labricoleuse: (Default)
When last we left our poor Duke, he was hanging tarred and feathered with smoke-delivery hoses buried in silicone blobs on his back. (Part one of the process available here.)

But how to deliver that smoke?

I did a lot of research into smoke delivery systems--pocket foggers, model railroad smokestack mechanisms, etc. Ultimately, we decided to go with a product called the Wizard Stick, marketed as a "science"-related children's toy, which generates smoke from a solution of glycerin and propylene glycol (ingredients in FDA-approved soaps and perfumes). We first did an allergy test with our actor, Scott Ripley, to make sure he had no adverse reaction to the smoke the Wizard Stick creates. Then we rigged the costume in a fashion similar to an arterial-spray blood-pack rig...

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (silk painting)
In my previous post on this project, i wrote about the research and development portion of the tar application--what fabric, what medium, release agents, etc. And, if you recall, we left poor Ralph the Mannequin wrapped in clingfilm and half-covered in silicone caulk and feathers, curing overnight.

Our next step was to repeat the process on the other side of the suit, give another night's cure-time, then fit it on the actor to test our tar-application and stretchability. This was a success, so the next logical thing to do would be to repeat the process for the back of the suit.

Two caveats though: We had to come up with a way to hide the zipper in the back, and the question was posed, could the tar give off smoke?

I love a challenge! I figured, if we could burn a parasol onstage, we could make tar smoke. But first, the placket... Draper Kaitlin Fara patterned and stitched a Powernet placket onto the costume which could snap into place to hide the zipper, and crafts assistant Rae Cauthen and i then had to get tarring!

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (Default)
This is the first of i-don't-know-how-many parts in a series on the tar and feather effect/costume we created for Big River I don't know how long it'll take to write up, but there are two dozen images in the folder, so...

Anyhow, Big River is the musical adaptation of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and midway through the second act, an angry mob tars and feathers the character called the Duke.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (paraplooey)
Man-o-man, have i been champing at the bit to share the info about my own entry in this, but since there's an exhibit and a published catalogue that goes along with it, i felt that it would be best for the info to remain exclusive to the conference until after the fact.

So now, yay, i can write about it.

Tech Expo is a juried exhibit and accompanying text for which innovations in technical theatre are submitted, and the winning 20 or so articles are published in a bound catalogue, with an exhibit of the work on the Expo floor during the USITT conference. Usually, the vast majority of these are scenic machinery and props, with the majority of the costume submissions being crafts artisanship.

This year, i wrote up a submission for the parasol in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, which we created at PlayMakers earlier this season. The parasol was a true collaboration between myself, props master Meredith Rapkin, props assistant Elizabeth Moss, and master electrician Liz Vella. However, at the time that the abstracts were due, i was the only paid-up member of USITT so my name's the only one cited as an author. Credit is throughout the printed article however, and the accompanying poster and video also cites the contributions of local stage magicians and combustion consultants Michael Casey and Jon Ferrante.

Check out this video to see how it works:

In the coming weeks, the 2011 Tech Expo catalogue will get added to the USITT online bookstore, should you wish to read the article that goes along with it, which includes a full list of supplies and costs and the methods by which the flame-resistant canopy and ignition frame mechanism were created.

I will note a caveat here though, in case the video inspires anyone to reverse engineer it by intuition:

Make sure you have all the proper permissions and safety precautions mandated by your local Fire Marshall before attempting to create or deploy this stage effect. Make sure you have the knowledge and, if required by your state/city, licenses for working with pyro, flash paper/cotton, etc.

There were a bunch of other cool exhibits in the Expo, so click through for photos of a couple more...

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (design)
My grand plans for writing about the conference while at the conference really went the way of the dodo, given how much truly fabulous stuff there was this year in the programming schedule, and how many old friends, colleagues, and former students i met up with.

