entirely by using fabric dyes, e.g. Rit, or by purchasing fabric of the desired color. One thing to take note of, which you can see in photos of tallships, is that life under the glaring sun at sea tends to bleach sails lighter than some modelers might expect.

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Acrylic paint. Burnt umber is a good color but most of the other earth tones can work. Acrylic paint is probably the best choice if your interested in archival considerations. Tea or coffee work and give a good color but as mentioned above, the tanic acid in tea strikes fear into the hearts of those who insist on maximum longevity. You DO see deteriorated fabric sails on old decrepit models (and rigging falling to pieces too) but we are unlikely to learn the actual cause of the destruction-was it tea? Was it UV radiation? I’ve used coffe in the past and I fill a five gallon bucket with hot water and into this I put a pot of coffee and white cotton fabric and I let it soak overnight. You get a nice subtle and appropriate tan color. Using acrylic is different: it’s best to test batches in order to get a feel for the ratio of paint to water. But the results are not dependent on how long you soak for, they’re instant. In each case, hang the fabric to dry so the liquid evaporates evenly off the surface.

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