Tuesday, March 15, 2011

creative afternoons

An afternoon of fabric dying, batik with wax stamped patterns.  Mariam brought over the paraphernalia of supplies stacked on her head:  wax, white blazen cloth, two different chemical substances for fixing the color, the dyes, wooden stamps, plastic to cover the table, pots, tubs, wood, and a big stick to stir…..I didn’t realize it would be this intensive!  We set about covering the table with plastic (so the stamps come through and don’t run) and heat the wax in a metal rustic pan over the wood fire.  We built this fire on the clay tiles in my courtyard – “for art’s sake” I will say if the director comes and asks what the hell I am doing making a mess in the courtyard (no one asks though). I am partial to the pineapple stamp and the one with the woman with a baby tied on her back, pounding millet.  Once the wax was hot and the first fabric in place on the table we began stamping.  I’m not sure it if has something to do with the physics of melting wax on a large, rustic wooden stamp, but, I observe that its real hard to get the stamped impressions to come out more than blobs.  However, with a little finesse we finally get some to come out a bit more recognizable than the others.  I had the idea to get Qtips and start painting with the hot wax on a few of the cloths that were a bit ‘messed up’ already – therefore I could do no more damage.  This seemed to be a good idea (and in retrospect I think I will do it all this way next time…much more creative and individualistic too). 
            Meanwhile, Mariam continued stamping and a stream of neighbors came into the courtyard to draw water and crows have perched on the roof to take in the action too. What a circus.  Once we had all the clothes stamped, we mixed the blue dye. Unfortunately, it was not natural indigo but some chemical shit – never again, what a smell! What a violation of nature! Ok, earlier Mariam had lit our fire with a piece of plastic from a broken bucket, also the melting wax had been giving off its own fumes, and now this chemical dye – too much for me!  The white substances we poured in to fix the colors gave off fumes that smelled so bad. I instinctively jumped back away from the vapors and felt my stomach about to retch.  Mariam, used to this work, wore no mask and continued stirring.  I told her breathing these vapors can’t be good. She shrugged knowingly, pride in her work kept her from any criticism.  We laid the wet, dyed fabrics out on the tile to set – which takes mere minutes. Then we had to boil off the wax.  Stirring with a big stick in the cauldron we plopped the fabric in one at a time and dowsed it in cool water from the well.  Now we had before us our finished products.  We hung them to dry on a line out in the sun and watched their bright colors flap in the breeze. I will say the blue-dyed fabric was radiant – but at what cost? I had voiced my environmental concern before she even bought the materials, but she said it wasn’t a toxic process. There really isn’t the concept here that some products can be harmful to health. People do not question the negative impact of products (that applies not just to chemicals but added sugars and fats in foods too). Next time I am determined to look for someone specialized in the 100% natural dying process.    

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