Sunday, 30 December 2007

who makes procion mx?

When I started working in batik back in Britain I contacted ICI to ask about the safe use and disposal of Procion MX dyes (ICI created them back in the mid-1950s, and in 1991 was still manufacturing them). The then ICI Colours SHE (safe health and environment?) Adviser wrote back with good general advice, along with an assumption that disposal to the sewer in the small quantities I was likely to be using wouldn't be problematic. The adviser also offered to supply the safety data sheets for each individual dye I had.

When these arrived someone I knew working at Severn-Trent Water, and later on someone else at the National Rivers Authority (now the Environment Agency), looked over the data and interpreted it for me. Both said that in the low dilutions I was using Procions, there was no potential harm to aquatic life. If the dye was mixed as a sludge then that was a different matter, Procion is then toxic enough to kill fish. But essentially, the dilute batik doses were of little environmental consequence (at least to fish - my assumption not theirs).

And so, even now in terms of disposal I'm not unduly concerned about using Procions. I still wonder whether, in this respect, they are safer than (most) natural dyes because of their requirement for metal mordants. And of course until I ask people who really know, who have the full facts and the answers, I will keep wondering instead of knowing...


Creation of the dyes is another matter again. ICI no longer makes Procions – it seems Dystar took over manufacturing the full range but they no longer make MX. It's been suggested Procion MX is made in India and I'm making enquiries in an attempt to discover who, where and under what conditions it's now made.

It may sound arrogant and could be completely wrong-headed of me but before at the time I was in touch with ICI, I had assumed that because ICI made the dyes certain environmental procedures and precautions would be met. That high environmental procedures and precautions would be met. I'm older and wiser now and so know not to assume anything with big business. Or with manufacturing in India.


My dithering over whether Procions or natural dyes are the most all-round eco-friendly, eco-sustainable, continues. Which has a lower carbon footprint? Woad, for instance, apparently shouldn't be grown in the same patch more than two or three years in a row as it depletes the soil. Maybe in a rotation system or companion planting soil exhaustion doesn't matter so much but if these or other cropping systems aren't practised, is woad production better or worse than synthetic dyes? I am reading the woad bible, Jamieson B Hurry's "The Woad Plant And Its Dye" (first published 1930, Oxford University Press) and finding some answers. I also know of (and will read up everything available from) Spindigo, a European collaborative research project developing new and sustainable methods of indigo production from woad (Isatis tinctoria), Chinese woad (Isatis indigotica), and polygonum (Polygonum tinctorium). Early in 2008 I intend to visit Woad-inc, Norfolk based growers and producers who also are involved in Spindigo.

The week before Christmas after months of indecision on 'when-to' I called Envision, a southwest based agency that helps businesses with environmental matters. An adviser and I will meet in a few weeks to see how they can help me advance my research and, hopefully, begin to reach some conclusions. I also signed up for a Carbon Trust course (Practical Guide to Footprinting) in February. I feel not only that carbon costing is on its way in to becoming mainstream practice (see here) but along with living systems thinking (nature is role model) it's a major tool for grasping the sustainability implications of every action and production.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Procion washfastness tests update

Neither heat-blasting with an iron nor a second dose of fixing has ended the leaching of colour when soaking. But the second-fix test has clearly demonstrated that tinted soak water is nothing more than excess and unfixed/unfixable dye.

The questions remain: how to rinse it all out and should it be there in the first place?

Current cold (but lovely and sunny) weather rendering my studio at an ambient temperature of 16-17 C means it's not a great time to test the Procions at the advised temperatures. I think only that could ascertain how much excess dye can be expected from direct dye painting.

Meanwhile I'll chuck the existing samples into the washing machine next time there's a load to go on, and see if expensive technology makes a difference. Not that I'd want to do this every time, but it is what Ian Bowers of Fibrecrafts recommended a while back.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Procion washfastness tests

Tests on Procion MX are ongoing. I've found no difference in results between freshly mixed and slightly aged dye (eg several days old without soda ash mixed in).

Nor between dye applied in a warm room (22 C), or in a cooler room (20 C), between warm (32 C) and cool (19 C) temperatures of dye when applied (managed to get dye heated to 32 C in pots on storage heater. That was in the evening, probably in the morning I could get them warmer). I'm aware I hadn't got the dyes to the recommended temperature of 35-41 C or even higher for cyan, so the test may be a false one.

Nor any difference in drying dyed cotton under a polythene sheet (keeping damper for longer thus giving a longer reaction time), and allowing to dry uncovered in natural time (whether warm or cool applied dyes).

Nor any difference between rinsing soda ash off the cotton in cold water before boiling, and not doing so (warm and cool applied dyes).

Nor any difference in drying in a warm room after boiling out wax, and drying in an unheated room (warm and cool applied dyes).

In all cases, the rinse water is clear following the post-boil rinse. But soaking in either hot or cold water loosens first excess cyan, then after some time excess magenta. It would seem that yellow doesn't loosen, because even though it would be hard to see yellow in clear water it certainly would change the magenta or cyan towards either red or green. I don't know about black.

Obviously the photos show some variation in colour between test pots, but the results I'm looking for will show dye in one but not the other.

I have some more ideas to try, including getting dye above 35 C with the ambient temperature up to about 25 C (though once when it was at 23 C it was difficult to keep myself from opening a window), ironing these current tests to give them a super-blast of heat and, applying a second layer of fix to new sections of previously dyed and boiled but not soaked pieces.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

batik in a warming world

Has batik featured in Bali? There's a great story here about how delegates at the Climate Change Conference in Bali had to ditch their formal attire for batik shirts, because despite their requests it wasn't possible to turn up the air conditioning...

Thursday, 29 November 2007

environment, heritage and the arts

I do not think the measure of a civilisation is
how tall its buildings of concrete are, but rather how well its people
have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man.


Sun Bear
, Chippewa, USA


This is one of those profound but obvious statements that I was glad to stumble across again recently (in the Survival International catalogue). It sums up well the awareness that grew on me when travelling in Australia in the late 1980s. Today I'm so happy to read that Peter Garrett (of Midnight Oil) has become Australia's new Environment Minister. More than that his ministry covers Environment, Heritage and the Arts. These three aspects of life are so interlinked in traditional ways of thinking that I am smilingly thrilled for that nation's First Peoples, I hope it works out for them. Also I have real hope for the future if this cultural attitude leads Australia to become once more a (the?) leading player for the environment and our planetary future (I think back to Bob Hawke's signing of the Antarctic World Park Treaty, two full years before campaigning even began in Britain).

Yet here in England, Environment comes under the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, signifying environment as a place outside of urban and suburban contexts; while Culture (which I think is meant as a catchall for Heritage and Arts) is lumped into a Culture, Media and Sports grouping. Within the DCMS, Culture is joined up with creative industries and tourism.

Culture to me means the way of life of a group of people, even a nation - and not a packagable, brandable, competitive, marketable commodity. The arts are not an industry, surely? They are about our soul, our situation and our sagacity. Aren't they?

What hope is there for our nation, for our children, for our planetary survival no less - if at ministerial level the majority of our citizens are disconnected from the environment?

Australia, show us the way...

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

turn UP the heat?

I checked out my annual electric and water use a few days ago, seeing as both bills had arrived. On electric I'm up marginally since early July, but am still down about 1000 kwh from the year ending June 2006. Frustratingly my water use has remained about the same as the year ending June 2006 (when I wasn't trying), but has been twenty litres lower at 93 litres/day in between. So it can be improved! I think the increase is mainly due to all the water used dip-dyeing earlier in the year.

Over the last month I've been running tests to check out Procion MX's washfastness, or rather the washfastness according to the way I work. I'd been disconcerted to find loose dye on an old but well-fixed batik, and then on other pieces, both Mekong batiks in the waiting and decade old rejects that have lived most of their life in a drawer. Luckily (phew!)... it seems the loose dye is no more than remnant excess dye not washed out during or after boiling out wax. The fixed colour is unaffected. I have always rinsed pieces in cold water after boiling, assuming that as the water was clear it would be enough – but no, it seems a further rinse in hot with Ecover will loosen a little more.

