Thursday, 15 October 2015

eco, schmeco...ranting about plastic, rust and other things




i'm beginning to wish i hadn't given the name 'ecoprint' to the contact print that results when eucalyptus leaves are heated together with cloth in a damp environment.

since i first observed the phenomenon back in the early nineties the word 'ecoprint' has been adopted by countless commercial printing houses

and these days it seems everything is 'eco'

what concerns me too is that the method i've been teaching [which does not employ synthesized adjunct mordants] has been adopted by others who seem to be less concerned than i am about environmental concerns and student safety

if you teach, you have a duty of care

the bottom line is : printing with leaves using toxic adjunct mordants and layers of plastic is not environmentally sustainable*

and students participating in classes where fabrics pre-mordanted with Ferrous sulphate and layered with plastics for "clear leaf prints" may like to consider that as these bundles are heated, the vapours given off comprise a toxic cocktail of polyethylphthalates as well as the poisonous mordant in combination with whatever plant matter is being used. it is to be hoped that the latter has been identified and that toxic plants are being avoided but either way...you're breathing it in. i worry too about those teaching these methods...  Ferrous sulphate is a cumulative poison.

not all eucalypts are safe to use either...some contain cyanatogens, others offer small quantities of arsenic and E. nitens has been implicated as a possible carcinogen

remember that if you can smell something, you are breathing it in...and that the surface area of your lungs [if they were opened out] allegedly approximates that of a tennis court

i know that microscopic amounts are used to treat anaemia but overexposure to Ferrous sulphate can cause 
is it worth it?

i use found iron as co-mordant to achieve dark colours. archaeological evidence supports this. time and again you'll read in texts about discoveries that cloth found in proximity to metal in the absence of oxygen was best preserved. whereas traditional plant dye advice was always to be cautious about using Ferrous sulphate  as it makes cloth brittle

iron soaked in an acid solution [vinegar, fermented fruit waste or an exhausted leaf-based dye bath] makes a safe mordant for dark colours

the current craze for rust has me worried too. rust particles are sharp and if breathed in, can cause bleeding of the alveoli [those little things in your lungs that take up oxygen]. be careful with it. and avoid wearing cloth that has been 'rust printed'. remember that your skin is your biggest and most absorptive organ

do your homework, make sure you are well informed and stay safe. 
and if you want clear leaf prints, put recycled paper between the layers. you'll have the bonus of making something gorgeous to write on.


* yes i am aware that my extensive travel is not sustainable. that's why i plant trees. lots of trees.

46 comments:

  1. HOORAY to this post ....
    HALLELUIJA to this post ...
    but mostly

    AMEN.

    Thank you, India.

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  2. AMEN!!!!!!!!!!! and thank you!!!!!!

    words like 'sustainable' and 'green', 'organic' and 'local' and anything prefixed 'eco' are certainly slippery --- so many unscrupulous businesses and people have latched onto the words as a marketing ploy and the results - welllllll its not pretty is it! integrity (and just simple education and awareness) is often thin on the ground --- we need more people who walk what they talk and talk from a deep understanding (not a novelty bag of new tricks) ---- the world needs more folk like you india xxxxx

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  3. Yes....responsibility while teaching... We are exploring contact/ecoprinting in the studio with my Exploring the Natural World class and we have the exhaust fans going and the pots under them. I am constantly aware that when I go down to the printmaking studio and the students are printing with etching ink, I seldom hear the fans on, I often see food near the tables where they are inking plates, etc. If I see someone around, I say something. Thankfully, things have gotten better the past few years, but really, in the etching studio, FOOD? I'm on the backs of my students about our dyepots and paying attention even when we are using things I know are safe. But I still want the fans going because anyone could be sensitive, I know I am.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Above comment removed because I couldn't fix a typo-
      What I wanted to say was that I made myself persona non grata a couple of years ago by refusing to teach in a studio allegedly belonging to the Cleveland Museum of Art. It was an open space in which the kitchen and eating area was not only used to mix procion dyes but also used to store them. Alongside food. Frightening, especially as the space was regularly used by children who would have no notion of the long term implications for their health.

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    3. Now that is downright CRIMINAL! Our print profs have switched from all solvent-based things including using waterbased etching ink, or that was the plan. Still, there is pigment in the inks and I don't think safety is spelled out as much as it should be. Especially where food is concerned. But I can't even imagine a situation like what you describe above... awful!

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    4. Also, my students have been trying some rust printing, mostly using steel wool for texture. But, after seeing a few things going on today, I'm less comfortable with this... as they reuse things I hadn't meant to be reused and not wearing the gloves I've provided. So, I'll be making a big announcement of safety procedures again on Monday, and maybe I'll just nix the rusting from now on altogether, thanks for the reminder about it. After all, we are getting plenty of great results from food/herbs/berries/and safe stuff in pots and through the press, so, why not just air on the side of safety? Thanks for the rant.

