project continued: cotton dhoti

a dhoti is four yards of cloth used to make a pants wrap, in this case, cotton muslin.  after making a sari, which is 6 yards of cloth, i am making a smaller version, using different methods that maybe reflect what i’m learning about this process.  after that, i will make a 2-yard veshti, or sarong, or kanga, hopefully reflecting something approaching a journeyman’s understanding of what i’m doing.

but like jim observed this morning when we saw the results of the dhoti – my work is almost crude, vigorous and monumental and with frayed edges and rubbed out marks and mistakes.  but that’s better than slick.  so at times tho my work is painfully individualistic, and would never sell in the shops, i’ll still wear it around, and my sister will still let me give it to her.

i’m going to be using a different technique this time.  last time, i painted each stretched section, then got it good and wet, and rolled it up in plastic overnight to batch, then let it dry, stretched the next section, and repeated the process.  this time i’m not going to roll it up in plastic and drench it until the end, but i am still going to do each section individually, and i am going to wet sections and let them bleed.  i’m just not going to spritz anything, i’m going to do it with a brush, and be very selective about what i wet and what i keep dry (she says.  but just wait).

what you see below is the left side of the cloth being stretched, and up on four bricks.  the middle part is laying on the table, and the right hand side is folded over a chair with a length looping down.  i’ve traced the pattern from laying the bare 4 yard cloth on top of the 6 yard cloth and adjusting the length and figures.  i’ve only drawn resist over the stretched part, and now i’m waiting to ink it in with dyes.  the rest of the length is just charcoal lines.

below, i’ve gone around the stretched border and painted in dark purple on the outside, which you can’t even see, then blue, and then my mixed golden brown.  i’m deliberately watering down the dyes this time as i mix them up.  this time i’m putting as much water as dyestock, because i judged that too much excess dye washed out of the sari from last time, so i’m using less dye this time.  it seems to go on just as heavily, so we’ll see.  one thing about the mixed brown color.  it seems to be thicker than when i used it on the first piece.  thicker and grainier.  i know i’m not pasting up the dye as carefully as you’re supposed to, but it seems like the grains of dye just swelled individually during the week they’ve been sitting there.

now, this is simply dye powder and urea water.  no salt, no alcohol, no soda ash.  if it were paint i’d say i should have mulled it, really ground the particles into the smallest pieces i could.  but as it was dye, i simply shook it to mix it back in, measured it out, and diluted it.

it seems to have changed color slightly as well.  but that could just be because it’s more dilute.  i would expect a color change when diluted, that’s how you get tints of a color.  obviously i’m working with too many changing variables to be sure what problems i’m encountering.  but that’s always the way with me.  muddy the waters right away, and then thrash in the shallows.

this is after i put on the border dyes (now you can see the purple), and before i brushed clear water on the fabric and over the resist lines so it can bleed.  you can see were i mainly overshot the red/brown line with the blue on the bottom edge to the right, and you can see where my resist lines weren’t joined between the purple and the blue on the bottom right corner.  in projects where i don’t need bleedthru, i would have checked and double checked my resist lines to make sure there were no breaks.  but i put this stuff on fast and let it jump when it hit a fabric wrinkle just so i’d have plenty of broken resist lines.  because i love the mess it makes.

here’s after i brushed the same area with clear water.  you can see how far out i put the water by the slightly darker white, because the water darkens the edges, and then the dye bleeds into where it’s wet, slowly, and according to how each pigment/color reacts to water.  reds don’t seem to move very much.  blues seem to move a great deal, and to wash out, also.  and yellows can be completely not there in the final product.  and you can’t tell beforehand.  at least, i can’t tell.

here’s another example.  this one’s still wet, you can see the shiny soppy place.  the purple has started to creep over the resist on the border, which resist i believe is sugar syrup, while the resist on the fingers is sodium alginate.  you can see that the sugar syrup is thicker (because the applicator bottle has a larger hole).  the blue has started seeping over the resist into the red, much faster and more completely than the purple into the blue.  the brown/red is hardly moving at all.  on the other hand, the red is the last thing i got wet, and then i grabbed the camera.

here it is once it had dried.  you can see how the blue just tore thru the brown/red, and invaded the fingers.  the brown/red did something different, because it is made of a lot of yellow, some red, and just a pinch of blue.  nonetheless, when wet, it separated into its constituent colors, and they each moved into the wet area at a different rate.  the blue and yellow combined and ranged far beyond the red.  the last piece i did had a big yellow reaching stain at the end of the previous night’s work, the yellow finally outstripping the blue.

it’s all happy accidents when i do art.  that’s why i’m allergic to slick.  magic and slick don’t work unless you’re faking it.  real magicians sweat.

and here’s another example, from farther down the beast.  see the lovely spreading blue on the border.  cuts right thru the brown/red, turns it completely neutral.

