Wednesday, 1 April 2009


Wax, both paraffin wax and beeswax, is a material as fundamental to batik as dye and cloth. For the last few years I've been aware that there are global issues with honey bees (colony collapse disorder, or CCD) hence a potential for shortages of beeswax. And that alongside peak oil and rising oil prices will undoubtedly be peak paraffin wax and rising paraffin wax prices. I also knew that I didn't know that much about either, and so in January set about researching.

I started with paraffin wax, but fairly soon it appeared there are far more issues to learn about with beeswax. The article was written for the Batik Guild Magazine, in the event an edited version was published a few weeks ago. The full version is on my website here though the research is ongoing and will be updated. I will write up the paraffin wax research later this year too.

In the way that soy wax has been developed as a resist in the US (though I understand it's not that good for batik), and the Malaysians are working with a oilpalm waste resist, I feel in Europe we need to consider finding and developing a future home-grown source for wax, as an alternative to paraffin wax and supplement to beeswax. I thought I'd read somewhere that snowberry was used in the past for its wax qualities - berries I assume, not leaves - but can't find a reference for it now. That a new source could in fact be an old source is just as feasible as one developed from waste from another process or product.

Researching beeswax was so interesting I have become enthused to take up beekeeping! But compared to the small scale growing of woad I began last year, I think instead I will see if there is a beekeeper locally who would be happy for me to help and learn from them. As wonderful and interesting as woad growing has been, I feel it would be too big a commitment for me to try to grow as much as I envisage using, and beekeeping would be even more of a responsibility.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

a science of qualities

For much of today I've been thinking about scientific process, following my last post on wax temperature. I have been making batik since 1990, so that's nineteen years (wow! is it really that long!). For much of this time I've had a good feeling for when the wax is not hot enough, when the room/ambient temperature is not warm enough, when the wax has crossed the threshold of 'good', and so on. The same with dyes, colour mixing, in fact everything to do with the batik process. Some I learnt from my early tutors Jin and Latif in Malaysia, but most "knowing" has been gained intuitively, through practice and observation and awareness... and over time. For instance I've never needed a thermometer to know if the room was warm enough for batikking - I came to realise I just had to consider what I was wearing. Anything more than a t-shirt and sweatshirt meant it was too cold.

My experiment last Monday in wax temperatures at different Tixor Malam settings was generalised/experimental. It was not set up to be controlled and perfectly measured, because I was more focused on the artwork I was doing. My thinking today was that if it had been a perfectly measured and controlled experiment (when it would be hard to also focus on artwork) , then that would give me precise results for only those variables (eg that wax mix). Another experiment would be needed for each variable. How maddening is that?

But more than maddening, I feel such a method takes away knowledge and understanding rather than giving it. If I heat the waxpot from calculations based on test results rather than on an innate awareness of what is necessary, garnered from experience, have I lost something fundamental?

Which led me to thinking about A Science of Qualities. I first heard about this from Brian Goodwin, I think at a talk he was giving at the University of Plymouth a few years ago. It is akin to Goethean science, and draws on impressions, intuition, sensory perception and sensory imagination, context, history, seeing in beholding, appropriate response, dialogue and consensus, and evaluation. It was so exciting when I first heard of this approach - inside me was singing 'that's what I do!, that's what I do!', meaning it's how I approach working on a painting or design. Or visiting a place, seeing a new phenomena, travelling, whatever. I don't do it in such a structured coordinated way nor with an ability to add headings to each element of my process, but what I do resonates with the pattern.

The Science of Qualities allows both the essence and the bigger connections to be expressed, through seeing the whole rather than the parts (holistic versus reductionist). But somehow I don't think it is appropriate to demonstrate wax temperatures - but now I think: why not? Isn't it easier to tell someone that from experience I found if I am wearing more than a sweatshirt the room's too cool for successful batikking than to say from experimentation I found that the thermometer must be above a particular temperature? Although it's easier for them to measure their room with a thermometer than to get me to stand there with or without sweatshirt or more... the idea for them to learn their own clothing level is much better, as their space may have variables I have not accounted for (drafts, higher ceiling, different humidity etc).

