Tuesday, 17 April 2007

take me to the river, drop me in the water...

I read the water meter today. Usually it's the water company owing me money... but this time I was feeling apprehensive: over the last few months I have been dip-dyeing...

It was for a long-standing commission which requires a flat evenly-coloured background. The colour is something like the colour of saffron, cardboard or wet sand. Achieving an even colour over a large area by painting dyes on is not easy, but is - or should be - a doddle by dip-dyeing. I've dip-dyed the odd piece of clothing in the past, but nothing where the colour and even-ness was as paramount as now. So I had some learning to do.

To get the exact right colour took over ten attempts... boy was this a learning curve! My initial problem was in getting the right dye dilution to achieve the right tone. I mixed my own exactly-right wet sand colour from the Procion primaries (cyan, magenta, yellow, black as I call them, though didn't use cyan this time) and diluted this down, initially 3 or 4 times, later 8 times, with water. The first few dyeings came out gorgeous deep reds - stunning colours though, I love them and they will not be wasted! Try as I did I just couldn't get the final dip-dyed colour to resemble the initial one I mixed. They were new dyes, freshly mixed, so that wasn't the problem. It seemed that the reddish or magenta "pigment" (do dyes have pigments?) fixed more readily, strongly and quickly than whatever was left - Ian Bowers at Fibrecrafts later confirmed this with a technical explanation, including a fascinating account of how exactly the dyes go about (literally!) their chemical process of binding to the fibre.

Suddenly I understood why pre-mixed Procion colours are there on the market... if your initial colour isn't going to relate to your end colour, then how can you mix the initial colour that will? Ian's suggestion was to dye twice, first green then orange (my wet sand came from mixing a yellow-black green into a yellow-magenta orange), though I dyed the orange first. He also floated buying a pre-mixed Fibrecrafts colour though this easy way out was stalled by their range not having a wet sand colour - and besides, I wasn't yet defeated! But I did buy an orange in the hope of overcoming the reddening problem. Although the legwork had doubled, overdyeing the green instead of pre-mixing it into orange did the trick and after a few more attempts sussing quantities, I got... wet sand!

Experience is without doubt the best way to learn, and had I achieved what I had wanted on the first attempt I would have learned nothing. I'm grateful to Noel Dyrenforth, Rosi Robinson and Fibrecrafts for publishing dip-dyeing recipes (the first two in books, the latter on their website) that initially guided me. The method, quantities and proportions are now in my head and moving into my instinct (from where I prefer to work).

Quantities brings me back to water. Yes, dip-dyeing uses tankfuls! After the first few dyeings I felt I should start measuring the litres but didn't - it wasn't the right time to shift focus. But I will have a think and post that suss later.

Dipping also requires a lot of salt. More easily calculable, I went through six or seven 750 gram containers. The packaging gives no information at all about the salt's origin or method of production. Although I bought these from the local mini-market (walking distance) I will start looking out for salt packs listing origin and production so I can research and get properly informed before needing any more.

I do know where my water comes from - and I don't mean the taps! Five Lanes' water comes via a small works beside Withey Brook, a moorland stream on the far side of East Moor. Rushyford Water, one of my Bodmin Moor river batiks, flows into the Withey. I like it that I can walk across the moor to see and appreciate the source of my water. I had never realised before living near the "supply" how anonymous my water was.

How come South West Water usually owes me? We agreed some time back that I use about 7 or 8 cubic metres/quarter and pay £14 monthly. But 3 x £14 comes to more than the cost of 7 or 8 cubic metres, but they won't take less than £14/month. I did give myself a pat on the back for assumed resourcefulness... until I read that my water footprint is still way above the global average. I will write more about this later too.

South West Water are sending a new bill... yes, this time I owe them.

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