Why hot water will remove unfixed dye straightaway but not cold prompted me to look more into the role of temperature in Procion dyeing. Oh boy. Bang go my carbon reduction credentials.


1 Optimum ambient room temperature for Procion MX dyeing: 20-30 deg C, upper end preferable (various sources).

The winter temperature of my studio and house is, on average, 17-19 C (I don't believe in walking around in t-shirt and bare feet during winter). It may be warmer during summer though. I have always been conscious of ambient temperature for waxing – if I'm wearing more than a t-shirt and a sweatshirt then the room isn't warm enough. But over 20 C? I've been turning the heating up gradually... 4 days later it's just reached 20 C (yeah yeah OK, the outdoor ambient temperature is cooling, it's called November).


2 "Optimum reaction temperatures for Procion MX dyes are between... 35 to 41 C (except for turquoise, which prefers up to... 55 C)" (source: Paula Burch's site)

Oh what? I've no idea what these temperatures mean – in human terms. Hand-hot? Luke-warm? I need to get a thermometer and start measuring, obviously. And then, how would I keep my little jars and mixed-up pots of dye warm in my 20-30 C (upper-end preferable) studio? On top of the storage heater? on a hot plate? sitting in an electric cookpan filled with water maintained at ideal ambient temp?


3 Turquoise (cyan) works at a different temperature to the other colours (source: pburch.net again).

This gives a potential explanation why the cyan on recent test pieces was lighter than expected, and why sometimes cyan can tint the whole cotton during boiling out.


Pondering all this the other day, I realised that Procions are not really suitable for the existing British climate – ironically they could become so with climate warming.

Leaving that aside for a moment, what effect would dye temperatures of 35 - 55 C have on wax? Wax melting points range between 50 and 60 C, slightly higher when resin is added (source: "Batik" by S Soetopo, publ 1983 Indira Bagian Akademi & Sastra). It doesn't bode well for turquoise/cyan, never mind the other colours. Does that also mean most natural dyes are not suitable for batik because of the temperature conflict? At least woad and indigo are OK...

Have I just discovered why batik never was a traditional art form in these isles, despite being practised widely across the world? Does this lack of tradition relate to its low key presence in Britain these days?

Anyway, I need to get on and do some tests... for which I need, firstly, a thermometer. And what's more, no ordinary jam thermometer - starting at 40 C is no good!

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

dilemma resolving

A good thing about outing yourself – as I did with my dilemma of work direction (see this previous post) – is that because you have faced facts and acknowledged the situation you know there is only one way to go from there.... towards resolution. There's no more excuse to dither.

So late last week I contacted Jane Deane of Cross-Eyed Chameleon to find out if they had any imminent native plant dyeing (on cotton) workshops, and specifically local plants. I'd met Jane a few months ago at their Open Studio in Launceston, and in between the chinwag I realised these were people who knew loads about natural dyeing - and even better shared my outlook on the environment.

My big plan had been to move towards working in indigo – or woad. Solely in blue. That ambition hasn't gone but threw up its own dilemmas: the majority of the remaining Mekong work wasn't envisaged for indigo and even if it did I'm not sure the show would hang together half in indigo and half in brilliant Procion. They wouldn't complement each other – the remaining work would have to be in Procion.

And (as already discovered) indigo/woad makes a mess and I don't have proper space to allow that mess. So indigo work is delayed until I do have a suitable workspace. Hmmph. Grrrr. Aaaagh! But.

Some months ago I joined a couple of natural dye lists on Yahoo, mainly to pick up tips about indigo dyeing - a kind of preparation and a constructive remedy for the unsatiated urge. An email came in response to a comment I'd left about wax and resin – from Teresinha Roberts who's behind the amazingly informative All About Woad website. She does her woad dyeing in a greenhouse, keeping the vat alive right over the summer. And... ping! So could I! Why had I been thinking bricks and mortar and evicted car? Someone somewhere not too far away must have a disused greenhouse I could hire next summer... and how eco-friendly that would be, with its own solar heating. Brilliant! And what's more... a deadline to work towards.

What also has come out of these dye groups is recognizing the buzz others are getting from dyeing with local plants, whether garden grown, picked from the wild (with caution), or retrieved from 'waste' (eg onion skins); and their sharing of knowledge and re-discoveries in traditional ways, and ecological and health issues.

The wildlife, agriculture and culture surrounding a local river, from its sources here on the moor through to its estuary, is my next project (though it may evolve). Being able to dye from plants and vegetable matter found along its banks and valleys fits perfectly with the theme... and my intention to source locally where possible. To help that along I began an informal self-taught common plant ID course in the summer. For twelve months I am surveying four local one-kilometre squares for fifty locally common plants, learning about them as I go and in the process helping create a database for the Parish Wildlife Project. I was ashamed of my ignorance and pleased that I already knew quite a lot... just not their names! But already I'm finding an acuter awareness of these plants and their localised ecosystem, and hopefully this will develop into a feel for appropriate amounts that can be taken for dyeing.

Like woad work, this would be a spring thing... in the meantime I can learn more about plant dyeing – techniques, tools and space needed. Also... how combatible the various processes are with batik (not melting the wax!), sustainability issues around mordanting, and lightfastness. And also, whether natural plant dyeing is more eco-sustainable than chemical dyes, once all externalities are built in. I'm still to be convinced one way or the other.

Except with woad. My feeling is that woad will win easily over chemical dyes, if I could grow my own. But alas I have read woad is not a lover of acid soils. Which is Cornwall's lot.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

dilemma

Over the winter of 1998 and 1999 I was in Isan, better known as North-East Thailand, mostly in a small village called Sang Khom on the banks of the Mekong. I had been there eight years before and had always wanted to return. The Mekong is a huge lumbering and beautiful river forming the border between Thailand and Laos, and Isan, being little affected by tourism, seemed full of traditional character and "place". As everywhere, globalisation was making inroads, but hadn't overrun. I travelled around the region and also into Laos, to another small village Vang Vieng.

Back in 1999 I also had been pondering my creative direction, unsure whether there really was a future for me in batik, in Britain at least. The medium struggles to be accepted by the establishment as "fine art" (despite employing drawing, painting and printmaking skills let alone design and colour theory ones). I have never felt comfortable calling myself a textile artist, as my sewing skills are such to make my mother weep with shame. Yet I wanted to belong... somewhere, and if that meant change then change it would be.

So alongside this three-month holiday I intended to practise working in acrylics. Why I settled on them I'm not sure, maybe because of the strong colours, maybe because other people's work in acrylic inspired me to think it was for me. But I struggled... the paint dried up so quickly! The heat! The heat.

The peaceful surroundings of river, horticultural activity on its banks, distant hill and forest views, rice padi and banana plantations, butterflies, spiders and lizards, Buddhist monastery gong rings, and village life ticking over was astoundingly inspiring. Ideas for batik kept leaping forth, I scribbled them down, making sketches and taking photos for reference. Within a few days I knew: I am a batik artist, it's how I think, it's how my work evolves, it's what I do, it's what I was meant to do. I am a batikker, and will have to make it work, somehow.

I resolved to forget acrylics, and concentrate on initiating a series of batiks inspired by Mekong culture, agriculture and wildlife. It would have been great to have started the batiks there (if workspace and sourcing all materials and equipment were possible) but I knew I couldn't make enough in the three months. And besides, it was also a holiday!

Once back in Cornwall I was completely fired up and began the batiks straightaway. But somehow I got sidetracked into furthering the water movement series I'd started before I left, inspired by streams and rivers here on the moor. I managed to work the two projects side by side for some years, concluding the rivers work with an exhibition in the Indian King in Camelford in 2003. This show was an eye-opener for me, indicating that the way forward definitely was (though I hate the commerciality of the phrase) themed exhibitions. More than that, exhibitions themed around rivers. And I was halfway with the next, the Mekong...