I think why I've gone the reductionist route on much of my sustainability research is that, supposedly, there's more cred to the results. I can say x y z with certainty rather than 'in my experience' which anyone could dismiss as artist waffle. Sadly.

I dug out a few articles about A Science of Qualities - this one I've read before, it's long but page 3 has a few appropriate paras. There's also this and this. Page 5 here (scroll down) describes a newish book by Brian Goodwin which is now on my reading list.

Monday, 9 March 2009

wax temperature

waxed lines showing gap by joinNot very scientifically controlled, nevertheless I have been measuring the temperature of wax in my Tixor Malam waxpot. Usually I have had it at its highest setting (7).

When I learned to make batik in Malaysia, the wax was in a wok over a charcoal fire and was very hot, so hot that occasionally it caught alight. At those times everyone stopped work and piled sand from the floor on to the wok to put out the flames and prevent the atap (thatch) roof from catching alight. Because I'm sure a European designed waxpot would prevent wax from getting that dangerously hot, I have believed it best to set it to have the wax as hot as possible, thus staying hot and fluid in a canting for as long as possible.

More recently I have been questioning the wisdom of this logic. Firstly, if it's hotter than necessary then it's using unnecessary energy to be heated. Secondly, over-heated beeswax gets structurally 'damaged'. For sometime I have realised that long-term cooked wax goes brown, gets brittle and loses its resist qualities. More recently I have discovered (from reading) that the brown-ness occurs over about 120 deg C, and brittleness damage comes from too rapid cooling, ie contraction. A further reason for practical research into waxpot temperature is that noxious fumes are given off at 120C. Out in the open (eg in Malaysia) where fumes can move quickly out of the shelter into the general atmosphere, the chemicals can be quickly broken up, or down, by sunlight. Not so easy in a small terraced cottage in a Cornish winter/spring.

As a preliminary trial which may guide further tests, I measured the temperature of the wax at settings 1, 2, 3 and 4, over two separate meltings. The thermometer was hand held in the wax above the 'minimum level' line (ie towards one side rather than in the middle). The thermometer was held so the full bottom metal part was under molten wax. The quantity and recipe of wax were not measured, however around half was old, cooked wax, and half new. The new comprised two handfuls of Fibrecrafts batik mix (paraffin/microcrystalline mix) and one handful of Candlemakers beeswax (yellow). The ambient room temperature was 16-17C. The temperature range measured was

1 69-72C (156-162F)
2 79-84C (174-183F)
3 96-99C (205-210F)
4 110C+ (230F)

water leaking through gap in wax joinI can only speculate the temperatures above setting 4 as the thermometer stopped just beyond 110C. So approximately, 5 - 116-120C, 6 - 126-130C, 7 - 136-140C (240.8-248F, 258.8-266F, 276.8-284F). However here it says a Tixor Malam heats only to 135C.

At setting 4 (110C) I was able to wax acceptable lines on cloth (prima cotton, very fine). However, at the same temperature, further lines crossing these weren't hot enough to 'close the gap', meaning dye would leak through the closed sections of the grid. The first picture shows the reverse of the fabric with gaps by the overlap, the second picture has water seeping from the first square into the next through the gap.

I explain this to myself as, when viewing in cross-section the first line of wax (as a circle, ie the line disected) has partially penetrated the fabric but most wax is still above, because it cooled and hardened before being able to penetrate. In contrast the circle from a hotter wax line would appear more evenly above and below the fabric. When the next wax line crosses the first, it does so at a higher angle than if crossing a line sitting lower on the fabric. The leap from cloth level to top of wax line means a gap is left without wax, and additionally, wax coming from the canting cools before it can reach, never mind penetrate, the fabric. Wax applied hot enough will reach the fabric and also partially soften and merge with the previously applied wax line.

