Research

Fashion has a pollution problem — can biology fix it?

I've just watched a brilliant Ted talk by Natsai Audrey Chieza - a textile designer working with the bacteria Streptomyces coelicolor to produce pigments for dyes. Initial experiments have proved promising - with colour fast results produced on silk using only 200ml of water!

This is potentially an amazing alternative to polluting petrochemical dyes - I shall be following the project with great interest!

Research

The Dyer's Garden

Starting next year, I would like to start growing my own dye plants. Jenny Dean's blog is an excellent resource for help with this, and my mum is a horticulturalist and promises to help! It would require quite a lot of work but it would mean I would know exactly where the plants had come from, proving its provenance.

I am wondering whether I could make the growing and harvesting process part of my creative work. Carissa Carman has done this, forming the Color Collective with two other artists:

 The Color Collective, my collaboration with Sarah Gotowka and Johanna Autin, not only grew plants for natural dyeing but also took on investigations of color through performed actions, temporary architecture, and customized tools. (2015, online)

There was no dyed cloth in the exhibition as the plants were not yet ready - the project is ongoing. Discussing this with fellow artist Rowland Ricketts, he poses the question: "What happens when the process is the motivator instead of the product?" This is a really interesting idea, and is demonstrated in Ricketts work, where he displays indigo plants next to indigo dyed cloth.

Both artists work is very exciting and I am keen to do further research. I also can't wait for winter to be over so I can start work on my own dye garden!

 

References:

Research

Lichen

My first post in this blog was the selection of an image of yellow lichen on rocks, and I mentioned at the time that lichen can be used for dyeing and that I should investigate this further. I haven't used lichen in my dye experiments yet, as I have read a few things that have dissuaded me.

Cardon dedicates a whole chapter in Natural Dyes to lichens, but opens the chapter with the following warning:

"Lichens are not cultivated and most species grow very slowly...the history of the use of lichens by humankind presents repeated examples of over-exploitation of sites, even to the brink of extinction" (2007, 489)

This is backed up by Allen in Fungi Magazine:

Because lichens take so long to grow and may not regenerate, scraping trees and stones is highly discouraged (Allen, 2014)
Burns, R. (2017) Islay Lichen. (Own Collection)

Burns, R. (2017) Islay Lichen. (Own Collection)

Seeing as there are other materials I can find and buy that produce the colours I need for my current work, I do not need to source materials that could potentially be endangered. As I am at the beginning of my knowledge on this topic, I'm not that good at identifying plants, let alone lichen types, so I will leave that for another time!

Lichen may be something I investigate in the future, along with the use of fungi. I have a mycologist friend who I would like to work with, identifying the various mushrooms than can be used to create some extraordinary colours. Grierson has a concise guide to the various types of lichen that can be used for dyeing in The Colour Cauldron (1986).

 

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Research

Pollution in the Chemical Dye Industry

Sustainable fashion academic Kate Fletcher's book 'Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys' has a section on dyeing in the fashion industry, the pollution it causes and suggesting sustainable alternatives. The table below discusses the types of pollution associated with dyeing certain fibres.

Fletcher, K. (2008) Types of pollution associated with dyeing a range of fibres. p52.

Fletcher, K. (2008) Types of pollution associated with dyeing a range of fibres. p52.

She discusses developments in reduction of effluent pollution, such as the exhaustion of dye baths, and replacing the use of chrome dyes for reactive dyes. On natural dyes, Fletcher states that:

"natural dye technology...has a particular cachet and quality that works well in small-scale or specialist production." (2008, p54)

These few pages have proved an excellent resource, backing up earlier research on chemical dye pollution from Greenpeace.

 

References:

  • Fletcher, K. (2008) Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys. London: Earthscan.

Research

Alum

Alum seems to be the mordant of choice for most dyers - in every resource I have read it so far it is either the first or only one mentioned. Vejar only uses alum mordants in The Modern Natural Dyer as "they are nontoxic, safe for the environment, accessible, and produce bright, long lasting colour" (2015, 58). The fact that it produces bright colour and does not sadden or darken the colour is a real positive.

Cardon, D. (2007) Alum mine, North Yorkshire. Natural Dyes, 29.

Cardon, D. (2007) Alum mine, North Yorkshire. Natural Dyes, 29.