But in 2004 I found myself starting a part-time PGCE (post-graduate certificate in education, post-16 education). Although an existing artist-PGCE student advised I should forget about getting any art made during the course, I foolishly felt I would be able to keep some batik going. But in the first term I was throwing away so much dye - not being able to get back to it before it 'went off' – that I consciously stopped batikking. The PGCE ended in 2006. And my headspace was elsewhere. So elsewhere that I haven't been able to pick up the Mekong thread from where I left off. I have tried several times to re-inspire myself... well I am inspired to do it but the art would be coming from completely the wrong place. It would no longer be emerging from within but would be created from a detached, external, emotionless place. And I just can't do that, I need to feel, breathe, live my work not do it as something like a mathematical equation.

So my dilemma: I have half an exhibition made, and the chance to show the whole caboodle in a good wildlife gallery in 2009. Should I force myself to complete it – maybe even going back to Mekong country to get re-invigorated - or should I just admit defeat, that time and circumstance has lost me that opportunity and just as my practice is evolving all new work should also reflect that I have moved on.

I do know what I want to do next, it has been hanging around ever since the moorland streams exhibition, just waiting for Mekong to complete.

I know the answer. I just don't want to feel I'm letting down the wonderful people of Sang Khom. Not that they are expecting anything, but the exhibition would be my gesture at giving something back. A recognition and respect for what they have and who they are.

Monday, 15 October 2007

environment

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Being Blog Action Day for the Environment I thought it might be time for some introspection. Umm? Environment... introspection? Well, yes. But it's not really about me.

For me, environment isn't an external thingie to occasionally be looked at and tick-box admired/appreciated/enjoyed, or something that can be taken for granted as always being there, whether 'there' is here now under my feet or somewhere else, somewhere over there.

Environment is part of us just as surely as we are part of the environment. At least that's how it feels to me. In some places around here, especially up on the moor I feel a deep bondedness with the land, with the atmosphere, with 'place'. I feel we have melded and I move within it, not over it and distracted by other thoughts. I no longer concentrate on direction or footfall, only occasionally being aware that somehow miraculously I am still on track for wherever I already was heading. Now if this sounds a bit flunky, then let me tell you that I – and others – have found our way off familiar moorlands despite sudden windless fogfall. Your head is little use to you at this time, you have to allow all your body's tunings to guide you. Let's face it, your head (mine anyway) would be useless and panic, thinking of all sorts of bad possibilities... like sudden huge endless quaking marshes which you've never seen before so and which seem to have surrounded you! But your body, in harmony with nature, is led with "feelings" (physical not emotional)...

Yesterday afternoon I walked from my house up to Eastmoorgate and on to East Moor. A last minute thought was to take my camera... shame I hadn't thought sooner as the battery was low and konked out just when everything was getting very interesting. Oops.

I walk this way once or twice a week as far as the gate, and once or twice a month out on to the moor. Recently I've been picking blackberries and bilberries (local name, whortleberries). I know the seasonal haunts of jay, cuckoo and golden plover... and appreciate songs and calls of other resident birds. I stop on the bridge over the Lynher and gaze into its water, both upstream and downstream, every time I pass. I've seen herons and an otter here. I walk alongside moorland streams, gazing at their swirling patterns of clubrush. I see the changing colours in the fields, the hedges, the views. I smile appreciatively at the oft-repaired fences and gates. I sit or lie on a large stone at dusk and just listen. I watch the sunset, the cloud patterns, the stars and rising moon. Every time I go this way there's some new marvel as well as the re-assurance of the familiar. And from this place comes inspiration for paintings and designs.

I'm fascinated, hmm, don't like that word. Intrigued, maybe? I'm intrigued... not quite that either. It's that Australian Aborigines have such a deep familiarity, connectedness, with the land that (I have read) they share a surname with plants, animals, land features and areas. They are that close. In the Maori language the word whenua means both placenta and the land. Even in English the root of the words nature and natal is the Latin nasci 'to be born', and nature also implies "identity or essential character" and "the whole system... of all physical life... not controlled by man" (McCleod and Hanks 1985). So being bonded with nature is a pretty ancient way of being!

It's also a zillion miles from the world of objectivity, where everything including nature exists only as we look at it and record it. There is a time and a place for measuring, of course, but I feel it's imperative that as a society we re-learn the wonder and joy of nature, we re-discover our connectedness with nature and grow a familiarity with the nature around us.

And that's the rub. It needs to be the nature around us not the nature in some other place, not that there national park, or them there beaches, or – dare I say it – some other country! Not to say don't go and visit these places... the unfamiliar is great for stimulating the mind! But it definitely can't replace the comfortable familiarity of our own nature.

My painting has always been inspired by and reflected the natural environment around me, (with occasional exceptions of larger environmental issues). I paint what emerges from within, by which I mean what's around, what I have experienced and felt... and I encourage students to do the same. It's my hope my art also plays a part in assisting others' connectedness with nature, to encourage viewers towards their own immersion in nature.


Reference
McLeod & Hanks (1985) The New Collins Concise Dictionary of the English Language London: Guild Publishing


































...and just when it was getting interesting, the battery conked out! (Also a reason why all the above shots were, literally, first shot.)

Sunday, 14 October 2007

organic cotton - dipdyed re-visited

Since writing up my original findings on dip-dyeing organic cotton I have re-washed in Ecover and rinsed all the test samples. But I've struggled since to take good photos to illustrate the new findings... pixelation appears to distort evenness of dye, but at least colour variation can be seen - relevant for the eco-bleached white percale.

New comments are added at the end of this copy of my original findings: original comments are in blue italic.


powerloom
hot water soak, hot wash with Ecover, boil with soda ash

As discovered in earlier tests, powerloom's wettability is its downfall. Following the (already proved inadequate for handpainting) scouring techniques of boiling with soda ash and soaking in hot water the fabric could be seen to have inconsistently absorbed both water at soaking stage and dye at dyeing stage – the boiled-with-soda surprisingly worse than the soaked only (not boiled for long enough?). A hot wash and soak with Ecover appeared to accept both water and later dye properly. After boiling out, drying and ironing, the same pattern emerges: the hot Ecover wash and soak is the most evenly dyed, let's give it 90%. The hot water soak gets about 65% and the boiled-with-soda about 50%. I'm sure trying an hour long soak in Ecovered water with more agitation (ie washing!) and rinsing would make up that final 10% to give very consistent dyeing.

The Ecover didn't make any difference though to wax removal – around 20 minutes boiling wasn't enough to shift it. The Ecover wash's waxed area feels as stiff as the previous tests but interestingly it doesn't have a darkened stain (from spread ironed-out wax) which I would have expected.

For me, powerloom isn't worth the bother of batikking on if the wax can't be removed easily, but it could be worth pursuing for dyeing only purposes – it's a pretty tough fabric that could have its uses.

The Ecover scoured sample's dyeing rating has risen to 95% following the final wash and rinse in Ecover but I still feel a longer scour in Ecover is worth pursuing (even if the fabric isn't conducive to wax removal).



prima
direct, hot water soak, hot wash with Ecover, boil with soda ash

Being the dua donna of batik fabrics despite its name (primissima comes tops, I am told) I expected perfect results. Prima is my control fabric, despite being not organic (as far as I know), the one to compare all others to. It apparently is ready-prepared for batik – ready to take wax as well as dye. No scouring necessary.

Certainly there is no difference between different scouring techniques. On closer examination all versions show small streakiness consistent with the woven density of the fabric, not a problem but a feature of the fabric. At arm's length the colour appears even.

A couple of the samples show darker dye lines, one is on a crease. The second isn't but possibly is related to the production process though I couldn't say for sure. Nor why part of a crease has taken up more dye while (presumably) others didn't. Perhaps it was dye-bath related (not agitated there enough?), or hasn't been rinsed enough, or came about in the boiling out stage. Only further tests will enlighten, methinks.

The extra final wash in Ecover was enough to remove all traces of the darker lines!



Bishopston handloom
Fabrics handloom

direct, hot wash with Ecover, boil with soda ash

I expected these fabrics to take dye easily whichever scouring process (or none) was used, based on the handpainting results. And I'm not disappointed with the soda ash boiled or Ecover washed ones! If anything, the dipping has improved them. The inconsistency of weave is less obvious or at least regular enough to give a pleasing, vaguely streak "texture".