So, I turned up the heat, to setting 5 (though later viewing showed it slightly over, say 5.2). From across the room I could see fumes emerging heat-haze style, but the room didn't cloud up (the fan was on). At this temperature (approx 120C) I was able to draw new wax lines adjacent to the previous lines, and they seem to have penetrated successfully. However I was using a wide spout canting and as I had to draw slowly to ensure wax penetration I could not always make the width of the fabric before the wax had cooled. So at 5 the temperature is sufficient perhaps for small detailed work but not ideal for longer smooth drawing of lines.

update 11 March 2009
The second lot of lines drawn at 5.2 temperature crossed each other fine, but in places were unable to cross smoothly/warmly enough the earlier 4 temperature wax. A few leaks have shown up. But it's only a colour testing cloth, so nothing drastic!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

woad - and spring?

woad plants March 2009Although there was some more snow last night, the more recent pattern has been of warming weather, that joyous feeling that spring is on its way. The woad plant that was out all winter (in the black pot) has put on a spurt, whereas the greenhoused plants don't seem to have grown so much. More than this, the out-wintered woad's spurt loks suspiciously like a flower stem is on the agenda. The in-wintered plants have more bulk still though. The same pattern can be seen at Helen's, where those that had been under demijohnish covers until about a month ago have more and larger leaves, but those without cover have a definitive upward growing shape.

woad plant March 2009
photos taken 1 March 2009

woad plants March 2009

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

... and through the square window

View through studio window - snowGazing out of my studio window is one of the pleasures of this workspace. For many years I've marvelled at how the seasons affect this same view - the changes in colour and atmosphere. My future studio space may not have such a luxury unfortunately... there might be no view of nature at all, what a depressing thought. The snow here was from earlier in February.

View through studio window - snow

View through studio window - snowing

woad and snow

snow melting on second year woad plantsThe (now second year) woad plants were covered in about four inches/100 mm of snow for a few days earlier this month, and also survived a very heavy frost (for Cornwall). The smaller of the plants has been out all winter, the larger-leafed in a plastic greenhouse since December. I found Helen (the Hort) had done the same at hers by covering a few plants. But I hesitate to leave them under cover too long in case they don't get enough daylight and sun to develop blue in the leaves, so all are now uncovered. Some seeds that didn't sprout last year may be doing so now - or the plant is dividing itself below ground and resprouting.

Photo taken 8 February 2009

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

water - carbon cost

While working out my carbon footprint earlier this month I also mentioned my annual water consumption, and started pondering the carbon cost of water. I emailed South West Water, the water company for Cornwall and Devon, and fairly soon after received a reply from their Carbon Manager David Rose (impressive they have a dedicated Carbon Manager but apparently many similar companies do now).

Clean water delivered: 173 grams CO2e per cubic metre of water delivered to your tap.
Waste water returned: 870 grams CO2e per cubic metre of waste water returned to sewer.

(CO2e = carbon dioxide equivalent)

This equates to 1043 grams CO2e per 1000 litres for combined clean and waste water supply - I have to admit to surprise for the low delivery figure for fresh water. But then, water arrives freely from the skies. It doesn't (here anyway) need to be pumped up from the ground.

If there is a message to be read from these figures it's that the less 'contaminants' we put into the waste/sewer the lower their clean-up costs, and this might help lower emissions. David explained that the waste figure includes methane and nitrous oxide emissions from the recycling of waste water sludge to land. Or muck spreading as I've always known it.

My household carbon contribution from water use then is:

34,527 litres
= 34.527 cubic metres x 1043 grams
= 36011.661 grams CO2e
= 36 kg CO2e pa

Thirty-six kilograms, or 0.036 tonnes, sounds not very much in comparison to other emission costs, such as heating water or travel. So it seems best to retain focus on reducing quantity of water due to its eminent predicted global shortage.

So, over the next year I should aim to reduce consumption, and consider what gets disposed down the mains that needn't and other options for disposing of it (or do away with it altogether?).

Emission levels from all UK water companies are shown in Figure 4 on page 12 in Water UK's Sustainability Indicators 2007-08 Report.

United Utilities have a user friendly (figure-phobic) water use/carbon calculator here but be aware the final figure includes not just the carbon cost of water supplied/taken away but the carbon cost of heating it.