what i’m wondering is about the chemical action of soda ash and procion dyes.  supposedly the ash reacts with the first dye it comes across, and when it’s had enough reacting, then the rest of the dye just washes off.  which we saw with the first piece.  it looked horribly muddy right thru the whole process, before it was washed out.  and then it was crystal clear.  so i’m wondering how this is going to turn out, which so much bleed at the border.  what’s the background color going to do if the bled part has already reacted?

now to the scales.  i’m using my own personal shorthand with the scales, both in drawing them as little round things, and in coloring them with stripes of red, yellow, and a dot of blue.  it looks kind of funky when it’s just being done.  the colors just sit there where i put them, the red doesn’t move much, the yellow looks awkward, the blue is isolated.

but the moment you put water on it, the whole thing starts running.  first into itself, blending the red, yellow, and blue, and then over the sugar syrup resist, letting the colors mix and flow however far the water will take them.

i’ve just finished brushing the surface of the scales with clear water.  i have tried to stay inside the outer lines, but that’s not always perfect, and as well, the water will flow right thru it if there’s enough.  the cotton is still shiny, tho you can see several scales that look drier, darker.  there’s one in the top middle of the picture.  i’m dumping varying amounts of water with each brush load as i go over the scales.  there are such a lot of them, and i feel that i have to rush to get them all coated at once so they can bleed until they dry.  so how far they run and muddy is pretty changeable.  but again, i wouldn’t want it to be uniform.

here’s the whole length of scales finished and brushed with clear water.  the borders are complete all around, and now i’ve gone up and down the length, stretching each part to paint in the scales.  now i’m going to work my way back up to the head doing the hands and the crest, and then i’ll do the background.  how much more wetting and bleeding i’m going to do, i’ll see when i get there.

taking a break.  i use my hands for everything, including these relatively nontoxic dyes.  but i still have to snack, so here i am using my undyed little finger to grab a chip and scoop salsa onto it.  the only real danger is if i dip my brush into the salsa, thinking it’s brown/red dye.  but i’m careful.

don’t drink the dye, fine.

back to work.  i just love the look of sugar syrup resist in the morning.  this is what the piece looked like when i had worked my way up and was ready to start work on the first section again.  the blue has bled right thru the red/brown and marched on into the background.  it looks really cool and i should leave it like that.  oh well.  i’ve had this mixed green sitting and waiting since i first pasted it up, and that’s going on the background of this piece.

see, in trying to mix up that red/brown, the one i used on the background of the sari piece, i used an old mixing chart that went with a different brand of dye for use on silk rather than cotton.  that’s three kinds of wrong.  so of course it didn’t work.  i was trying for a rich tobacco brown.  i used a jacquard’s silk dye mixing chart for ‘caramel’, which was five parts yellow, one part red, two parts blue.  this formula used a yellow they don’t even make any more, which is way stronger than what they switched to, which is why i stopped using their dyes seven or eight years ago at this point.  and the dyes i’m using now i’m mixing up from powders according to whim, basically.  so why would i bother using a formula?  or mixing up a 1/8 cup scoop full of each color?  such a fool.  so i wound up with enough paste for a gallon of dye, sitting in a jar for two weeks.

on my hands as i mixed it up with increasing frustrations, it was a nice dark, rich green.  so i put it aside and told myself i would use it on the background of the second piece.  so i’m coloring in everything for that green.  and thinking that the red/brown border which is now completely neutralized by the blue bleeding over it will look better for being next to a nice rich green.

here’s jim’s great drawing before i make the mess i usually make of it.

this is the neck before i hit it with water.  it looks pretty silly.

and looks a lot stronger once it runs.  i really like what it does when i make it run.  i like it so much that i never mind precision and clean lines and repeatable patterns.  screw that, i want to see what it does by itself, and will move a lot of things out of the way in order to see it.

i sort of skipped photographing the coloring in of the head, and the red on the crest and the yellow on the belly, and the red on the feet that was supposed to be orange.  it’s a very rudimentary laying in of color.  usually i do shading and sculpting with color, but i’m kind of overwhelmed here.  getting a panel painted in takes all day, three or four hours of standing there with a brush in my hand, walking back and forth from the palette to the work, bending over, feeling my feet swell and my varicose vein itch.

so i tend to rush things a bit maybe.  it’s a balance.  hasty rushing, or cooperating with the happy accident of running dye.

here is a place where i paused in my mad rush toward finishing in order to take a picture.  i end up spending hours at a time on something like a background.  it’s very important not to let your edges dry right in the middle of the background space, because it’ll show up as a hard line later.  so you have to keep going until you’ve filled in all the background.  this is why you design your space so that it’s broken up and you have small areas to fill instead of an endless expanse of background.

the way cotton takes dye, i went over it lightly with a full brush, quickly so the dye didn’t have time to flood out into a small area.  moving the brush quickly means that the fill is spotty, streaky.  and i had to go over it several times with a dry brush in order to get the color to fill in solidly.