The direct (to pre-dye soak) versions though do show some unevenness in dyeing. Especially on the Fabrics handloom a straight line with "streaks" below it has paler dye – to be fair I can figure out this line continued on to the Ecover wash Fabrics handloom but only from looking deliberately for it! These lines must have come during the fabric production process as they are not thread/weave related (as the lines previously mentioned are). It may be that a longer soak in Ecover would have shifted them. They don't show in the soda ash boiled sample because it is from part of the fabric that didn't have that line running through it. Will any test ever cover everything that results throw up!

A few dark blemishes in both handlooms still show, but not so bad that I wouldn't wear clothing made with these cottons.

Following the extra final wash in Ecover any inconsistencies in dyeing are hardly apparent. The line mentioned is weave not dye related, revealed by a magnifier.


white percale
hot water soak, hot wash with Ecover, boil with soda ash

Being my favourite fabric so far, I expected these samples to dye beautifully enabling me to further praise this gorgeous percale. But I can't. Nor can I quite put my finger on why either. And then I look again and wonder what's the problem.

What should be top of the whole organic cotton experiment – ecovered hot washed white percale – has a few paler dye patches, akin to bad dyeing (ahem, also to fingermarked "something" preventing dyeing). Could it be I didn't rinse the Ecover out well enough? I'm more inclined to think the problem is a blip in my dyeing (but then might that not also apply to the handlooms?)

All samples have (non-related) dark straight lines one side originating probably from creases (prima also showed one or two of these). But most disconcerting is the impression of little bits of darker dye on mini-crumples right across the cloth, a kind of veining... perhaps they all need a really good wash and rinse. I will report back when this is done.

Big surprise from the final Ecover wash! All samples have lost colour, they are marginally but noticeably lighter than all other cottons. Before it wasn't possible to see any difference.

Whilst the aforementioned darker lines remain, the darker mini-rumples have been shed. Because of both this and the darker lines going in the prima, a further longer wash and rinse in Ecover suggest themselves!


natural percale
hot water soak, hot wash with Ecover, boil with soda ash

Natural percale is another fabric I knew would need scouring, according to previous experiments. Of the three scours tested little difference if any can be perceived in end result. They have a similar bit-of-excess-dye-on-the-surface look as white percale, whilst also having a not entirely even dye look. Again I find it hard to describe exactly what I see, mainly because I don't understand what has happened to make it this way. However, compared to the white percale, I don't see any dark crease dyemarks.

I will see if further washing and rinsing changes anything, and experiment with scouring to see if it's all down to some residue.

Wax wouldn't completely boil out again, despite length of time. Like powerloom, it may be this cloth isn't worth pursuing for batik. There again, that results (usually!) are more than good on white percale points to discovering the difference in production process – can it just be the eco-bleach process that enables the dye to (usually) be better absorbed (I should use the word "bonded") and is it just the lack of eco-bleach that prevents wax being boiled out properly?

There is no discernible change except possibly a reduction in dark mini-rumples. Like the white percale, it will be worth trying a longer wash in Ecover.


voile
hot water soak, hot wash with Ecover, boil with soda ash


Close examination suggests the dye is patchy despite appearing even enough at arm's length. But this is probably due more to the uneven thread width and loose weave making denser thread areas seem pinker than others that allow more background to show through. There seems no difference between scouring methods.

Examining the cloth through a magnifier shows the cloth is (and probably was?) evenly dyed, it is indeed thread width inconsistency suggesting minor variation. The extra wash in Ecover made no discernible difference to dye quality.


nettle mix
hot water soak, hot wash with Ecover

It's the first time I've dyed with this fabric, because of having only a small sample (less than A4). The fabric is slightly stretchy and dense, so more suited to clothing than paintings. It frays easily...

Both samples dyed beautifully evenly though wax was hard to shift and some remains in the fabric. It's hard to say much more without more fabric to look at and understanding gleaned from other tests

Umm... no change, or rather I can't think of anything to say!

Friday, 5 October 2007

art - 'want' or 'need'?

Is Seasalt clothing "fashion" or "clothing" (see my last post)? What makes the difference? Does my "want"/"need" attitude play a part or is the designer/manufacturer solely responsible?

I believe that if the clothes are well made and of a style that will not look ridiculous within the item's lifetime (ridiculous because it incorporated a short-lived trend) then it is valued. And as such, is clothing. But if I had umpteen vests to choose from to wear, then their value is diminished in proportion... making them "throwaway" items and not "clothes" but "fashion".

So it's a two way responsibility. How does this fit with art production and selling? When someone buys one of my batiks is it as a "want" or as a "need"? Outwardly it would very much be as a "want", I ashamedly am sure. But if it's "well made and of a style that will not look ridiculous within the item's natural lifetime (ridiculous because it incorporated a short-lived trend) then it is valued." But if the painting was displayed in rotation with other works and spent much time in storage then its intrinsic value diminishes in proportion.

Inwardly, art - true art - touches the soul. It's a "need" just as a vest has a practical purpose (spiritual too, maybe?). If the batik is in storage or otherwise unappreciated (unneeded), then it has no higher purpose. It's a throwaway.

So... my batiks must be of the highest quality and not be faddish. They must strive to be of a nature that someone would want to keep on their wall, not grow tired of. But no, this still isn't quite right. It cannot be possible to strive for spirituality! Spirituality can only emerge from an inner stillness... as does art. This art is the art that – hopefully – will reach into a viewer's soul, will touch them on a level deeper than "that's nice" or "that's pretty" or especially "I want that!".

This makes me reconsider my thought that art needs to be regularly seen to have intrinsic value. One viewing only might be enough to uplift a person's soul... But then the work would need to be in a publicly accessible place to reach many people. So my thought about works in storage being without value holds.

I've just re-read Kandinsky's first chapter (Part I About General Aesthetic, I Introduction) in "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" and find yet again he explains what I feel so much better! So now I will spend the rest of the day pondering:

"Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions."
He later describes two kinds of art. One is short-lived although also being of the moment, because it had no depth, no meaning, beyond being available for sale. Tourist art falls into this category, I think.
"Such an art can only create an artistic feeling which is already clearly felt. This art, which has no power for the future, which is only a child of the age and cannot become a mother of the future, is a barren art. She is transitory and to all intent dies the moment the atmosphere alters which nourished her.

The other art, that which is capable of educating further, springs equally from contemporary feeling, but is at the same time not only echo and mirror of it, but also has a deep and powerful prophetic strength."

organic cotton from seed!

I bought a cotton vest in Padstow recently, in Seasalt, an accredited ethical clothing company based in Cornwall. Not only is it certified organic cotton, it's a gorgeous colour! By luck it was in the sale though buying it wasn't a spontaneous consumerist response to finding a "bargain". I have been on the lookout all summer for a vest (organic, fair trade), my old two being over 10 years old and anyway... lost! A vest was a "need" not a "want", and I managed not to be seduced by any other delightful things in the shop.

What was a bargain was discovering one of the attached labels was in fact a packet of seeds! It advises me I can sew them in the summer (inside on a sunny windowsill) and later plant them outside (in a sunny place)... and to water them well. And regularly remove pests such as aphids or caterpillars. Later they should flower and (if there's enough sun) the resultant bolls will open and produce cotton. And seeds for a new crop...

This is very exciting! I am just frustrated at having to wait six months to start... and curious about whether Bodmin Moor, let alone Cornwall, has enough sun for them to flower. And if our inconsistently wet weather would mean I'd still have to regularly water them. Whatever, I hope to learn a lot about cotton growing. I'm sure it won't be easy.

I just took a peek inside the packet – there's three fluffy seeds looking quite unlike seeds I have ever known.

Monday, 1 October 2007

sustainability of clothing

"Clothing and textiles is a high impact product category, accounting for 5-10 per cent of all environmental impacts within the EU-25."