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  4. YES!!!! you have always advocated the safe and sustainable and i have, with your advice, tried to re-train myself and others to use the term contact print. i shudder at rampant rust, and feel quite strongly that the gentlest methods are the best. and time and layers make rich rich patterns and colors. correction, colours. HURRAH to you for making this clear.

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    1. And thank you for your support.

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    2. Bravo India!!!!!! These other methods have been bothering me also.

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  5. Thank you thank you thank you. Using plastics and now acid dye combinations is NOT natural.

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  6. OK, stupid question, I know. So it's OK to put an iron object like a rusty nail inside the jar when you are steeping, but not OK to expose it to oxygen?

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    1. not a stupid question at all...my point is to be careful with ferric oxide, which is the red rust.

      when processed in reduction ie acidic environment, the ferric oxide loses a oxygen molecule and becomes ferrous oxide, the soft black rust. vintage car afficionados have known this for years as a means of cleaning old engine parts.
      in terms of ancient textiles...when found in the presence of rusted iron they tend to be compromised/distressed. when found with iron in the absence of oxygen they tend to be preserved. noted anthropologist Elizabeth Wayland Barber gave a very interesting example in a lecture years ago [Sydney NSW circa April,1998] where she discussed the finding of a linen pocket containing two iron coins at the bottom of a lake. the pocket had been dyed brown by the peat on the lake floor over a period of 2000 years and had a few holes but where the coins were in contact with the cloth it was quite well preserved. it was also black.
      when a cloth has been dyed in the presence of iron it will stay black/dark. it won't rust on exposure to air.

      i hope the above is a satisfactory response?

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    2. Thanks. Yes, I understand now.

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    3. Dear India,

      thank you so much for that article! I do have one question though... I was taught it was safe to use "Eisenacetat" or "Eisenessig" as mordant. I keep rusty metal parts in a glass filled with water and vinegar essence, so it is an acidic environment, i guess. But still the liquid and particles in it are mainly reddish, not black. Now that i read your comment I'd expect them to be black? Or should they only turn black in presence of fabric/dyes? I am now concerned it might not be so safe to use this mordant after all. I would be really grateful if you can clarify this.

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    4. oh, i keep this not in a glass, but a glass jar, so it is closed.

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    5. I use "eisenessig" myself...the liquid tends to look reddish when the acidity begins to be exhausted. just add more vinegar. the thing is, in its liquid state it's much safe than if it were simply rust dust...which isn't a good thing.

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    6. Thanks for the OH&S alert about dyeing with rust.
      I have a Rust Bucket & was contemplating hand stitching on some of the products (cotton). I am now having second thoughts!

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  7. I applaud your bravery India. It's always so "challenging" to see a pure process...THE process developed by an artist...changed and altered for "selfish" reasons...for example, it's not fast enough or the prints aren't dark enough or intense enough or, or, or...bastardizing an artist's process (excuse the curse, but it's the word that works tonight) to achieve a result not intended by the original process to begin with is simply WRONG, especially if the very integrity of the process, in this case, to be ecologically and environmentally safe, is at risk. But even more so...there is a deeper "being" to the process that you developed, a spiritual sense of working "with" and "in tune" to the natural order of things. Gathering windfall, instead of yanking vegetation from trees. Using native plants instead of pretending eucalyptus is naturally available everywhere...even though that red IS so gosh darn gorgeous...it's not a regionally honest result (i.e. sustainability...which goes back to the intent of the original process). We should love the original process, discover what it helps create in our own sustainable sections of the planet. That's truth. That's integrity.

    Thanks also for your comments about rust. As you know, I work with it extensively - and carefully, to me, my environment and those who would come in contact with the work. And that safety employed in every step of my process should automatically be extended to potential customers. So yes, my rusted fiber works will never be worn...no matter how pretty, beautiful or unusual. Being safe isn't always the easiest route, but most things worthwhile and important rarely are.

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  9. Great post - sums it up wonderful wordsmithing as always, keeps to the point. I understand that rust on the skin affects the red blood cells in your body, and depletes the oxygen content in the blood. I am always distressed to see any person with rust on their hands. Wearing it even worse.

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  10. I thank you so much for this post... I will print out and translate every word for me, I couldn't understand by first reading. And I will it translate, before I will start to dye with leafs... I love your works!