So, perhaps this coming week or so i can play catch-up and do a series of posts on the conference. I have dozens of photos, piles of literature, links to resources in abundance, and a wealth of notes on panels and sessions, many of which were just stellar. (For example, at some point i'll be covering Disney's panel on their digitally-printed fabric division, and two brilliant presentations by renowned puppetmaster and mask artisan Bob Croghan! Too cool!)

Let's start though with the visual and the pretty: floor exhibits! Last year, you may recall (or wish to now peruse) the photopost i shared of these elements of the Stage Expo, in which temporary exhibitions of collections of work are set up for the duration of the conference.

Read more... )

USITT 2011!

Mar. 6th, 2011 07:47 am
labricoleuse: (milliner)
This year, the national conference of the United States Institute of Theatre Technology is being held in Charlotte, NC, March 9-12. I'll be there, along with quite a few of my colleagues and students. Will you?

I've got an entry in the Tech Expo on the exhibition floor, "Spontaneous Combusting Parasol for Beckett's Happy Days," which i'll talk about here in the blog after the conference, including a full explanation of how we made the parasol ignite. I've also got an entry in Cover the Walls, a design/tech exhibit also on the exhibition floor, on the costume designs and crafts artisanship in Shipwrecked. And, I'll be presenting a poster on the whipping armor that assistant Samantha Greaves and I created for last season's Nicholas Nickleby at Thursday morning's Costume Design and Technology Poster Session.

In terms of our grad students, third-year grad Shanna I. Parks will be exhibiting her work in the Young Designers and Technicians Forum, which will include millinery, parasols, gloves, a classical "plate" tutu and ballet bodice, and her truly incredible historical reproduction, a fin de siecle gown of patterned charmeuse for which she digitally reproduced the print, with some soutache work that must be seen. (I'll be liveblogging the conference, so if you can't go, it doesn't mean you can't see Shanna's display! I'll post pictures.)

Continuing Education student Candy McClernan (who might as well be a grad student, she's taken so many of our classes by now) will be presenting at the Poster Session on the head-hugging Fosshape masks she created for the Carolina Ballet's Pinocchio, complete with "growing" noses. I gather that the Fosshape folks have sent her tons of product samples to give out, so it won't be just the vendors and schools with free swag!

And, program alumna Amy A. Page (MFA '10) will be presenting at the Poster Session as well, a bustle cage she created as part of her creative draping thesis, which perhaps could be best described as a kind of steampunk fire-sprite masquerade costume. Or something awesome, anyhow.

Other than those obligations, i haven't decided what conference sessions and workshops i'll be attending, beyond the Costume Commission meeting and reception (to which all interested attendees are welcome), but i know some of the time i'll be manning the UNC-Chapel Hill booth on the Stage Expo floor, as will many of our grad students throughout the conference, so please stop by and introduce yourselves if you're attending! I love meeting colleagues and readers face to face at these events! See you there?
labricoleuse: (Default)
Our final show of the season, Hauptman and Miller's musical Big River, is in full swing in the costume shop at PlayMakers, and though i don't have any completed projects to talk about yet, i do have some glimpses behind-the-scenes of things we're working on...

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
I have to say, one of the great boons of having established the North Carolina piedmont as my artistic "home base," is the truly diverse range of other artists to be found here, and the ways and means in which we all overlap and interact and collaborate.

A couple weeks ago, i attended a stilt-making and -walking workshop co-hosted by the Hillsborough Arts Council of Hillsborough, NC, and the grassroots/activist puppetry collective, Paperhand Puppet Intervention. The workshop was held at the historic Moorefields house, an estate in rural Orange County built in 1785. Its final owner, Edward Draper-Savage, left the property to be used for the advancement of the arts, and a couple dozen of us met on the grounds for this workshop, which is apparently a recurring yearly event.

The workshop was led by Donovan Zimmerman of Paperhand (whose shows have often incorporated stiltwalking characters) assisted by Mark Donley from the HAC. They had set up some tables and sawhorses on the Moorefields grounds with tools and supplies, and we worked outdoors beneath shade trees. As best i could determine from informal conversation, the participants ranged from middle-schoolers to grandmothers, from experienced carpenters to folks who'd never used a power-tool. We began at 11am and were walking by 3pm (with a quick lunch break on the fly)!