Says DEFRA (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). They go on to highlight environmental, social and ethical impacts of the textiles/clothing industry in the UK:

"Environmental Impacts

  • 1.5 - 2 million tonnes of waste generated
  • 3.1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emitted
  • 70 million tonnes of waste water generated
Social impacts predominately occur in developing countries:
  • child labour
  • poor working conditions
  • low wages
  • health and safety risks
Ethical Impacts
  • animal welfare issues
  • inequitable trade"

And not before time...

"...representatives from the fashion, clothing and textile industries along with environmental and ethical groups are meeting to look at how they can work with government to improve the sustainability of clothing throughout its life cycle."

They met on 5 September 2007 and one welcome outcome will be a sustainable clothing roadmap coordinated by Defra that "examines all stages of clothing’s life cycle (from raw materials to end of life), charts the environmental and social impacts arising at each stage, and proposes ways of limiting those impacts where most effective."


Although I don't work in fashion or clothing (or interior textiles) I will be following this research, direction and action closely. And that's not just because of the relevance of the 'raw materials' findings for my own practice but because I believe the concept of fashion is in direct conflict with sustainability. This is not to oppose change or good design for they can bring improvements, but because the fashion world thrives in a self-promoted culture of throwaway and need for new for the sake of it. The only benefits are financial for the industry.

Fashion isn't limited to clothing, of course, it exists in the art world too. And Cornwall isn't exempt - many commercial coastal town galleries show what I call tourist art. Art created for a self-created market rather than a higher purpose... All us artists have to make a living somehow of course, but I wonder where tourist art fits in with sustainability...

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

organic cotton – dip-dyed with Procion

It's a few weeks since I did the dip-dye tests, somehow time has alluded me. Luckily I made notes at the time...

From previous experience of handpainting Procions I devised four groupings of organic cottons, each with a different scouring technique. Not all cottons were in each group if I felt bad results were inevitable or duplication probable (for instance, handloom was likely to dye equally well directly as after a soak in hot water).

direct (unwashed, unsoaked – other than pre-dye soak)
prima, Bishopston handloom, Fabrics handloom

soaked in hot water (soaked in hand-hot water for 30 minutes and rinsed in cold water)
prima, white percale, natural percale, voile, powerloom (extra 5 minutes and separate soak), nettle

soaked in hand-hot water plus Ecover (non-biological) for 30 minutes and rinsed in cold
prima, Bishopston handloom, Fabrics handloom, white percale, natural percale, voile, powerloom (extra 5 minutes and separate soak), nettle

boiled in water with soda ash for 10 minutes then rinsed in cold
prima, Bishopston handloom, Fabrics handloom, white percale, natural percale, voile, powerloom (extra 5 minutes boil)

All were dyed in the same bath for the same length of time. The dye was Procion MX-8B Brilliant Red (or magenta as I call it) and recipe, with the intention to match the handpainted colour, as follows:

dry cloth (without wax): 200 grams
dye bath litres: 6 litres
dye powder: 2 x 2.5 ml level teaspoons
salt (dissolved in a litre of water): 300 grams
soda ash (dissolved in 0.5 litres water): 60 grams

The cotton was well soaked in cold water prior to dyeing, excess water being squeezed out. Dye, dissolved in water, was added gently and stirred in. The cloth was added and agitated for some minutes, then removed and replaced after a third of the salt solution was added. A second third of the salt solution was added after five minutes, and the rest of it five minutes after that. Both times cloth being removed and replaced, and well agitated in between. Five minutes on the soda ash solution was added, cloth replaced and agitated regularly over a further 45 minutes. The cloth was removed and well rinsed. After drying it was boiled to remove the waxed headings, plunged into cold water with Ecover to harden and loosen remnant wax, then rinsed before drying and ironing.

All fabrics "took" dye and the colour intensity is very close in all, with only voile and nettle mix (first testing) appearing marginally darker, presumably due to the weave. Magenta (aka Brilliant red MX-8B) was probably not the best colour to use... in retrospect. It has an ability to partially stain even without fix being applied, so if dye has stained and not bonded to any of the fabrics I would be hard pressed to notice!


Results

prima
direct, hot water soak, hot wash with Ecover, boil with soda ash
Being the dua donna of batik fabrics despite its name (primissima comes tops, I am told) I expected perfect results. Prima is my control fabric, despite being not organic (as far as I know), the one to compare all others to. It apparently is ready-prepared for batik – ready to take wax as well as dye. No scouring necessary.

Certainly there is no difference between different scouring techniques. On closer examination all versions show small streakiness consistent with the woven density of the fabric, not a problem but a feature of the fabric. At arm's length the colour appears even.

A couple of the samples show darker dye lines, one is on a crease. The second isn't but possibly is related to the production process though I couldn't say for sure. Nor why part of a crease has taken up more dye while (presumably) others didn't. Perhaps it was dye-bath related (not agitated there enough?), or hasn't been rinsed enough, or came about in the boiling out stage. Only further tests will enlighten, methinks.



powerloom
hot water soak, hot wash with Ecover, boil with soda ash
As discovered in earlier tests, powerloom's wettability is its downfall. Following the (already proved inadequate for handpainting) scouring techniques of boiling with soda ash and soaking in hot water the fabric could be seen to have inconsistently absorbed both water at soaking stage and dye at dyeing stage – the boiled-with-soda surprisingly worse than the soaked only (not boiled for long enough?). A hot wash and soak with Ecover appeared to accept both water and later dye properly. After boiling out, drying and ironing, the same pattern emerges: the hot Ecover wash and soak is the most evenly dyed, let's give it 90%. The hot water soak gets about 65% and the boiled-with-soda about 50%. I'm sure trying an hour long soak in Ecovered water with more agitation (ie washing!) and rinsing would make up that final 10% to give very consistent dyeing.

The Ecover didn't make any difference though to wax removal – around 20 minutes boiling wasn't enough to shift it. The Ecover wash's waxed area feels as stiff as the previous tests but interestingly it doesn't have a darkened stain (from spread ironed-out wax) which I would have expected.

For me, powerloom isn't worth the bother of batikking on if the wax can't be removed easily, but it could be worth pursuing for dyeing only purposes – it's a pretty tough fabric that could have its uses.


voile
hot water soak, hot wash with Ecover, boil with soda ash
Close examination suggests the dye is patchy despite appearing even enough at arm's length. But this is probably due more to the uneven thread width and loose weave making denser thread areas seem pinker than others that allow more background to show through. There seems no difference between scouring methods.


Bishopston handloom
Fabrics handloom
direct, hot wash with Ecover, boil with soda ash
I expected these fabrics to take dye easily whichever scouring process (or none) was used, based on the handpainting results. And I'm not disappointed with the soda ash boiled or Ecover washed ones! If anything, the dipping has improved them. The inconsistency of weave is less obvious or at least regular enough to give a pleasing, vaguely streak "texture".

The direct (to pre-dye soak) versions though do show some unevenness in dyeing. Especially on the Fabrics handloom a straight line with "streaks" below it has paler dye – to be fair I can figure out this line continued on to the Ecover wash Fabrics handloom but only from looking deliberately for it! These lines must have come during the fabric production process as they are not thread/weave related (as the lines previously mentioned are). It may be that a longer soak in Ecover would have shifted them. They don't show in the soda ash boiled sample because it is from part of the fabric that didn't have that line running through it. Will any test ever cover everything that results throw up!

A few dark blemishes in both handlooms still show, but not so bad that I wouldn't wear clothing made with these cottons.


white percale
hot water soak, hot wash with Ecover, boil with soda ash
Being my favourite fabric so far, I expected these samples to dye beautifully enabling me to further praise this gorgeous percale. But I can't. Nor can I quite put my finger on why either. And then I look again and wonder what's the problem.

What should be top of the whole organic cotton experiment – ecovered hot washed white percale – has a few paler dye patches, akin to bad dyeing (ahem, also to fingermarked "something" preventing dyeing). Could it be I didn't rinse the Ecover out well enough? I'm more inclined to think the problem is a blip in my dyeing (but then might that not also apply to the handlooms?)

