Thursday, 2 August 2007

organic cottons - testing begins

Finally! I have started testing the range of organic cottons, six in total plus prima as a control (also nettle mix fabric, but I have such a small sample that testing will be limited). The cottons include some I consider too loose or tight a weave for good waxing (specific waxing tests coming later), and others that might be perfect but have many inconsistencies in the weaving.

In fact, were it not for their organic, fair trade status I would reject them for poor quality – this is far more a reflection on me and western society than on the cottons! We have been groomed to expect and demand perfection. But one of the defining characteristics or quirkiness of batik is its non-perfection – however accomplished the artist there will be variations in their waxing of line widths, starts and endings. These may not always be discernible to the naked eye, but if the design was instead computer-generated to total perfection, of the two works of art the human-created one would resonate better, more naturally. I once heard a similar comparison from a musician comparing human drumming to that of a drum machine – it's the slight imperfections and variations that give a more pleasing and natural rhythm.

So, while I practise batikking with these cottons I also will have to ponder the nature of the fabrics and the effect any weaving irregularities might have on a final piece of art. Or other end purpose - soft furnishing, clothing etc.

The first round will have three separate sessions: painting base Procion dyes with soda ash fix already in the cloth; dip-dyeing a single colour of Procion; dip-dyeing into indigo.

Today is prelim day - soaking a sample of each cloth in cool water for 30 minutes, rinsing twice then hanging to dry. This may or may not be enough pre-treatment before starting waxing and dyeing but ideally it'll be the minimum necessary. It all depends on how and with what each fabric has been treated during process, and if these need removing before dyeing and how. Certainly organic standards require far less chemical treatment than mainstream textiles, which is a good thing but not always helpful for dyeing! See here and here for more info.

So this first stage may be a failure... or a part-failure. The second round isn't yet planned, no running before walking etc!

In case you haven't already spotted I'm not a connoisseur of textiles, I don't know the speak, so here's a batik lay person's initial impressions of the different fabrics:

1 Greenfibres soft voile
organic certified, fair trade

Smooth surface and minimal irregularities, but such a loose weave that I think finely-detailed batik wouldn't be possible. It's also very see-through, which could work well for hangings in some circumstances but not so good for framed work. Off-white natural colour.

2 Greenfibres natural percale
organic certified, fair trade

Beautifully smooth surface – is it treated? Very fine dense and regular weave – might it be too dense for waxing? Several dark flecks in the weave, say 10 per 10 cm square, some of which can be scratched out. They are small enough that they might not be too distracting... An off-white natural colour.

3 Greenfibres white eco-bleached percale
organic certified, fair trade

As the natural percale above, also a gorgeously smooth surface and dense fine consistent weave. The eco-bleaching presumably has taken care of the dark flecks. It is whiter than all the other fabrics but not as brilliantly white as the prima. More a natural white shall we say?

4 Bishopston handloom (calic
fair trade certified, organic

Right from the beginning my highest hopes were with this hand woven calico – quite possibly because Bishopston's website gives more information on its origins than other companies, and I have bought clothes from them with which I have been mightily pleased. But... the weave is sooooo uneven: the piece I am looking at now shows a sudden change in weaving like a new person had taken over whose technique gave a different weight and texture. One moment it is so, then from the next line on the weave is finer, looser. Probably it is just a switch in yarn to a finer one, but the difference is striking. But as it's more consistent either side then presumably the cloth could be cut along the "join" with each side separately worked on. Except it's not then that consistent – the wave density and opaqueness varies a lot. But this certainly gives the cloth a character of its own, though I feel it could distract from or even destroy certain designs or imagery. It also contains a few obvious dark flecks within the weave and some loose ends of thread both of which are rough and raised compared to the rest of the cloth which is smooth with a good weave density for waxing. Off-white natural colour.

5 Fabrics Ltd powerloom unbleached calico
fair trade certified, organic

A very even weave but probably too dense for good waxing, and maybe hand-painted dye penetration. Pleasantly smooth but many dark flecks, about 8 small and 8 very small per 10 cm square, though some can be scratched out. Enough flecks to be a feature of the fabric. Off-white, natural colour.

6 Fabrics Ltd handloom calico
fair trade certified, organic

Somewhat like the other handloom, this fabric has sudden major inconsistencies. This time though they are in both the warp and the weft, and being singular thicker lines would seriously disrupt any design. Other than these the weave varies consistently enough to be an acceptable feature, if that makes sense! There are a few darker thicker woven-in stretches of thread, and a few white bobbly ones, which if in the wrong place could detract from a design, as could the odd few loose thread ends. The cloth is smooth enough for waxing, with a good density of weave for fine work. Off-white natural colour.

7 Textile Techniques prima
neither organic nor fair trade, though in their favour the suppliers have a good attitude

After primissima, prima is reputedly the next finest cotton for batik work. It has a very smooth, even surface and should take wax beautifully. The weave isn't 100 per cent perfect but the density varies only slightly though regularly enough for it to be an acceptable feature. There is though one 2 cm long thicker thread
that is prominent and might detract, also a handful of very small white bobbles. The weave weight and density is similar to the two handlooms. The cotton is bleached very white. Apparently prima needs no pre-treatment – it is ready to be worked on. It does feel like the smooth-smooth surface has gone after soaking!

8 Greenfibres nettle mix
organic certified, fair trade

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