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.

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