All samples have (non-related) dark straight lines one side originating probably from creases (prima also showed one or two of these). But most disconcerting is the impression of little bits of darker dye on mini-crumples right across the cloth, a kind of veining... perhaps they all need a really good wash and rinse. I will report back when this is done.


natural percale
hot water soak, hot wash with Ecover, boil with soda ash
Natural percale is another fabric I knew would need scouring, according to previous experiments. Of the three scours tested little difference if any can be perceived in end result. They have a similar bit-of-excess-dye-on-the-surface look as white percale, whilst also having a not entirely even dye look. Again I find it hard to describe exactly what I see, mainly because I don't understand what has happened to make it this way. However, compared to the white percale, I don't see any dark crease dyemarks.

I will see if further washing and rinsing changes anything, and experiment with scouring to see if it's all down to some residue.

Wax wouldn't completely boil out again, despite length of time. Like powerloom, it may be this cloth isn't worth pursuing for batik. There again, that results (usually!) are more than good on white percale points to discovering the difference in production process – can it just be the eco-bleach process that enables the dye to (usually) be better absorbed (I should use the word "bonded") and is it just the lack of eco-bleach that prevents wax being boiled out properly?


nettle mix
hot water soak, hot wash with Ecover
It's the first time I've dyed with this fabric, because of having only a small sample (less than A4). The fabric is slightly stretchy and dense, so more suited to clothing than paintings. It frays easily...

Both samples dyed beautifully evenly though wax was hard to shift and some remains in the fabric. It's hard to say much more without more fabric to look at and understanding gleaned from other tests


Conclusion and further action
- wash samples in Ecover and rinse these tests, then re-consider findings.

- time to learn a thing or three about scouring, and the processes that organic fabrics undergo and don't, as compared to "conventional" cotton production.

- further dip-dye tests (with a different colour) following variations of Ecover scours.



ps have I invented a new verb – to ecover – meaning to wash with environmentally responsible washing liquid (or powder)?

edit 14 October 2007: see more recent update

Saturday, 15 September 2007

world weather impacts

A few days ago an email came from my Ghanaian friend Antoinette Ablordey, a former student. She had dropped by my blog and emailed to say hello and that she liked the idea of indigo and organic cotton. Here's my reply:

Hi Antoinette

Yeah, I'm fine - how are you? Are you still batikking - have you taken a
textiles or design course now?

Glad you found my blog and research interesting... as you'll be aware the
consumerist West has to make massive lifestyle and cultural changes in the
light of climate change. George Monbiot and Mark Lynas amongst others
predict we have to cut back by more than 90%, and soon. Of course it's
possible to live at that kind of consumption, many already do in the world
and I experienced it too, partially, when I was travelling and living in
other countries. But to live at that level in our existing culture (even in
Cornwall) is infinitely harder at the moment - it's still necessary to earn
money to pay local tax, building repairs, health care and dentist, and
unless you can put time into growing all your own food, to buy food. In the
west we all have to power down together... and this then impacts globally in
other countries with a lower consumerist (but more sustainable) lifestyle,
in connection with their exports to us of crops such as cotton, coffee,
cocoa, which traditionally have been traded for centuries and we can't grow
here. How will this change?

Where does this leave art? What role for batik in this new
soon-to-emerge-culture? Should art/batik lead, should it follow? Where art
has become elitist, and clothing is dominated by throwaway fashion, how can
the new art and the new batik reach out and be part of culture?

These are fascinating questions for me...What is the view from Ghana?

Cheers for now

Robin



The view from Ghana came yesterday not from Antoinette but from the BBC – floods across Africa.

Ghana is hit especially hard with around 400,000 made homeless in the north – the equivalent of 80% of Cornwall's population. The north is even more of an agricultural area than here and loss of crops and livestock will affect the whole country's supply... and doesn't everything in life revolve around food?

I often check the Met Office website for the local weather forecast. On the right hand side it has a section "World Weather Impacts" that highlights, well, exactly what it says. Storms, floods, hurricanes, typhoons, droughts, blizzards, lightning strikes, heatwaves, wild fires (due to...), power cuts (due to...), landslides, avalanches, earthquakes, sandstorms and so on. Is it gloomy reading? errr... no. It's sobering. Very sobering. The Met Office don't describe these happenings as climate change related, but the flavour left in your mouth is that they must be. I mean, can this many people be made homeless, destitute, starving by floods (or whatever) every year? I don't think so.

I read them because it otherwise is so easy to ignore natural disasters happening elsewhere, to live entirely isolated from them, safe in this cocoon called Cornwall. It is so easy to let go of the knowledge that we share a planet and her resources. That we need to share. Which in the West means having, doing, taking less (and giving, caring, being more).

I asked Antoinette, as I ask many others, what is art's role in – or for? – the new culture that will emerge to survive climate change. I sound people out because I am searching for the new direction for my own work. It needs a new meaningfulness, something beyond just observation of nature, or culture, or personal impression – or environmental statement.

I wonder whether, in the hour or so I've been writing this post, I have started to find it...


PS Northern India has had floods and landslides recently too. I have wondered whether this affected the organic cotton growers... I will find out.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

organic cottons - Procion dye 2

I ran the same painting test again (here and here) on to these same cloths that were boiled during wax removal, but used freshly-mixed dye. By which I mean while one lot of wax was being boiled out, the rest of the cloth was getting a boil, let's call it a quick scour. On top of that the boiling water had previously been engaged in scouring another load of cotton. Let's call it multi-tasking...

Painting on of fix and later of dye wasn't much changed on the powerloom – blotchy and incomplete. It needs serious scouring. It reminds me of the woes I had several years ago testing the then available organic cottons. Of the other fabrics that initially showed some resistance, the penetration and spreading ability of fix and dye were much improved on the voile but natural percale was still slow to absorb. All others were fine and after boiling out of wax, both voile and Fabrics handloom showed full penetration of dye but natural percale was still incomplete - another candidate for deep meaningful scouring (and research!).

Wax not wholly removed from the first boiling was apparent in several of the fabrics during the second painting of dye and fix, but only in the powerloom did it resist dye to the extent that wax lines show on the reverse.

Before the second painting I waxed the word "boiled" in fresh wax, to later compare its wax removal ability with old wax. As I understand it Candlemakers Batik Mix wax is a mixture of beeswax, microcrystalline, paraffin and two resins, adapted from a traditional Indonesian recipe. Which part of that mix is difficult to shift I'm not sure, however Ian Bowers from Fibrecrafts suggested the guilty party is propolis not originally cleaned from beeswax. Hopefully I can investigate this more another time but for now it suffices to say that during boiling the new wax shifted more readily than the old overcooked, even on stubborn powerloom (though it took more than a five minute boil).

Following the second boil-out the black is marginally less intense throughout but I feel this is down to a minor recipe difference (being humanly not scientifically measured) and not related to the cloths having been boiled. Other than black, on the two handlooms, white percale and prima the dye intensity doesn't vary between boiled and unboiled areas. On voile it is marginally but noticeably deeper. On natural percale the two areas appear the same on the front (painted side) but on the reverse colours in the boiled area are deeper though not quite fully penetrated and lighter than the front. Dye absorption is improved in the boiled areas of the powerloom notably with dye penetration, but... well enough already said on powerloom.

Where to next? Dip-dye tests and then a serious look at scouring of powerloom, natural percale and voile (and scouring issues) before returning to hand-painting dyes.

Seeing how Isabella Whitworth is managing to test, learn and practise with both fabrics and dyes on real work (her scarves) makes me cringe at how I've limited myself to meaningless diddy patches and minimal measures. In some ways I've wasted a lot of cloth and dye (and time)... and in future do want to test with real work. Not just for resourcefulness reasons but because I'm getting frustrated at not making art!

photos show (top) powerloom wetted with soda ash fix, (second) powerloom painted with Procion; both showing need for scouring and tell-tale unremoved-by-boiling wax lines.

organic cotton - Procion dye 1

Following are observations I made last month after hand-painting Procion MX dyes on to the organic cottons.

