Recently, I was honored to be invited to teach a two day workshop at Anilinas Montblanc, the almost 70 year old Chilean Dye Company that supplies not only industry but also artists working with wool and felt. They also have an awesome program, Colorearte, to support art education in Chilean schools the length of the country. I first learned about Colorearte in a presentation by the company’s owner, Patricia Reutter, at the World Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca, Mexico, in November, 2016. When I returned to visit family in Chile in March 2017, I visited Patricia, and we made plans for this workshop.
The reason for the workshop was to introduce the local textile community to surface design techniques using fiber reactive dyes. In February, I learned that these are Remazol dyes (not Procion MX, which I use). Mont Blanc imports Remazol dyes to industry but they are not well known in the local artist community, which is more accustomed to felting and immersion dyeing of wool. The workshop was set for March 7 & 8, 2018. It would be conducted in English, and although most understood some English, would require some translation.
I had a wonderful class of 10 participants including professional artists, teachers, studio owners, textile lab managers and two clothing designers. They include Ximena Bravo-Cuadra, a studio artist and workshop teacher who has also studied shibori with Karrin Brito in the US; Rocio Gomez Zalazar, a felter who also teaches at Anilinas Mont Blanc; designer Carolina Raggio; screenprinter and designer Patricio’s Sago Estudio; Paulina Figueroa Dumay, an artist with the Chilean arts and crafts store Manos del Alma and others whose contact information I didn’t receive. Media represented include shibori, felting, screenprinting, clothing design, immersion dyeing and stamping. These were good, intense workshop days. Working in 2 languages with translations going on plus materials I didn’t know fully, those were challenges. But the group was great and the facilities ample and well supported. Students dove in to play, to try mixing dyes, activator, to work on steamer prep, rinse and washout, and every other aspect of this. I could not have asked for a better group.
With my dye suppliers in the US, these are the liquid fiber reactive (Remazol) dyes and are no longer sold. Here in Chile, Remazol dyes are in powdered form and are imported by Anilines Montblanc for the textile industry. Uses by artists for surface design painting, printing, etc, are relatively unknown. When I consulted in the US on dye procedures for Remazol, I was told that they do need steam for setting, and that baking soda alone can be used as the activator. Downloadable instructions included being able to store activated dye for up to two months (ie with baking soda added.)
Here, at Montblanc, an outside Sales Representative told me they should be treated just like Procion MX dyes. My real experience was that they seem more intense than Procion MX. So, my usual “medium” range color amounts of dye, actually resulted in “dark.” (The approach is to mix stock solutions and then dilute according to hue and depth desired, adding activator.) Since color preference is so personal, I counseled using less dye in those stock solutions.
Another interesting finding is that when we went to pre-rinse after steaming, there was only mild color loss in the water, which seemed remarkable. I wasn’t sure if this was also due a different sodium alginate, or is somehow the alginate got “trapped.” Subsequent hot wash and rinse in pH neutral soap left no unwanted extra alginate thickener, except at times in the silk samples. If this mild color loss is the pattern, this is good news for Chile, which is a very dry country with more limited water reserves.
Sodium Alginate / Print Paste
This centerpiece supply is critical to the concept of using fiber reactive dyes in multiple applications. Local Chilean sources came up with highly processed sodium alginate in fine powder form, not the more granular, less processed form I am accustomed to. On the day that I worked on setting up the workshop and testing unfamiliar materials, managing the sodium alginate was by far the most challenging and worrisome. Would I get it to be the right consistency (thinner for painting, thicker screen printing, and even more for monoprinting?) Would it be easy enough for students to manage?
This form jelled very quickly, more so overnight. It had to be thinned down and remixed for a painting consistency. And yet, it was lumpy for screen printing. Cooling the temperature and letting it sit overnight helped.
In the process, one student and seasoned workshop teacher, Ximena, introduced her electronic stirring tool, which makes use of a magnetized “stone” in the bottom of the solution placed in a glass container on top of a hotplate. The stone starts to percolate and mix the solution, breaking apart any clumps of dye or alginate (the yellow is particularly hard to make smooth.) We were all fascinated and coveting it. We tried using it with sodium alginate dye solutions.
Patricio, one of the students who screen prints a clothing line, was very concerned about having additional water change the consistency of the thick alginate. He tried mixing the baking soda directly into alginate thickener, and this worked well. He also had successful results mixing the dye powder with alginate solution using the electronic mixer.
My assessment at the end is that we made the sodium alginate work, but that it is more difficult to manage than the sodium alginate or print paste available to textile artists in the US. (To clarify: print paste is sodium alginate, with the addition of urea and ludigol, which mitigates hard water.) And it is only one type of consistency. In the US, you can also purchase print paste or sodium alginate specifically for silk (lower viscosity, higher solids) that gives finer edge detail on silk and, in my opinion, washes out better on that fiber. If the sodium alginate or print paste for cotton and for silk were available in Chile, it would be preferable to the sodium alginate we received.
Montblanc assembled a great steamer from existing equipment using very simple plans I sent them. A larger than average pot with a custom-made rack accommodated two rolls of fabric rolled in pelon for steaming. We also cut rounds of paper to deflect dripping water, and rounds of old towels. The customary bottled gas was used, first with two burners, and later, we decided to use only one. The “vapor” was intense enough that 22 minutes did the trick. Even if a little earlier than I usually do it, unbundling was not a problem in results.
The company also had its in-house industrial soap, pH neutral, but not called Synthrapol. Since we just had a small quantity, I put it in the pre-rinse water, especially since there were many fabrics with white or light backgrounds that could backstain. For washing out we used a local commercially available soap, “Popeye,” that is used for children’s items and is pH neutral. I think it is also used for washing wool. Both of these, including the Popeye, were successful. The only exception were some forms of thin silk, which did backstain a little. Perhaps they needed a more acid bath.
Also new to me is a “spinner”- a small unit just used for spinning out handwashed items so they can dry with less moisture. Of course at home, I use my washing machine for this, but in situations without a washing machine, it would be great.
We did our pre-rinse, which really only required 2-3 water baths, if that. Then we washed in very hot water with Popeye. We rinsed by hand after that, and I could tell there were felters among us! Their water bath fabric processing techniques were awesome. Spinning in the spinner, then the pieces were hung to dry. In this dry summer climate, they were dry in no time.
After two days, everyone was had really explored and enjoyed themselves. It was an awesome experience for me as well!