Alum is referred to as safe in many other reliable sources and so I can assume it is. Alum is a chemical, and Casselman argues in Praxis and Paradox that: "there is no such entity as an entirely 'natural' dye. Many natural ingredients contain chemical ingredients such as mordants" (2009, 9)

The mineral has been mined for centuries, and Cardon covers the history of this in Natural Dyes. Most of the alum mined in Britain, until the 18th century, was sourced from the North Yorkshire coast, around Whitby. It is a finite resource, but as the third most abundant element in the earth's crust (AZOM, 2001, online) perhaps it is the best option to produce naturally dyes textiles that are colourfast. 

 

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Research

Indigo Workshop

Following on from my semi-successful attempt to create a woad vat, I wanted to have a go with indigo. Instead of creating my own vat, I booked onto an evening workshop in Bristol where I could use an existing indigo vat and learn how to make my own. I also wanted to test how knitted fabric would react with indigo, and whether shibori resist would work well on stretchy fabric.

Flora Arbuthnott facilitated the workshop. She is a printmaker, forager and natural dyer, and says this about her dye practice:

"Being in nature is an important part of my practice. I go out foraging regularly, observing, and learning about the wild plants that grow around us. I use many of these plants for natural dyeing. Gathering meadowsweet and buddleia flowers, oak galls, and dock roots, or growing more exotic dye plants in my garden such as madder, woad, and coreopsis." (2017, online)

Her ethos is fantastic and very much aligned with mine - using locally foraged plants and growing her own.

Burns, R. (2017). Indigo Workshop 1. (Own Collection)

Burns, R. (2017). Indigo Workshop 1. (Own Collection)

Back to the workshop, Flora started by showing us how to make an indigo vat. I learnt that Flora uses Michel Garcia's organic 1-2-3 method to create her indigo vats, as described by Botanical Colors below:

"Michel’s technique, which is based on the traditional indigo vats of Morocco, India and Provence, relies on the chemical reactions between a mineral alkali and a natural reducing agent to remove excess oxygen (a chemical process called reduction), which liberates the indigo dye molecule, allowing it to attach to fibers and bond."  (Botanical Colors, 2017, online).

The recipe is as such:

  • 1 part powdered natural indigo
  • 2 parts calcium hydroxide, also known as lime 
  • 3 parts fructose crystals

She maintains her vat by adding more of this mixture every now and then, and also reclaims the used indigo powder by sifting the rinse water through a muslin so that it can be used again. This is not only great from a sustainability perspective, but also a financial one! Indigo does not require a mordant to fix to the fabric, which reduces preparation time and the need for more chemicals.

After learning some basic shibori techniques with wooden blocks, clamps and pegs, we set about to dipping our fabric in the vat. As with dyeing with woad, the fabric is dipped into the vat for a minute, then carefully removed, so that the fabric can oxidise and turn from green ton blue, before dipping any number of further times. The resist worked My knitted fabric worked much better than expected, and after a couple of dodgy attempts I began to get the hang of the technique.

Burns, R. (2017). Indigo Workshop 2. (Own Collection)

Burns, R. (2017). Indigo Workshop 2. (Own Collection)

My swatches are knitted in pure wool, and I was told that the alkaline dye vat would did make the wool a bit 'crispy', and so I was told to soak them overnight in vinegar to counteract this. After a wash with Ph neutral soap, the swatches had lost a bit of their softness, but not so much as to have ruined the textile. It's worth considering this if using indigo in the future.

I'm really please I booked onto the workshop as I learnt so much more through doing than I would have done by reading a book. It suits my learning style and just goes to show how valuable learning through doing and knowledge sharing is to learning a subject with such a rich history. 

 

 

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Research

Ethel Mairet

I have just read the 101 year old book 'A Book on Vegetable Dyes' by Ethel Mairet. A renowned weaver and dyer, Mairet wrote the book at a time when chemical dyes had been developed and become well-used. She laments in her poetic introduction that:

"It has been forgotten that strong and beautiful colour, such as used to abound in all every day things, is an essential to the full joy of life." (p1)

The book is aimed at the craftsperson who wishes to create their own textile colours through the use of vegetable dyes, and gathers together a wealth of historical recipes from around the British Isle and the greater world. The recipe chapters are divided into colour, making it easy to reference if you have a specific colour you wish to achieve.

I found the chapter on mordants interesting as it discusses the use of alum as the most popular mordant, stating that it has been used for many years all over the world. It was also nice to discover that the term mordant comes from the French "mordere, to bite" (p25). 

She has a very anti-scientific view of dyeing in textiles, saying that:

"Dyeing is an art; the moment science dominated it, it is an art no longer, and the craftsman must go back to the time before science touched it, and begin all over again." (p8)

Now, having some experience of using natural dyes, as opposed to just selecting the desired colour from a yarn shade card and waiting for it to arrive in the post, I agree with her sentiment somewhat. I feel I have a greater connection to the raw material I use in my textile practice.