Summary: Dye was absorbed fine on prima, white percale, and seemingly Bishopston handloom. Dye wasn't fully absorbed to the reverse side on Fabrics handloom, voile and natural percale, though it was marginal on the handloom. On powerloom it had hardly penetrated to the reverse side.

Hence powerloom requires a serious attempt at scouring. To compare results I will do equivalent tests on all other fabrics. I see two levels of scouring – boiling in water with soda ash and soaking in warm water with soda ash. The powerloom is so heavily opposed to receiving dye my inclination is to start with boiling and if that works try again with warm water. If it doesn't work... well, I'll decide then!

After boiling out I found the dyes had fixed adequately on all cloths except, as expected, the powerloom. Colour was lighter on the reverse of the natural percale and marginally so on the voile and Fabrics handloom, due to incomplete penetration of dye. It was fine on the others.

This said, on comparing the boiled-out results with unboiled test strips two things were apparent:

Firstly, the cyan was consistently not as intense as it should be, suggesting the dye is already past its shelf life (though bought only in December 2006 and not opened until early August when starting these tests). I also was aware of more cyan colour emerging into the boil-water. Remnant colour here tends to be "loose", not re-bonding with the fabric. But even with the first batch of prima and the two handlooms the cloths have taken on a bluish tint, more apparent in the handlooms than prima. An explanation could be that the boiling-water was the same water plus soda ash used for scouring the cottons for indigo dyeing, and that the loose dye has re-acted with the soda ash and cloth. Additionally I had applied fix to a further area of each test but abandoned original plans to dye it in the first stage, so there was "free" fix around from here too. But "blue tint" has happened a few times in the past - on individual cloths in plain water – so something else could be happening... but what? Or is it just down to old dye?

This "free" fix and/or (my feeling) the badly-fixed powerloom dyes might be responsible for some other unexpected dye transfer on to the voile and Bishopston handloom by getting wet and being temporarily in contact with the powerloom, which also shows signs of dye transfer.

Have I got it in for the powerloom? Am I giving it a hard time? Yes! Yes! Yes! Just as well really,if everything was working perfectly I'd feel my tests weren't adequate!

Secondly, intensity of the other three dyes is as expected after boiling out, but the unboiled test strips are so much deeper that I perhaps could look again at the recipe I created back in the early 1990s when first starting batik in this country. At that time, I ran tests that gradually increased the proportion of dye to water until the maximum intensity of colour after boiling was reached. That recipe is one level 10 ml spoonful of dye powder to 300 ml water (whether or not urea is added to the water to prolong drying time and thus intensify colour). It would be great if less powder achieved equivalent results!

More than showing the outcomes, the photo highlights the limitations of technology and superiority of human eye. In real life all dyed areas of all the cottons have similar hues and intensity (except powerloom) including voile, which only appears darker because of shadow showing through its loose weave. Certainly none are as red as the photo suggests they are.

Monday, 3 September 2007

what next with indigo?

An article in last Wednesday's Guardian about the global rush to biofuels and its detrimental effect on food crops and food security got me thinking about any future widespread growing (in Britain or Europe) of indigo crops, and other implications of indigo growing: is organic indigo available? If not, what are the environmental consequences of non-organic production? Is/would it be grown on land better/previously used for food crops? Can it be intercropped? What are social conditions like for farmers, pickers and processors?

Additionally I will be looking further into synthetic indigo production and its environmental consequences. But the indigo research will be later this month or early October, once the organic cotton tests are concluded. More on both organic cottons and indigo are in the August posts.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

organic cottons and boiling out wax

Normally I boil cotton for a few minutes to remove wax from small cloths, longer only for larger ones. Of the organic cottons it wasn't enough for the voile, natural percale, and powerloom. Natural percale had an additional five minutes; voile and powerloom an additional fifteen but even that wasn't enough. On ironing wax remnants transferred to newsprint on all boiled pieces and the warm-wash powerloom, natural percale and just slightly with voile.

Completely unplanned-for results: using Isabella's wax on the warm-wash pieces gave clear comparisons... her wax was cooler and fresher than mine, which was hot but old well-used wax (the intention being not-wasteful on tests about dyeing not waxing). Her supplier and wax recipe also are different... opening an idea for future wax testing! To be fair, I have occasionally had wax removal problems before and put it down to old, over-used (and probably over-heated) wax. But I don't want to over-analyse wax removal now - the tests were about indigo and natural cotton.

Whatever, there seems an issue with boiling wax out with powerloom, natural percale and voile. The latter is most surprising as it's such a loose weave. Another mysterious observation with the powerlooms is that wax in the boiling water transferred to the frayed edges, made apparent on ironing it out. Or in (it melted and spread but didn't fully transfer).

Monday, 27 August 2007

indigo and organic cotton 2

There were three specific trials I'd planned for on my indigo dyeing day with Isabella Whitworth: (1) a four-stage series of dips (on prima) to get an idea of how colour builds up with successive dips; (2) comparative dips with the organic cottons (and prima) either scoured first in boiling water with soda ash or by washing in hand-hot water with soda ash; and (3) dipping a large sarong size piece of prima (1.75 x 1 metre) to get an idea of required vat size and other difficulties when working large.

My earlier teachers (Abi Evans, Vivien Prideaux) had already advised that for deeper blues multiple five-minute dips with airing/re-oxygenating time in between gave greater fastness than a single longer dip. Although there seems marginal difference between individual stages the change between first and fourth is striking. Another time I'd like to test hues achievable with up to twenty dips. Quick calculation... requiring 200 individual dips! Taking over 16 hours! I had been pondering various home-made time-saving devices for multiple-piece dipping before the day at Isabella's – definitely one would have come to fruition before 20-stage testing!

The "sarong" wasn't a complete success – although the vastness of blue is gorgeous! But parts have uneven colour – aka bad dyeing! Possibly just in the third stage when I was chinwagging more than concentrating on dyeing and simply didn't open the cloth up enough. Less liquid in the vat by the third dip might also be responsible, not giving the cloth the room it needed. However, the marks are those of cloth not being exposed to dye. Strangely we both commented on brighter lighter patches showing as the cloth hung drying/airing against the light. But they seemed to disappear, perhaps as excess but unfixable excess dye ran down the cloth, obliterating the patches.

With Abi I had learned to lower cloth in to the vat in sheet fashion and similarly remove; with Vivien I'd learned to squeeze out water and lower in in clenched fist, opening the cloth up under the surface, and re-squeezing below the surface before removal. Both methods have the same intention (to prevent air getting into the vat) but the squeezed method would be difficult with waxed cloth to avoid cracking. Hence I need a vat big enough to lower "sheets" in and a high enough ceiling to allow for this – maybe standing on a ladder? Or another device to assist dipping large pieces...

The organic cotton tests were both successful and not successful. One intention was to discover whether each fabric needed boiling to remove starches and other residues from processing, or whether a wash in hot water would suffice. They were boiled for about five minutes each. Soda ash was used with both - alternative trials for another time could be to boil or wash without but testing that would come later. The ideal is to use a fabric that requires the least energy and resources input before dyeing (and waxing), though this could be a false saving if the cotton went through more unecological processes before purchase. I believe an advantage with certified organic cottons is that the processes used have been audited and theoretically are traceable. And certainly the worst offenders have been eliminated. I'll be investigating this later on.

The boiled cloths had a second dip to deepen colour. I was surprised to see the intensity of colour was nearly even over all except the voile, which is darker. They were the first dyeings of the day, and the first few cloths came out with dark almost black streaks in one corner, which haven't washed out. I assume it was indigo transferring from my gloves – I hadn't washed them since the Prideaux workshop (note to myself: haven't washed them since the Whitworth day either so do it while remembered!).

The warm-wash cloths came last, partly because they were still drying and needed to be dry before waxing on the cloth name and process. I was also nearly out of time if I was to catch the bus to Launceston, and so the cloths went in two or three at a time with less eye on the clock. No time for a second dip, they possibly also suffered from a short airing before being dumped in my bucket along with the rest of the wet work. So it isn't possible to do a fair comparison between processes. Instead I'll have to do it with dip-dyeing in Procion.

