Sunday, 11 November 2012

wade in the water [or maybe not]

i'm here in New Orleans as the happy guest of both NOCCA
and the kindly folk at the Joan Mitchell Center
developing work that i hope to include in my solo exhibition 'muddy waters'
opening at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery in March 2013

whilst our mighty Murray is a mere rivulet by whirled standards
it's the most significant river in Australia.
the Mississippi is America's Big Muddy and like the Murray has been used as transport system/water supply/agricultural drain/convenient disposal unit.

and water is of course a vital ingredient in making dyes from plants.
water quality [and i suspect, the invisible presence of substances such as sodium compounds] is one of the reasons it's so difficult to make a natural green dye
[unless your water is rich in either copper or calcium]

so how do i test water before i dye ? [note spelling of that last word]

i take a shower.

if the water feels slippery and makes my hair feel silky it's probably acidic *

if it feels slightly sticky it's probably alkaline *

if it feels itchy on my skin then it certainly contains dissolved salts

and your nose will be able to detect chlorine [a "colour eater"].

these are all useful things to know before you begin dyeing [again, note spelling...according to many writers i have died several times and yet, surprise, here i am still churning this earth]

water quality differs from town to town, whether reticulated as a community supply, harvested from the roof or a river
drawn from a well, which seems to be very common in rural America.
[septic tanks close by are also common. think about it]

anyway what this means is that unless your water supply and your plant supply are identical to those of the authors of all those lovely dye books that contain colour swatches alongside their recipes you are highly unlikely to achieve those exact same colours.

this is not a criticism of those pretty dye books.

merely food for thought.
and if you were wondering whether i am now going to apply my skin+water theories by immersing myself in the Mississippi
the answer is no.

* if my skin begins to dissolve then acidity/alkalinity is probably extreme and it's time to get the hell out of Dodge.


  1. Though I do not dye, I too am not dying to immerse myself into muddy waters.

    Love your explanation of the feel of water.

  2. "recipes" have nothing to do with the journey.

  3. Thanks for the tips! A reminder that I need to put a bucket out before the next rain.

  4. i grew up by a BIG river, the one that love canal emptied into...there was a time when even algae wouldn't grow, and the only fish to be seen were grotesquely dead. thankfully, it's changed some. that memory, and your admonition, i shall pay more attention.

  5. ooo lovely and simple explanation of water properties - I love it ---- I must go collect some water from my little Sams Creek and test it for myself -- (and Sams Creek by Murray River standards is a mere whisp of a waterway)

  6. Well, I have taken the plunge, but not in to the water of a river, large or small.
    I have paper in a pot, with maple leaves and a few other things, all bundled up,immersed and bubbling. I didn't think to go down to the creek to get water. Water in the pot is from the tap.
    What I enjoy about being an artist is the exploration. I find it exciting. I like happy accidents that are better than anything I could have thought up.
    So I doubt I would follow follow a recipe anyhow. I do however, enjoy clues and the sharing of general wisdom.
    SO I thank you India for the clues and your general wisdom, but most of all of your "slightly wicked" sense of humor!

  7. living and dyeing better than disintegration

  8. Cats aren't the only ones with 9 lives it seems... and I think it a wise choice not to test the muddy waters.

  9. It's the water, it's the particular windfall where you live, it's the pot you use or the method you try or the type of cloth; in other words, dyeing a piece of cloth is about your own place in the world and your sense of it all and most of all, your own unique discoveries...

  10. And one more thing: It's about inspiration and guidance in philosophy. I was given India's first book, Eco Colour and felt that here was someone who believed that we all could find our way in dyeing cloth. No lectures, or recipes but good information, a gentle guiding philosophy of doing well by the land, reusing, recycling, never taking more than was fair and above all, trusting in our own abilities. For me, this continues to be a lasting gift. Thank you India.

    1. and thank YOU Marti for those very kind words.

  11. your books & this blog are door openers into so many new & exciting worlds India! Thank you for sharing your ongoing discoveries. I love living in this 21st C world where techniques and ideas are shared around the world to encourage and stimulate the creative consciousness. When I was young I dreamed of a world where we could all explore & share our music and poetry and art and insights & here we are!
    NB your grandmother's old handcranked Singer that you photographed so beautifully in Second Skin inspired me to find one, it arrived on my doorstep from Melbourne last Friday and works like a beauty!