Update 14 February 2009
South West Water have announced plans to trial a rising block tariff. There will be three blocks, the first low rate 'essential use', the second standard rate 'safety net' and third premium 'non-essential use', with the first block charged at 27% less than the standard rate.

For a one person household the essential band is 1-8 cubic metres/quarter, the standard 9-13, and premium 14 and over. So I'm thrilled to see that my existing quarterly use only just flips over the essential use level!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

UN international year of natural fibres

The UN's International Year of Natural Fibres is launched today. Its objectives are to:

- Raise awareness and stimulate demand for natural fibres;
- Promote the efficiency and sustainability of the natural fibres industries;
- Encourage appropriate policy responses from governments to the problems faced by natural fibre industries;
- Foster an effective and enduring international partnership among the various natural fibres industries.

Lots of events around the world are planned for this year, including in Britain an International Conference in London in December (though it seems more directed to industry than artistry) and an international textile conference in Leeds in September.

Another exciting conference:

Making Futures - the crafts in the context of emerging global sustainability agendas.

Organised by Plymouth College of Art and Design (PCAD), it is taking place in September 2009 at Mount Edgcumbe House, near Saltash in Cornwall. I hope to be there!

And, because some things come in threes, the next issue of Selvedge magazine is themes around 'Frugal'. I was asked if I'd like to advertise but as well as not knowing what I'd be advertising I feel it goes against the essence of what I'm trying to do. The magazine is beautifully produced with gorgeous photography, and even the adverts are a pleasure to look at, but it has a large readership and global circulation. Being just a humble artist I want to get on with things quietly and minimally and appropriately and... frugally. Self-promotion there seems arrogant and loud and wrong, for me, in this context. But I am looking forward to seeing the next issue.

Monday, 5 January 2009

2008 carbon footprint

8.57 tonnes CO2 -
7.60 tonnes CO2 - Resurgence
5.49 tonnes CO2 - Energy Saving Trust
5.27 tonnes CO2 - ActOnCO2 (UK government's)

Back in June 2007 I wrote about my carbon footprint, as worked out on a range of calculators. Last summer I intended to re-measure and compare, but felt such an activity was better suited to dark and cold winter evenings. So my new footprint is for the calendar year - January to December 2008.

Depending on calculator used the carbon footprint ranges from 5.27 to 8.57 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Resurgence and's calculators endeavour to include lifestyle and industrial share as well as the energy and travel factors. When taking energy and travel alone these footprints fall into the same range as the other two, at 5.1 and 5.57 tonnes.

Two major changes from last time are using the car and having double/secondary glazing fitted. It's been interesting to see what changes they have brought.


2.46 tonnes CO2 - Resurgence
2.29 tonnes CO2 -
2.01 tonnes CO2 - Energy Saving Trust
1.99 tonnes CO2 - ActOnCO2

Last year my footprint was 6.3 to 7.5 tonnes CO2 annually depending on the calculator used. But when my average driving mileage of 10,000 miles pa was factored in it rose to around 9.5 tonnes!

So one plan for 2008 was to restrict mileage to 6000 pa, roughly 500 miles a month or a tankful of fuel each month. Five hundred miles sounds a lot and is a lot and in general wasn't too hard to stick to. But two long-distance trips – to Norfolk in the spring and recently to visit family in Shropshire - were all it took to push me over by 831 miles. So I failed. Or failed to stay below my target, but I did learn that lower mileage is achievable. Several times I told others or myself I couldn't afford (meaning 'spare') the petrol that month, or consciously decided I didn't really need to go/do where/whatever. Some people seemed incredulous that I was rationing my fuel use... until fuel prices went over the pound/litre rate mid summer. All future long distance travel must be managed better. Or differently. I will have to think about this.

I also have attempted being a better driver – maxing at 60 mph on dual carriageways and slower on main roads. I've tried smoother gear changes and check the car tyres monthly. I keep records of mileage done when filling the tank. All the stuff they bang on at us to do.

