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!


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.

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.

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


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.