Tuesday, 13 November 2007

turn UP the heat?

I checked out my annual electric and water use a few days ago, seeing as both bills had arrived. On electric I'm up marginally since early July, but am still down about 1000 kwh from the year ending June 2006. Frustratingly my water use has remained about the same as the year ending June 2006 (when I wasn't trying), but has been twenty litres lower at 93 litres/day in between. So it can be improved! I think the increase is mainly due to all the water used dip-dyeing earlier in the year.

Over the last month I've been running tests to check out Procion MX's washfastness, or rather the washfastness according to the way I work. I'd been disconcerted to find loose dye on an old but well-fixed batik, and then on other pieces, both Mekong batiks in the waiting and decade old rejects that have lived most of their life in a drawer. Luckily (phew!)... it seems the loose dye is no more than remnant excess dye not washed out during or after boiling out wax. The fixed colour is unaffected. I have always rinsed pieces in cold water after boiling, assuming that as the water was clear it would be enough – but no, it seems a further rinse in hot with Ecover will loosen a little more.

Why hot water will remove unfixed dye straightaway but not cold prompted me to look more into the role of temperature in Procion dyeing. Oh boy. Bang go my carbon reduction credentials.

1 Optimum ambient room temperature for Procion MX dyeing: 20-30 deg C, upper end preferable (various sources).

The winter temperature of my studio and house is, on average, 17-19 C (I don't believe in walking around in t-shirt and bare feet during winter). It may be warmer during summer though. I have always been conscious of ambient temperature for waxing – if I'm wearing more than a t-shirt and a sweatshirt then the room isn't warm enough. But over 20 C? I've been turning the heating up gradually... 4 days later it's just reached 20 C (yeah yeah OK, the outdoor ambient temperature is cooling, it's called November).

2 "Optimum reaction temperatures for Procion MX dyes are between... 35 to 41 C (except for turquoise, which prefers up to... 55 C)" (source: Paula Burch's site)

Oh what? I've no idea what these temperatures mean – in human terms. Hand-hot? Luke-warm? I need to get a thermometer and start measuring, obviously. And then, how would I keep my little jars and mixed-up pots of dye warm in my 20-30 C (upper-end preferable) studio? On top of the storage heater? on a hot plate? sitting in an electric cookpan filled with water maintained at ideal ambient temp?

3 Turquoise (cyan) works at a different temperature to the other colours (source: pburch.net again).

This gives a potential explanation why the cyan on recent test pieces was lighter than expected, and why sometimes cyan can tint the whole cotton during boiling out.

Pondering all this the other day, I realised that Procions are not really suitable for the existing British climate – ironically they could become so with climate warming.

Leaving that aside for a moment, what effect would dye temperatures of 35 - 55 C have on wax? Wax melting points range between 50 and 60 C, slightly higher when resin is added (source: "Batik" by S Soetopo, publ 1983 Indira Bagian Akademi & Sastra). It doesn't bode well for turquoise/cyan, never mind the other colours. Does that also mean most natural dyes are not suitable for batik because of the temperature conflict? At least woad and indigo are OK...

Have I just discovered why batik never was a traditional art form in these isles, despite being practised widely across the world? Does this lack of tradition relate to its low key presence in Britain these days?

Anyway, I need to get on and do some tests... for which I need, firstly, a thermometer. And what's more, no ordinary jam thermometer - starting at 40 C is no good!


Isabella said...

Hi Robin, I've been using wax with any number of natural dye extracts. I make stock solutions, paint them on cold using various dyes and layers of wax; de-wax, then steam them. All the heat happens at the steam stage and the dyes don't migrate in the steamer. At least, not so far.

Robin Paris said...

Thanks Isabella, that's interesting to know and think about. HOW cold do you mean by cold? And are they as lightfast and washfast applied cold as warm?

Or do you mean you paint 'em on cold and then they get warmed/heated in the steam? Do you think they'd stay in place if you boiled out wax?

PS isn't your wax hot too?

Isabella said...

Hi Robin,
Cold is just room temp. I don't know the answer about how light and wash-fast they are yet - I'm pretty new to the the process.
I took the advice of the people I bought the extracts from who advised me to paint stock solutions cold, then steam at the end.
As to removing the wax, I tried heating out the wax in water and felt it had to be made too hot, and was damaging the silk. It felt harsh afterwards, and I can't regain the "handle" of the fabric. I have tried Synthrapol also, but it wasn't removing enough wax.
I have now tried the last dregs of the Wax-Out I tested earlier in the year, but without adding the advised soda ash. This is because silk doesn't like soda ash, and also because addition of an alkali might alter the natural dye colours which are pH sensitve. I have to say it seemed to work quite well.
But there is a lot of work to be done on this whole area of experiment!

Helen said...

Hi Robin, extract dyes can air fix. The painted fabric samples I bought back from Colour Congress 2002 were never fixed other than by just leaving them somthing Michelle Wipplinger of earhues dyes does all the time. The only thing I would say about my samples were that the colours went a bit browny over time but this could have been something to do with the tannin in some of the dyes. I asuume you are aware of the work of John Marshall who uses a method taken from the Japanese of fixing natural dyes with soy milk. Then there is compost dyeing. Finally on this point I seemed to remember when I looked into javanese batiks that the madder was used in a cold bath which would work with wax. Your blog is fascinating thanks it has set off a whole train of thoughts inme. Helen

Robin Paris said...

Hi Helen, thanks. Yes Javanese batiks were/are traditionally made with plant and tree bark dyes - I am aware of these and so that batik can be made with - at least - those dyes. I'm more interested in locally obtainable/gatherable/grown plants...

I also know of soy used in traditional Japanese batik (rozome) but I thought this was more for making a smooth working surface? My views on soy use, living here in Europe, is that it isn't sustainably practical, it has to be imported and due to increasing western demand rainforests are being cleared in South America to grow it (for human and livestock consumption). I do eat tofu (apparently sustainably produced not in cleared rainforest) so I'm not zackly an angel!

As I make fairly complex batiks I am concerned about potential colour changes, especially within just a few years! At the same time, this may be "the nature" of the future... as it was the past. In which case it is something I need to learn to live with and adapt to, rather than expecting "permanent" technological perfection such as is expected with Procion!

Robin Paris said...

And, moving back to the subject of the thread, does temperature (humidity, light and all other of geographical climatic variants) make a difference to the fixing/setting of natural dyes?

Like my Procions, natural dyes may fix at (my) natural room temperature, but is artificially higher better?

I learned to make batik with Remazol dyes in Malaysia. No one mentioned temperature out there, it was already ideal dyeing temperature!

Helen said...

This issue of change is quite an interesting one. When I first started painting with natrual dyes and making landscapes in naturally dyed felt I used to get extremely concenedd about the lighfastness issues. I am of course still concerned, I dont mean I am not and I use in my landscapes as lightfast dyes as I can. Principally combinations of madder, indigo, weld, cochineal, lac, cutch, walnut and a few others. However someone pointed out to me that watecolours are not very lightfast but the clincher for me to stop being quite so focussed on lightfastenss was going to se an exhibition of Turner painting and discovering he used paints that soemtimes changed before the picture left his studio. For him the it was he painting as he prodcued it that was the important event what happedend next was not so important to him at least so I understand. The nice thing about natural dyes is that they fade mostly to colours that still work provided of course you avoid he obvious ones such as elderberry purple that fades to a horrid brown.But elderberry is notoriously fugitve! Looking round the textiles at the V&A I found colours still good from 18th century onwards. Just a thought
bw Helen