My 2008 travel footprint ranged between 1.99 and 2.46 tonnes for the 6831 miles. Because it's an older car (R reg), each calculation was based on a generic 1.4 litre petrol car. However the smttCO2 website calculates emissions from every model and age of car. My Peugeot 306 hatchback emits 176g CO2 per kilometre and so, for my mileage, 1.93 tonnes for the year – less but in the same range as the calculators. Probably they also incorporate factors like oil changes and service materials - fair enough.

Two years ago I signed up to TargetNeutral, a carbon offsetting project initiated by BP. I was and am sceptical about the merits and morals of offsetting carbon but then as now feel that showing willing and concern is the important point (to oil companies and politicians!). Hence, despite having paid around ten quid to 'offset' my 2+ tonnes of CO2 (shockingly cheap, carbon, innit!) I am not subtracting 2+ tonnes from my footprint. Why not? Because although TargetNeutral purchases carbon credits from projects that sound worthwhile I have no idea if their carbon figures are also being used elsewhere, ie multiple accounting.

For instance, if a wind farm was installed here in Cornwall thus removing x tonnes of CO2 pa and TargetNeutral bought these emission reductions as carbon credits, that's one thing. But should, for example, the local authorities then be able to incorporate these reductions into Cornwall's renewable energy figures? In some ways, yes, but not when an overall (eg national) picture of emissions reduction is wanted as the figure could be counted twice. Unless I've missed something! So, for now, I'll continue offsetting but not including the figure in my own footprint. The most viable current option to reduce carbon remains to reduce mileage not buy your way out.

(A few catches about TargetNeutral – you have to buy BP fuel and use a Nectar loyalty card (so your purchases are logged). And then go online once a year to confirm details and pay up. BP fuel seems to cost a little more than elsewhere but that's fine as I seem to get more mileage per tank on it.)


3.48 tonnes CO2 - Energy Saving Trust (of which 3.22 heat/0.26 appliances)
3.28 tonnes CO2 - ActOnCO2 (of which 3.06 heat/0.22 appliances)
3.28 tonnes CO2 -
2.63 tonnes CO2 - Resurgence

I've spent an hour getting my head around the variation in these energy footprints from different calculators. Surely all should be the same, considering the same 6113 kwh annual figure was used? Resurgence uses a conversion figure of 0.43, same as I used last time and understood to be the industry standard conversion figure.

But on a National Energy Foundation page it says that 0.537 should be used when calculating carbon footprints and is "based on a 5 year rolling average UK electricity generation mix of coal, nuclear and gas turbines, as well as renewables". And, no surprise here, 0.537 x 6113 kwh = 3.28 tonnes CO2. (Why EST's is a bit higher can remain a mystery for now! Either they add some for energy loss during transmission (sensibly) or they hadn't updated their rolling 5 year figure.)

The lower figure of 0.43 apparently is appropriate if estimating "emissions in line with Climate Change Agreements (CCAs)... or when estimating energy savings". This lower figure is "based on marginal emissions (which are usually those from high efficiency Combined Cycle Gas Turbines)". Aaah. I see. Sort of.

I thought that when I last calculated my footprint, 0.43 was seen as the conversion figure representing the average UK mix of electricity generation. But in 2008, according to, the average UK mix comprised coal 33%, natural gas 43.5%, nuclear 16.1%, renewables 5.5% and other 1.9% with CO2 emissions at 0.48 kg/kwh.

Ecotricity's mix includes renewables at 37.4% (up from 26% in 2007), and its CO2 emissions were 0.267 kg/kwh. I think this means I could get away with using a conversion factor of 0.267 for my annual energy use... but won't. The national availability of renewables is limited, at 5.5% (also shockingly low, innit?), and so the national share must be used however irksome it is being forced to use a rolling 5 year figure when one for 2008 is available.

So, my energy related emissions were 3.28-3.48 tonnes of which 3.06-3.22 was from hot water, heating and lighting, and 0.22-0.26 from appliances. Both figures are down from last time (3.48 and 0.38 in 2007, respectively). Quarterly usage to end December also was lower than a year ago. The double and secondary glazing were fitted in late November and early December – it will be fantastic if they are responsible for this small reduction on the heating side!