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    1. Kurz gefasst finde ich es einfach zu gefährlich Eisen Sulfat als Beizmittel zu verwenden. Und im zusammenhang mit Plastik unter extreme hitze noch schlimmer. Die zweite Mahnung handelt sich um rost. In Pulver form kann es extrem schädlich auf den Lungen wirken

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    2. Thank you ;-). Yes I understood it very well, and I've had always doubts to do that... Nevertheless, I take your post with me and will translate. It's a pity for me to understand and speak English not so well... And I want to change that ;-)

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    3. but may I say....just because I replied to your comment and gave advice DOES NOT give permission to use my name to endorse your classes. It would be polite to ask permission before doing that... nicht war?

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  11. thank you i am happy you write about this , cannot be said enough times , i did not knew so much about iron as i do now , but i can still remember the smell from using ferrous sulphate to yarn and plantdying in the seventies ,

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  12. I remember your lessons very well.........

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  13. after reading this i'm so glad i've retired the ferrous sulfate--relying now on dissolving steel wool in vinegar--sure hope that is a friendlier way to mordant. suggestions?

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    1. You don't even need to buy steel wool. Old nails and other scraps will do the trick

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  14. after reading this i'm so glad i've retired the ferrous sulfate--relying now on dissolving steel wool in vinegar--sure hope that is a friendlier way to mordant. suggestions?

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  15. You are doing good sustainable teaching environmental awareness and art on so many levels, thank you. Lots of artists, architects and landscape designers around the world are doing great work with rust & recycling of the ubiquitous plastics that are covering our world, "rust never sleeps" as Neil Young sang so long ago, we live in a wild 21st C world!

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    1. here's a link to Tracey Clement's "Mapping The Drowned World" on here in Sydney til the 31st, her use of salt, rusty steel & cotton is exquisite
      ly brilliant
      http://traceyclement.com/category/mapping-the-drowned-world/

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    2. thank you for that link, Mo. it is indeed a beautiful installation : and happily nobody is going to be wearing it!

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  16. I'm still a novice at this but have seen stunning result when people have added what seems like an iron powder (?) or alum powder to the pot. I don't understand the long term implications of such additions so have just stuck to using the pot as mordant (cast iron, aluminium or stainless steel(for no mordant)) along with rusted objects and vinegar and old plant dye. Is this what you are talking about? I have dont rust prints, in fact just did one on an old pillow case to see how it worked on Cotton and it's gorgeous, I thought it could be a good bag for putting 'stuff' in. So are you saying that small particles of rust remain in the cloth, which can get into your skin? thanks for your knowledge, it is so helpful. Maybe this is in your book which I have, I'll have to read it more thoroughly.

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    1. using the pot as mordant means that far less of the substance will be in the dye liquid. adding a metallic salt to the brew gets quick results but means that the dye residue cannot legally be disposed of down the "common drain" in Australia. the law here requires that the leftovers be reduced by evaporation, securely packaged and then taken to a toxic waste disposal facility. i've only known one dyer in South Australia who actually did that.

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  17. hello, trying to ask if US copper minted prior to 1982 at 95% copper are a safe object to add to water/vinegar bath when steam leaves & fabrics? Thanks, Holistamp @ gmail.com Holly

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  18. ...jumping in here after having been away for a residency in Vt and visiting friends. Yes. Amen and all that jazz. The Cleveland event was a game-changer for me. I left that group and have been persona non grata with them ever since that episode. What a big shame and what a missed opportunity for change.
    on a positive note, our local printmaking studio has gone completely green. No bad chemicals. No dutch mordants, no etching grounds. No bad solvents. We are using instead vinegar, canola oil and other green means to make prints. We brought in expert advice from a terrific resource in Boston to make the switch and now we're hosting a symposium next Summer to help inform all other artists in other mediums to follow suite.

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    1. unfortunately the Museum is leaving itself wide open for potential litigation on that front...but good news about the print studio. is there a weblink to your symposium?

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    2. not yet, but will announce when have dates and schedule.

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  19. I am one of the sensitives who does not dye but has followed your treks, and your teachings since I was diagnosed as 'one of the sensitives.' The information here has application for so many life incidents ... so many webs of connection ... especially as you depict and describe the size and the scope of the lungs, which are affected by all too many kinds of ACCIDENTAL ignorance. And then, there is SKIN available to the all.

    Thank you so much for this article, which I'll read again and then tumble it through the lenses of a Border Witch who must remember this in our criss-crossing ways and the stories we tell.

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  20. Thanks for this post. Yes....responsibility while teaching... in my course i will teach it with mindfulness. There is a post on my blog today, translate the important ideas from your post here. Thank you ! http://wollenaturfarben.blogspot.de/2015/11/eco-print-auf-bouretteseide.html Anke

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