Tuesday, 24 July 2007

sun and mud

I've been playing with solar power. Five or so years after first pondering it I have bought a Freeplay Ranger solar-powered and wind-up radio, and also a Freeloader portable solar charger for mobile and camera. I love them both!

Proof that "objects" are anything but... an hour after ordering the new radio I turned on the kitchen radio: hissssssssss.... Hmm. It was working at breakfast. Only a few hours later it had died. Over twenty years old I think, it worked brilliantly for most of that. And presumably held on faithfully until the last moment, right until knowing the next generation was safely on its way. Something like old and ill people who "hang on" until an occasion, a particular moment has been reached and then they die, presumably more at peace than before.

Unfortunately I had earmarked the new radio for the studio, but couldn't transfer the existing studio radio to kitchen because I play (music) tapes on it (especially while the CD player is out of action). I thought a second new radio would be needed but you know what's so great: having a portable radio again! I take it round with me to whichever room I'm in, and it's no effort! I hadn't realised just how lazy and consumerist wired appliances can make us, well, me anyway.

So far it's stayed playing just by being on window sills (after an initial 24 hour electric charge) but I am spending a lot of time maximising direct sun dose of both toys. Ideally they need to be outside in direct sunlight but unless I also am outside that's not so easy. They are trickle charging through the windows but several days of daylight and some sun-through-the-window didn't re-charge the Freeloader enough to fully charge the mobile; it took another 10 minutes on electric.

But what about charging a wax pot by solar, or rather charging a battery to provide power for the wax pot? It doesn't seem feasible at the moment – not just financially but also in terms of creating enough juice to fire the thing! None of the solar panels I've read about online will do more than run laptops, electric lawnmowers, TVs, lamps etc, certainly nothing hotter than a toaster. So definitely not wax pots or Burcos (I use the Burco to boil wax out). But solar thermal collectors for heating hot water (for boiling out) might work, though personally I use little hot water during our warmer months. Then there is the question of Cornwall's sunniness... plenty hot water in summer, warmish only in winter.

Carbon reduction through lower power consumption is the main reason for me investigating renewable-powered tools. But I also believe within a few years electricity will start being rationed, either by a number of off-hours per day or through personal allowance. There's a few studio-based essentials I feel handy to have around – radio for news, wind-up torch and an ability to charge the mobile and camera. But if I have to seriously curtail waxing time I need to find either an alternative way to heat wax (and water to remove it) or find a non-heat-requiring resist.

In Malaysia (where I first made batik) wax was heated in a wok over a naked flame, either from a gas stove or charcoal fire. In my current studio set-up with its low ceiling, neither sounds desirable especially in winter when window-opening is minimised. But I need to find out how carbon intensive these methods are – if they are carbon-practical alternatives then my workspace may need to change from an indoor one to... hmmm. Outdoor working is great but the cold, draughts, damp and everything else about the Great British Outdoors are not conducive to wax resist working.

I've been fascinated by mud resist since first hearing this is how Mali people decorate cloth. But their batik doesn't use mud to resist dye in the conventional sense, instead mud is applied to yellow-dyed cotton, with something (iron?) in the mud turning the yellow brown. Un-mudded areas are discharged with a caustic solution returning them to white. It would be great if china clay could be used in some way – but again I stumble with my lack of chemical knowledge. I do want to experiment with china clay, local river muds and natural dyes, but the potential size of the experiment seems overwhelming! Either I spend aeons on trial and error, or I seek help!

By chance a few weeks ago while visiting an artist/gardener in the next village she produced some decorative batik she'd made as a student. Which led into discussion of various techniques... as she had used mud resist! And then she produced her notebook full of recipes and samples – which I have on loan... It's a start!

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