Appliance related emissions dropped more markedly – this might be because I have made every effort to switch off and unplug everything not in use – though tend to have forgetful phases with the kettle, and very unremembering with the cooker. An old anglepoise lamp also remains plugged in and switched on but that's due to its temperamentality. Otherwise all is off as much as possible. I never would have believed it could make this much difference. But all the official advice suggests doing it, so it was worth trying!

Industrial Share, Lifestyle and Other Extras

3.0 tonnes
2.5 tonnes Resurgence

Only Resurgence and's calculators included an industrial and lifestyle section.

Resurgence invites you to analyse your life by, amongst other things, income. It suggests for every £5000 of income you add a tonne of carbon, reducible only if you endeavour to buy second hand, locally made, craftsman made, repair etc. They also allocate everyone a tonne from the national share of common and public amenities. I made my lifestyle emissions 2.5 tonnes last time, and arrived at the same figure this year.'s worked from lifestyle questions with multiple choice answers. For example it asked whether you 'always', 'sometimes' or 'never' bought organic food. With this question and a few others I found the range of answers limiting – there was no 'mostly' to choose, and 'always' would have been a lie on my part. So after running the test again with 'fully' answers where I needed an alternative, I worked out what I believe to be my truer position – 3.0 rather than 3.14 tonnes.

Both calculations are subjective and only a guide. In time as more goods and services become carbon costed we all will start to know our true lifestyle carbon cost.

How soon will the time come that I can give a carbon cost for a batik? Not this coming year, I expect. But it remains an aim.


The carbon cost of water and water industry related services isn't included in the calculators (though may be incorporated in the lifestyle sections). I haven't found a source online giving a conversion figure but have emailed South West Water to ask them.

Water carries its own cost of course – the planet is running dry from over consumption and waste of fresh water. My household water use for the year to 5 November 2008 was 34,527 litres or 94.59 litres a day. Although year on year it's down nearly 7000 litres, or 9 litres a day, when I think of it as 47 two-litre bottles full of water and lined up every day inside my house I struggle to comprehend how – where - I could be using so much!

But just as with the carbon calculators, there's also water use from lifestyle to consider. have a calculator that gives a per capita average depending on the country you live in. Mine comes out at 694 cubic metres a year... or in litres, 694,000. Scarey! Way, way higher than household use! Their website also has a more detailed water use calculator but I need to weigh my average food intake before I can do that.

Thinking about it all

My footprint has come down since last time – sort of. Last time around I'd had to stop driving for a year, and that made it considerably lower than now. But it is near on impossible to earn a living and 'live' here without a car (mine or a friend's) because of the lack of public transport and distances from certain facilities, including train stations. So until I move, a reality of life is running a car. After 15 years I have given up trying to get the authorities to supply a bus service that extends beyond the few daily shopper buses to the local town (8 miles away), or a cycle path that will take cyclists off the dual carriageway. When I move, accessibility to public transport will feature!

At 5.27 my footprint also remains below the UK national average of 9.96 tonnes but above the government's current target footprint of 4.22 tonnes (ActOnCO2).

Residents of the South-West apparently have slightly lower Ecological footprints than the national average – 5.23 compared to 5.36 global hectares, and citizens of three local cities Plymouth, Truro and Exeter ranked 1st (ie lowest footprint), 9th and 14th respectively out of 60 British cities for their ecological footprint. So regional lifestyle is assisting me. On the personal calculator here my ecological footprint came in at 2.33 global hectares - or rather 23.3 gha (don't understand why ten times higher) but still equivalent to 1.48 planets. Down from last year's 1.9 planets... but still obviously an unsustainable amount of planet.

So, my aims for 2009 are to keep lowering usage. Keep mileage below 6000 pa, and better use of trains and buses for long distance travel. With electrical consumption I'll check what difference the double/secondary glazing has made in three months time, when the coldest of weather has passed, and then consider future options for improvement. I'll also continue measuring energy use of equipment used for batik - this is the ultimate aim of course, to give batik a carbon footprint. Water... I must figure out where those 47 bottles worth are being used!