The stilts we made were essentially the same as the ones for which you can download plans at The Stilt Man's site, here--peg stilts that are braced at the wearer's knee.

The workshop went pretty fast and furious, so i don't have step-by-step images, but really, the Stilt Man's plans are sufficient if you want to build your own, far moreso than any post i'd make. I did document some of the action in photos though, behind the cut! Read more... )

As i said, they do this every year, so if you're within easy travel of Hillsborough and are interested in such a workshop, get in touch with the folks at the Hillsborough Arts Council about future dates. And, if you aren't nearby, i honestly believe stilts are one of those things that seem more daunting in theory than in practice--with some pals, some tools, and the Stilt Man's plans, you could probably hold your own impromptu workshop.

Unrelated, here's a cool link to a Guardian slideshow of Swimsuits through the Ages!
labricoleuse: (milliner)
I have been thinking about a lot of different subjects related to the theme of "continuing education" lately, so i decided to start a series of posts--maybe two, maybe three--of which this is definitely the first! The first subject is one of primary interest perhaps to locals, though i bet you what i set out here applies to taking courses of similar bent at universities in your own communities, if you are a non-Carolinian reader.

Local Interest: "How can i take your classes?"

Frequently people ask whether they can take my courses even though they are not enrolled in the graduate program. The answer to that is, yes, provided that you are willing to go through a few prerequisite steps to obtain approval (since, no one enrolls in my class without my advance permission).

Step One: Make sure the class i'm teaching is the one you want to take.

I teach these courses on a two-year cycle; not every course is offered every year even. This fall is Millinery, spring will be Dyeing/Distressing. Next fall will be Decorative Arts, followed by Masks/Armor. These are tentative schedules and may change according to what the program decides to offer, but in general, these are the ongoing offerings. You can always check the UNC course catalog to make sure when the seminar you want is being offered.

I am willing to lead a self-paced independent study for a student in very particular cases (i get paid a laughably small stipend to lead an independent study, so if you ask me to do this, you should know that you are essentially asking me to teach you for free, so i better like you a lot), but bear in mind that the courses are based on a discussion-community model--they are best experienced in tandem with a class of at least 3 other students.

I have considered breaking the courses down into short single-topic workshops i could offer through a community center or take "on the road" to other colleges and organizations, but thusfar the only "short class" i've done like this is my parasol unit. If your school or organization wants to sponsor a particular workshop, i'd be glad to work something out. In general though, the most straightforward thing is to just take my classes at my facility with the grad students.

Step Two: Contact me in advance of the first day of class.

I advise emailing, calling, or dropping by the department. Let me know why you are interested in the class (which can be something as simple as "it sounds cool") and show me some examples of your work. This doesn't have to be a formal portfolio, it might be some links to .jpgs on your flickr account, or if you come by the office, bring something you stitched or constructed or painted or whatever. Basically, i need to know that you have the artisanship skills to keep up with Millinery or Decorative Arts, and that you have the "messy-arts" skills to keep up with Dyeing/Distressing or Masks/Armor. Want some tangible examples? In the past, non-graduate students have gotten into the classes by showing me things like an apron they made from a Simplicity pattern, a series of sculptures from an art course, and photographs of their children's Halloween costumes.

If i don't think you are ready for the class, i will offer some suggestions on what you can do to build and hone the skills you will need. Often, this means that i recommend taking Drama 192 - Introduction to Costume Production as a prerequisite, in which the students get exposure to all aspects of costume production and learn basic sewing, design, and costume history topics. Some other options include introductory art/craft/sewing classes at local education centers like the Carrboro ArtsCenter or Mulberry Silks. I don't accept students whose current skill level is such that they won't be able to keep up with the graduate students in quality and turnaround of their projects, because first and foremost the class serves the graduate program. I also make certain that the students i accept understand the amount of work required in the courses.