if the brush comes to a good point, then i can go close to the resist line and fill in in nice and solid.  if it doesn’t, which this one doesn’t very well, then i have to go in far away from the edge and then come back in physically holding the brush in a point, and get the fine edges.

i’m using the biggest silk painting brush i have.  when it splits into individual clumps of hairs, as it does almost immediately, then each individual clump holds a great deal of dye.  and if it even so much as sweeps over a section, it will leave a nice, spreading trail of dye.  which means if i’m not careful, i violate my resist lines and end up putting background dye on my objects.  which i don’t want, as it’s a horrible black color.

what happened to that nice rich green?  wtf?  did it turn colors sitting on the shelf mixed with urea water?  dye can do that?  did i read something about the way colors continue to change with age?

did i use black in the mix?  did the blue get way strong, and the red, and do they only look like black?  wtf, i repeat.  wthf.

this is not what i planned.  sure does pop the dragon colors, tho, doesn’t it?  and once i started painting in the background, i couldn’t just stop and reconsider.

didn’t make a test mark anywhere, did i?  no, of course not.  again, i blame the overwhelming area i had to cover and my fatigue after a week and several days working with familiar techniques on an unfamiliar substrate.  but hey, you use what you’ve got, right?

in the end, i took it off the stretcher and filled in all the black background right there on the table.  i wasn’t putting it on very heavily; it wasn’t soaking all the way thru the back, which was actually a kind of black green so i wasn’t all that far off (did i really use black in the mixture?  i could have sworn not…).  the background is isolated enough that i didn’t worry about letting the wet fabric touch another part of the design.  and it’s stiff from the resist and sugar syrup, which spreads all thru the fabric once i get it wet to spread the dye.

at this point i’m getting ready to batch, or cure, the dye, so i’m putting a plastic tarp underneath it.  i’m not sure if the tarp is long enough, so i’m getting ready to double up with my torn garbage bags if i have to.

i even signed it.  that’s just alginate resist, with the black coming right up to it.  you can see into the black a little, especially at the top right.  it’s still wet, actually.  a little.  anyway, there’s a really dark green going on in there.  when i remade this color and used it on the background of the first piece, i used five, no, six yellows to one red, or maybe two, and a teaspoon of blue (only a pinch) in the mix.

here’s a detail, showing all the bleeding border dye covered up.  you can’t see it thru the black background, but you can see it thru the red (shouldabeen orange) hands and the green of the wrist.

and here it is after batching out in the yard during the last part of the day, when the temperature was a lovely 90 in the waning sun.  before covering it, i spritzed it all over, just to get it a little wet, and not to make it run at all.  i wanted it wet enough to bleed, but not to run.  and then i rolled it up in the plastic.  you can see the roll on the floor.

i unrolled it and laid it out on the table to dry, just because i wanted to look at it before washing it out.

it looks pretty impressive before washing out.  things didn’t run too much, and the green bleeding away from the black looks pretty interesting.  i can also just barely see the bleeding of the border thru the background.

but you can’t tell anything until it’s washed out.  and what i can tell is that it looks faded.  so diluting the colors maybe wasn’t such a good idea.  unless the colors only last so long once they’re mixed with urea water.  i know they only last so long if you mix soda ash into the paint, but i didn’t do that, i put the soda ash into the fabric.  the paint should last forever (?) if it’s only got urea water in it?????

but i don’t know that.  i’m going to have to do research, go haunt paula burch’s site for awhile and see if i can find something.

it’s interesting to see that some of the yellow washed out.  the fins on her cheeks were a lot more orange than that.  and it’s interesting to see that the scales are a lot less rich than they were when i got them wet.  so some of the richness was only excess dye, and washed right out.  and look where the bleeding from the border into the background meant that there wasn’t enough room on the fabric for the black to take, so the black background washed out, leaving the bleed from the border.

all in all not a bad job, but it looks raw and unfinished, or like something happened and half the color washed out.

i got really scared and dumped all my colors after this dragon.  i don’t like what happened to the colors, so i’m going to make up new colors for my final piece.  that’ll mean using a pinch here and there, rather than a 1/8 cup measure, but i can live with that.  but i don’t know what’s going wrong, so i’m not taking chances.

actually, after reading up on it, i’m getting convinced that i’ve held these mixed-up dyes at a very high room temperature (80s) for the two or three weeks they’ve been made up.  and even the dye powder itself will expire if let get too hot or damp.  and god knows i’m not very careful with things like that.  so it’s probably temperature that’s been killing the power of my dyes.  that, and diluting it too much.  i’m so silly.

the next piece i’m going to do is two yards.  it’ll fit on the table entirely (except the borders still hang over), and it’ll only take several sessions, rather than days and days.  i’m going to leave the background white and concentrate on bleeding the border and the dragon into the background.  and i’m going to pay more attention to coloring and texturing on the head and crest and belly.  i’ve already started it upstairs, and will begin laying in colors in the morning.  but since i wasn’t sleeping, i came down to get this post out of the way.


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