Mairet's archive is situated in Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, which I am now very keen to visit. The image above is a page from the extensive volumes of her dye experiments, featured in an exhibition which I frustratingly missed earlier this year! 

Mairet's book provided excellent historical context to my research as well as containing recipes that I can still use today in my own practice. The bibliography, unsurprisingly, is a wealth of further reading, including essays by William Morris. 

 

References:

 

Research

Exhausting!

Sometime fibres do not absorb all the available dye colour in the dye bath, so there is enough left for a second batch of fibres. This second batch usually dyes a paler shade. This second bath is called the 'exhaust' dye bath. (Dean, 1999, 47)

One way I have thought about increasing the sustainable use of natural dyes is to exhaust the dye bath through multiple dyeing sessions. This not only means more fibre is dyed with a smaller amount of resources, but also reduces the amount of dye material that is disposed of.

Following my decision to use yarn that was already grey thanks to the natural colour of the fleece, I dipped a couple of mini skeins in my woad vat from a couple of days ago, as it still looked ok. One skein was dipped 4 times, the other 8, and there was a noticeable change from the grey/brown to a grey-blue, particularly on the one that was dipped 8 times.

I had frozen the walnut husks I used a couple of weeks ago as I had read somewhere that the husks could be used again (I can't remember the source or now locate it - terrible behaviour!). I soaked them in water for four days as I had before, then simmered for an hour before draining the husks. The dye liquid was noticeably paler than last time.

Using my usual simmer method, the result on the white fibres was a sandy colour, very different to the original deep brown that I achieved from the first dye bath.

However, as the result was so pale, you could argue that it was not worth using the water/electricity to do this. I did also dip the skeins in the woad vat a few times, but it was definitely dead by this point! 

 

References:

  • Burns, R. (2017) Exhaustion 1-4. (Own Collection)
  • Dean, J. (1999) Wild Colour. London: Octopus.

Research

Weld

Weld (Reseda luteola) is an incredibly popular dye plant. Growing wildly in Europe, it is an easy plant to grow, maintain and harvest. Yielding a yellow colour:

"Weld for yellows and greens was the equivalent of dyer's madder for red: an indispensable dyestuff used by all the early civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean." (Cardon, 2007, 168)

Above are some images from my trial of using weld extract from Wild Colours. On the sustainable production of the extract, their website states:

"It is produced using processes that respect the environment and comply with organic textile certifications. Our Weld dye extract is an approved dyestuff for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS 4.0)" (2017, online)

I used the extract as I have not had the time to grow and harvest my own weld (it's also winter so foraging is difficult!), but going forwards I plan to grow some in my garden. along with other native dye plants such as woad and madder. Cardon's Natural Dyes has thorough notes on cultivation. The potential to produce such a vivid yellow with a common native plant is very exciting! 

Burns, R. (2017) Weld 4. (Own Collection)

Burns, R. (2017) Weld 4. (Own Collection)

 

References:

Research

Woad

Over the weekend, I made my first woad vat. It's a fairly complex process, so I followed the method here for the woad extract powder I ordered. I used chemicals to create the vat, rather than using the more traditional (and natural) fermentation technique due to time constraints. I found the process quite fiddly as you had to keep the vat at a certain temperature, and I wasn't sure it had worked as there wasn't much of a 'bloom' at the top of the vat.

The photos below aren't great as it was dark, but you can see the colour change as the woad is oxidised! It's pretty magical - next time I use woad I would like to make a video of the process (working in the daylight).

Burns, R. (2017) Woad 4. (Own Collection)

Burns, R. (2017) Woad 4. (Own Collection)

From the finished results on a variety of fibres, the colour looks patchy in places, almost to a denim effect. I must have done something wrong in the process. Wearing Woad suggests that it may be due to the yarn not being fully submersed, or detergent residue on the yarn. (2016, online).

I've booked onto an indigo evening workshop in a couple of weeks - in the hope I can learn where I went wrong with my woad vat. I have left the vat rather than disposing of it, to see if it can be used again, or exhausted.

My methodology is practice-led, but I have also stated in my aims and objectives that I would like to understand the historical contexts of the dye materials I am using in order to inform my practice. Dressed in Blue: The Impact of Woad on English Clothing, c. 1350- c. 1670 is a journal article by Prof Hayward, giving a really interesting history of woad and how it fell in and out of fashion in different levels of society.

 

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