I get a lot of inquiries from folks who think that, for example, learning to make hats would be a lot of FUN OMG YAYE! Which, don't get me wrong, it IS a lot of fun; i love what i do for a living and love teaching it. However, it is also a lot of LABOR. I make sure that prospective students understand that taking my courses are akin to taking a studio art course--that not only will you be working in class several hours a week, but that you will be putting in several hours of work time outside of class in order to get the projects done to the standard i expect, and that you might be putting those hours in at the costume facility because they require specialized equipment. Sometimes even the grads get overwhelmed by the amount of work these classes require.

And, the most important reason to contact me in advance: to make sure there's room in the class. Registration priority goes to MFA candidates in the Costume Production program, clearly. There are always four and sometimes five of these students. There are six slots in the class. That means there is always at least one space allotted for either a qualified undergraduate or a continuing education student. I operate on a first-come basis, so getting your foot in the door is ideal.

Step Three: Enroll at UNC.

If a prospective student is an undergraduate, great--they've already got Step Two taken care of! All you have to do in that case is come by and meet with me and the administrative coordinator for the department and we'll sign you up on the spot (provided there's room in the class).

If you're not a UNC student though, no worries; you don't have to apply to the university as an undergrad. You can enroll as a Continuing Education student through the Friday Center's program. This will get you into the system so you can register. Then, come by the department and we'll set you up.

I do keep a waitlist when i have more interest than i have slots, too.

That's it, how to get into my classes in three maybe-sorta-easy steps! We're already underway with millinery this fall semester (two classes into it, and it's not something one could easily "catch up" on) with a class population of four graduate students and one continuing education student. I'll probably be posting photos of their first projects soon! So, too late to get in on that one, but Spring's Dyeing/Distressing still has two slots, and it cycles on from there!

In totally unrelated news, i do want to note that we've got a new work-study employee in the department, a familiar face in the form of Ryan Jones, the student photographer whose series of parasol images was included in my parasol textbook which came out early this year. Ryan is in his senior year of studying photojournalism and just returned from an amazing-sounding grant-funded trip across New Zealand, which he has and continues to blog over at [ profile] ryotails! Ryan is going to be joining us as a staff photographer contributing to the expansion of the CoStar Vintage Clothing Archive! Also check out Ryan's deviantART page (including photographs from my book!) for more of his photography unrelated to the NZ project. We're all excited to have Ryan back in the department lending his lensmanship to documenting our collections!
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
The American South has been gripped in drought for months and months now. On Blog Action Day back in October, I made an extensive post about reusing rinse and dye baths and collecting grey water.

At the time, the restrictions for reuse of water, particularly grey water, were, well, kinda grey.

Could you dump it on plants? Technically, no.

Could you flush your toilet with it? Legally, no.

Was an exhausted dyebath grey water? Er, maybe no.

Today, an article in the News & Observer announces the overthrow of arcane, illogical grey water restrictions in North Carolina, which should erase any niggling doubts dyers might've had about employing bath reuse techniques! And now i don't have to skulk around hoping the NC Grey Water Police[1] don't bust down my door to cite me for flushing my commode with a bucket of shower-water. Hooray!

[1] Incidentally, you know the controversy-wracked Carolina-based mercenary/security force company Blackwater? Did no one involved in the naming of that company consider the fact that "black water" in shipboard and public works terms means, er, sewage??
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
I'll have some good project posts coming soon (probably this week) on some more Amadeus projects, but i wanted to give a heads-up to my Carolina readership about an exciting event happening soon in Raleigh: Puppet Fusion!

Puppet Fusion is three days worth of puppet and mask performances and workshops, featuring a host of artists and artisans from around the country, including Vermont's legendary Bread and Puppet Theatre, Chinese Theatre Works of New York, and North Carolina's own Hobey Ford and Paperhand Puppet Intervention.

