Thursday, 28 February 2008

nettle fibre (and leather)

Despite my research into cotton production that lead to testing of organic and fair trade cottons I am still a little uncomfortable at the thought of using fabric that is produced thousands of miles away and on land that (today) might better be used for (local) food crops. I slightly reconcile it with myself with the thought that trading of such 'commodities' has gone on for centuries, so it isn't such a problem.

But I have been pondering whether I should learn to work on materials that are available locally, ie in Cornwall. Being cattle and sheep country that means leather or wool. As wool needs to be dyed at high temperatures that obviously rules out batik work (though other resists may be possible). Batik on leather is possible, but I don't get on with the smell of leather and am not sure how well I'd wax while gagging! Last year I learnt that my great-great-grandfather was a saddler by trade and his father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him were shoemakers and cordwainers - if leather work is in my blood perhaps it is my destiny. (For those who also need to look 'cordwainer' up: my old Collins dictionary says shoemaker or worker in leather. More about cordwainers here.)

And then, in today's Guardian, an article about stinging nettles being used for fibre - which mentions a nettle clone crop is being trialled in Cornwall. Leaving aside any ecological issues with cloning for the moment (it may just mean being grown from the same rootstock - easy!), there is hope for a locally produced fabric to make batik on!

I have already tried dyeing an organic nettle/cotton mix from Greenfibres - but only a scrap as it's expensive. This fabric is delightfully soft but being slightly stretchy isn't ideal for waxing. But other mixes or types of cloth may well be developed and be suitable - and smelling much nicer than leather!

Monday, 25 February 2008

loose dye update 2

A few weeks ago I uncovered the reason for the loose 'magenta' dye, forever slightly washing out but not seemingly weakening the colour on the fabric. Or rather I didn't uncover it, it was explained to me by Stuart at Kemtex... With Procion MX, small amounts of both 'magenta 'and 'cyan' dyes (but especially magenta) continue to move around the fabric a bit when drying. Thus when re-wetted they will rinse out.

It reminds me of warnings on labels in red clothes in days gone by, to always wash reds separately not with other colours, and of ensuing white pinkiness when the warning hasn't been heeded. I think non-MX Procions are used for clothes-dyeing these days which eliminates pink residues.

I did find cyan ('turquoise' in MX parlance) washed out initially then stopped, then magenta ('brilliant red') took over. At least there's no need to keep testing for errors in my dyeing ways. Although I'm a bit annoyed at the time-wasting, there are benefits in that I've learnt more about MX requirements along the way.

Stuart said there is a cationic fixing agent available on the market (and at Kemtex) which is supposed to address this loose-dye situation. Formerly this was formaldehyde based but due to environmental reasons no longer is (info on formaldehyde here and here). Although it resolved washfastness issues it compromised lightfastness so wasn't that wonderful anyway! The new version isn't formaldehyde, but I don't know what it instead IS.

A couple of websites list similar sounding products, Fineotex in India, and Shanghai Tuebingen, a Chinese subsidiary of German company CHT, who make Rewin.

Rewin ST seems the most promising, mentioning the difficult dyes by name but will give "slight shade changes". Slight changes could be catastrophic if a perfect harmony or balance of colours was intended but was then altered. What is so good with Procions is the brilliance of the colours, that complimentaries (or other pairings) can really sing and vibrate against each other. Take that edge away and the whole appears flat and lifeless. Fineotex NFE is apparently eco-friendly but we have only their word for that (or maybe not even that: "the information is in good faith but without warranty"). It doesn't say if it will affect lightfastness or change colours.

Anyway, as my Procion batiks are generally never re-washed after framing there seems no reason for me to need (read 'risk') this additional fixing solution. Or waste world's resources.

I also learnt from Stuart where their MX is made - Indonesia (he did tell me the company name but I'm not going to reproduce it here obviously!). Indonesia is an obvious place for it to be manufactured, considering how much batik is made there and it being an ideal cold water dye that won't melt wax. Stuart assumes it is also still made in India.