Thursday, 19 June 2008


The woad is growing nicely now, and it's time to get waxing to have something ready for dyeing. Here's one just finished, taken from a sketch of the Brown Willy skyline (Cornwall's highest peak) at sunset from a favourite perch, Black Rock. Because woad-dyeing will be a learning process I want to keep the first ones simple in terms of waxing - so less wax is wasted on (possible) disasters. A series of batiks of moorland peaks may not be particularly creative or ambitious but is a nice excuse to get out for some longer walks than I've been doing lately! Also, being nearly midsummer, my mind turns to our inherited stone circles and other monuments with solstice and equinox alignments. Roughtor (second highest hill) was, apparently, very important to our Iron Age forebears. So respecting their beliefs and knowledge by focusing on views of Roughtor from prominent peaks and places doesn't seem quite so shallow after all, and maybe I will learn something too.

Minimal lines will also help me get a feel for predicting balance of (should I call it 'colour' or 'tone'?) after dyeing - the impact white lines in a deep blue will have. At least I hope to get deep blue!

Also, as many of my past batiks have treated wax as though there's no tomorrow, literally swamping the cloth with it, I need to start from the opposite extreme of less is more. I do now recognise there are limitations to the amount of wax I should use per batik, as there are limitations to the amount bees can be expected to produce annually (on the one hand) and availability of paraffin wax relates directly to availability of oil stocks (on the other). And production of paraffin wax contributes to global warming, but all-about-wax is for another post another time.

A new problem hit just after I'd waxed this piece - where to store it? Up until now I've worked on just one or occasionally a few related pieces at a time - waxing, dyeing and finishing - before moving on to the next. But not now... I will need a number of pieces ready for the woad and then do the dyeing in a batch. The cloth can't be folded and put in a drawer - the wax would crack on the fold lines. It really needs to stay flat. My mind sees it hanging from one of those coat hangers with clips on but I don't have any, nor a bound-to-stay-clean and unlikely-to-get-bashed (=cracked wax) spare hanging place in the studio, or house. I'm trying to approach this sideways, hoping tangentiality will let the obvious solution slip into view.

There's another reason for waxing these pieces now. Before I start any woad dyeing I need to finish the birds batik mentioned back in January and to do that I need to get some canting practice in for very long smooth curved lines - requiring a move of the whole body in sync with the line. Like all craft skills, you have to keep practising - stop for any length of time and you get rusty. Like me. The design calls for two perfect spirals within the white circle - any imperfection would just kill the picture. So I'm nervous and need to get confident before starting.

I also mixed up some Procion dyes yesterday and am running a fastness test on them. Three of the colours were first opened about 18 months ago, theoretically past their shelf life, the fourth is about a year old. I really don't want to buy new Procions just now... but the thought of having to re-wax because the dyes didn't fix is too scary!

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