Of the warm-wash cloths the dye is very patchy on the Bishopston handloom – but I really like the effect! Probably any experienced indigoer will groan embarrassedly at my delight in accidental effect but it has something of a stonewashed look. It hasn't occurred on the boiled version but as already mentioned, the stonewash effect was most likely down to bad practice and not cotton quality (no problems dye-painting with Procion). However, close up the boiled Fabrics Ltd handloom gives a hint of stonewash effect and its warm-wash version also looks stonewashed, so perhaps there is something in it. On the other hand all the other warm-wash cottons have a degree of stonewash (even the prima), which perhaps would have been evened out by a second dyeing. Though the boiled white (but surprisingly not natural) percale also has a suggestion of stonewash. And so frustratingly, I can't really draw conclusions one way or another on washing or boiling or my dyeing ability. Except that the four dip test on prima shows no stonewash.

And then there's the boiled powerloom. Even after two dips the colour doesn't seem happy on the cloth. It's a bit greyish and uneven, not worthy even of being named stonewash. On the warm-wash version the dye is intense along (presumed) creases and blotchy in between, pretty much as already seen with handpainting Procion on cool-soak version. Powerloom needs some serious de-scouring... of what? With what?

Conclusion? Other than powerloom I think all boiled versions would dye evenly enough with further dips and more practice on my part. But I'll wait until after dip-dyeing with Procions before being too deductive.

pics show: (1) four dip comparisons; (2) boiled wash and two dip results; (3)warm-wash, single dip results; (4) handloom comparisons - left, boiled, two dip handloom; right, warm-wash, single dip with stonewash look. The odd dark spots are dew from the grass.

Friday, 24 August 2007

blue heritage

When I was young, I would only wear blue. I would stretch blueness to blue-green or blue-purple to deflect attention from my bias. It was only when I went to art school I felt I should get adventurous with other colours so as not to be always the same (I was too naive to realise the paradox: I was already making a personal statement and instead ended dressing the same as everyone else!). I have often wondered if my Celtic forebears were indigo (or rather woad) dyers and the blue fondness is inherited.

I couldn't believe how much blue got around the bathroom (where I washed out the dyed pieces). It's just as well Vivien Prideaux advised that it would get absolutely everywhere but would come off easily - with Ecover cleaner. Unfortunately mine had run out and it would be a few more days before I could get into town to buy some. Every time I walked into the bathroom I emerged with blue soles – despite several washes and wipes of all surfaces and the floor. The bath tub had blue smudged footprints under the shower for days – so much so that I doubted it would shift. Ever. Even today, a week after getting the Ecover to it, my feet have taken on a slight bluish tinge!

Thursday, 16 August 2007

indigo and organic cotton

Last week I went on Vivien Prideaux's two-day indigo workshop in Plymouth, part of the inspiring touring show 'Indigo' currently at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery. And last Tuesday I had a truly wonderful indigo dyeing day working alongside friend and fellow batikker Isabella Whitworth. I feel I have come on in leaps, bounds and confidence since my first few forays into indigo dyeing with Abi Evans some years ago, which is great because that's what workshops are for!

The experience making up and working with my own vat yesterday was elating, also disturbing as I realise I don't have space for ongoing indigo dyeing here. The mess! Vivien meant it when she said indigo would get everywhere. Isabella and I worked in her double garage with tarpaulins on the floor to catch drips and hold puddles. Abi also worked in a garage sized space and outdoors. When I move, if I don't acquire a garage I will certainly need space for a garage sized shed just for dyeing. For now I had pondered doing it in the kitchen near the back door, and close to the drying line outside... but not now I've remembered what a messy person I am! Small scale my tiny bathroom could be OK, but as I don't really work small scale it won't. Why not in the studio itself? Easy! Don't want a wet floor - it's carpeted (in a fashion). Nor do I need stray indigo powder/granules/streaks/smears popping up all over...


Vivien and Isabella worked their vats in different ways to reduce the indigo (to a soluble state suitable for dyeing, by de-oxygenating the water). Vivien used lime and zinc dust, and Isabella hydrosulphite and caustic soda (as did Abi). "Zinc lime" is, I think, the traditional way still practised by some village craftsmen/women but commercially has been replaced by the "hydros" technique. Vivien indicated that hydros is more reliable but by using fierce chemicals is less environmentally friendly. Both need more research on my part to understand the sustainability issues.

Vivien had two vats already on the go which needed re-activating (that is, re-de-oxygenating) and Isabella made hers up fresh that day (though as mine wasn't "exhausted" by the time I finished will re-activate it another time). Vivien had one natural and one synthetic vat, Isabella's were synthetic though she also uses natural indigo. So, I've been lucky to have experienced both within a short space of time. Vivien's explanation of the difference between natural and synthetic starts in its mode of production – natural indigo is derived from the indigofera species of plants, extracted from its leaves and stems; synthetic is pure chemistry – nothing more or less than the exact chemical formula that is pure indigo – petro-chemically derived. Natural indigo isn't pure - its impurities are what gives it its character... such as colour varying slightly. With synthetic you get digital perfection each time, predictable and measurable.

My inclination is that production of synthetically-produced indigo is probably no better and may be worse environmentally than fibre-reactive dyes; on the other hand only a finite amount of natural indigo can be produced each year (without encroaching on food crop land), and although at a low price in the west because of being imported from lower cost countries, its relative scarcity should be recognised by being used only in dyeing "things" that carry a value of their own - not a financial value but a respect or spiritual value, a value for community and future generations. I am not sure where my work fits into that yet but I know what I shouldn't be doing! Ideal would be a vat that can be replenished/re-activated over and over rather than making up a new one each time, that is if I convert completely to indigo-dyed batik. Having to take regular care of a vat would ensure a good relationship with it, one that wouldn't treat the dye as commodity. To contrast, it's hard to not view synthetically-produced, market-quantified dyes as commodities, and with that attitude how could I really put 'mana' into my work?

Most of the first day of Vivien's workshop was taken up with shibori – aaagh... sewing! Needle, thread and I do not good companions make, but I worked diligently throughout the day only getting narked at going-home time when finding the thread used wasn't adequate for puckering up the cloth. I unpicked all my samples at home that evening and by 1 am had re-made them all with proper-puckering embroidery thread. Although the shibori part of the workshop didn't particularly interest me I do believe in making the most of opportunities to learn new skills, they can open new ways of thinking or approaches (eg, I see now how it's possible with thread and puckering to make cloth three-dimensional, even though that wasn't the intention here). The second day was dyeing day. And my sewing worked – brilliantly in some cases, I humbly thought! Big mistake though was to not sketch, photograph or otherwise note down the technique used in each for future reference. Too much in a rush to get to the vat, I think.

As well as dyeing the shibori pieces I tested small samples of the organic cottons with mixed success. With so many others using the vats it was impossible to do a controlled kind of testing. They were getting exhausted too quickly (they=vats not participants!), and although all took the dye some are far paler than others. So I carried out this testing again at Isabella's, with 2 five min dips on each. These samples were boiled first in soda ash water to scour them. Additional sample pieces that had only been washed in warm water with soda were also tested.

At Isabella's I also dyed a 2 x 1.2 metre length of prima, to get a grasp of vat size. The tub began with about ten litres of dye, which had reduced a bit by the time of the first dip, and a bit more by the third. Dry, the cloth shows uneven dyeing streaks at one end. Although all the cloth was below the surface, the cloth/dye/tub ratio wasn't high enough to ensure all was opened out and able to absorb dye. A deeper vessel containing twenty litres dye would be my next aim, along with a contraption to hold the cloth open top and bottom as it goes in – research and design cap needed!

Today is washing out day... more to follow.

top pic - shibori and indigo dyed pieces drying at Vivien Prideaux's workshop. Mine are just right of centre stage, hanging on the looped railings.
middle pic - Isabella Whitworth amongst her batikked and dipped indigo scarves (pre-dyed in annatto). The vat I worked with is under the blanket inside on the right.
bottom pic - My organic cotton tests drying at Vivien Prideaux's workshop