In related news, there's a fairly long article in today's News & Observer about Paperhand, which includes a link to a video on YouTube featuring their work.
labricoleuse: (opening night gala)
First off, i have to say BIG CONGRATULATIONS to all of us here at PlayMakers for completely cleaning up on the Independent Weekly's picks for the best regional theatre of 2007. We were named in nine categories!

click here for the list )

Please note that i am only listing the PlayMakers mentions--most every category has several other listings as well from other great local theatres! (Click the article link in the opening paragraph to read them all.)

And, The Little Prince also got a nod in the News & Observer's "Year's Best in Triangle Theatre" list as well. Whoo!

But, on to the book reviews! Whenever i start on a new class, i usually do some book review posts, either of books i'm considering as primary texts for the students or of books i intend to use as supplemental references. My previous posts on books relating to this semester's topics are as follows:

Reviews of various accessories books
Reviews of various jewelry-making books
Reviews of various shoe-related books

There's a new book out that i think TONS of people who read this blog will probably want to run right out and buy, Tan Huaixiang's Costume Craftwork on a Budget. This is a particularly good supplementary reference for those who have Sylvia Moss' brilliant textbook, Costumes and Chemistry, which is invaluable for the safety information and product analyses alone, but also features tons of great information at the end following step-by-step processes for creation of high-end Vegas showgirl costumes, Broadway effects, etc. Moss' projects are generally big-budget ones (quite useful to read about but beyond the range of most regional and university theatres' budgets), whereas Tan Huaixiang's book illustrates ways of creating elaborate effects, but offers creative ways of using cheap, easily obtained materials to achieve complicated "fantastical" costume looks.

For my own use, i'm on the fence about using it as a text for my classes because it seems to be aimed toward designers who primarily work jobs where there's no crafts artisan and do their own crafts, and our program is fairly specific in its focus--top level Costume Production. There's no design track for graduate students at all, so the designer-centricity of the text isn't relevant. There's also a HUGE middle section on millinery and headdress-making that's not really my speed--i'm satisfied teaching my millinery course from Denise Dreher's From the Neck Up and Tim Dial's Beginning Millinery for the Stage. I do think it's pretty exciting for its masks and prosthetics section; there's not really a good up-to-date text on mask making specifically for theatre (Thurston James' Propbuilder's Mask Making Handbook is from the early 1990s, out of print now, and lacking in the safety precautions area.). I intend to keep it in my shop library--many of the projects are very inspiring--and if you are a designer who typically does a lot of your own craftwork, you probably want to check it out!
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
The King was a challenging design in our recent production of The Little Prince. I had to work closely with the draper, M. Spencer Henderson, to pull off the extremely stylized effect of the costume.

pictures )

And here are a couple links to fellow bloggers I've come across recently, of related interest:

It's just come to my attention that Emil Kang, the Executive Director for the Arts here at UNC-Chapel Hill maintains a presence on He writes travel-specific blogs for particular trips he goes on, scouting out artists and performers the world over. Check out his most recent one, detailing a trip to Russia, which is full of excellent photos and cool commentary on things he saw and people he met.

Tyrone Mitchell Henderson has been cast as "Lincoln" in our upcoming production of Top Dog/Underdog; he keeps a blog on his acting career and his handcrafting (he knits!). I look forward to meeting him! If you know the play, you know spoilerish comment )
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
Probably the most complex crafts project on The Little Prince was the Fox macropuppet.

The project was largely the province of my assistant, third-year MFA candidate Emily Vandervoort Mason. Emily's degree focus is craftswork, so i asked her what, of the range of projects on the show, did she want to be responsible for (with my oversight and input, of course). I wanted her to have the opportunity for a great portfolio inclusion. Bravely, she picked the Fox.

pix and method )
labricoleuse: (paraplooey)
I finally have all the stuff to make my post about the parasol development for The Little Prince. Though they are technically props, parasols are frequently the responsibility of the crafts artisan, because they are often designed by the Costume Designer to match the costumes of their carriers. I've written a forthcoming book on parasol manufacture for costumers (out in January 2008, more info as soon as it's available, of course!), so when it comes to traditional parasols, it's safe to say i know my stuff.

pictures, design renderings, and a video of my inverting parasol! )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
Recall if you will back in October when i posted the first installment about the development and creation of the masks for our next mainstage show, The Little Prince. Since we open on Saturday and there are costume renderings of some of the characters up on the official site, i think it's ok for me to post a follow-up!

When last i posted, i had left it at a cliffhanger with me beginning the sculpting process of the mask matrices. Read more... )
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
Wow, i haven't updated in a while. Things are *SUPER* busy with the biggest crafts show of the year (The Little Prince, full of masks, macropuppets, hats, parasols, you name it!), so there's a lot that's in process coming soon. Without airing the business of others, the misfortunes of funerals and surgeries have, when added to the prodigious workload, precluded my writing even about non-project topics of late. It's quite the hamster-wheel!

I'm doing some hats for one of our actors with a large headsize (25"), and we had to order a new dolly head for him. I found heads up to 25" for under $25 apiece at Wig & Hairpiece Supply, for those as might want such things.

And, i can't yet reveal exactly what i'm doing with them, but if you are looking to engineer some kinetic macropuppetry frameworks--or, do stop-motion claymation or similar--here is the best thing since iced tea on a hot day: Zoobs! Ball and socket joints and connectors which can bear a fair amount of weight and offer a wide range of movement.

I'd also like to commend my students and coworkers for really stepping to the plate on devotion to water conservation measures for dyeing in a drought state. We've managed to reduce our water significantly while still keeping up with a heavy dye load for our mainstage show.

* * *

Most folks have read in the news a bit about the IATSE stagehand strike that's left Broadway dark for nearly a week now. For some behind-the-scenes (literally) perspectives, check out the following links:

Local One's initial press release on the strike
Local One's followup on the strike
The One NYC Stagehand blog muses on the ramifications of the strike
Steve On Broadway (SOB)'s got some stuff to say
The Humble Nailbanger is blogging the strike from within
Parabasis sets up a Strike Resource Open Thread for discussion

I have a lot of opinions on the subject and no time to explore them. If they're still striking in December, maybe i'll have the leisure to sit down and be articulate about it then. For now, back to the parasol factory!
labricoleuse: (silk painting)
First, some new-news:

There's a great story in Sunday's News & Observer on the progress out at The Lost Colony on rebuilding their costume shop, which was lost to a tragic fire on September 11th of this year. I particularly liked reading about how folks at HBO and in the NC film industry have pitched in with donating production surplus on period projects that have wrapped.

And! It occurred to me that it might be useful to share some of the spreadsheet and form templates i use for labor tracking in my subdepartment with you guys. So, i've created an account on (a free hosting service) with some of my frequently-used templates. Here are the first three i've uploaded for open-source sharing.

1.) Download mixing ticket.doc
This is my dye project record form (Word document filetype). Anyone who dyes anything for a mainstage show (me or one of my assistants) fills out this form, attaches swatches, and puts it into the master notebook (or "Crafts Bible"). That way if anyone else needs to reference what was done and how, it's right there on record. It is based on a form used by the Utah Shakespearean Festival in their dyeshop; they have some different categories at the top of theirs for tracking projects (since they have six shows in their shop simultaneously, thus making it more difficult to track what fabric goes to what draper for what show by what deadline). You can add or eliminate whatever entries you need, or devise your own completely different template.

2.) Download hat and mask measurements.xls
This is an Excel spreadsheet i generated for a comprehensive measurement sheet covering both hat-related measurements and facial-feature measurements. This way i was able to make matrices without face casts for masks *&* hat mockups from one measurement sheet.

3.) Download TLP mask tracking spreadsheet.xls
This is another Excel spreadsheet that i made for The Little Prince which tracks the steps of the mask-making process. I left some of the information in it so you can see how anyone could check at a glance on the progress made on any mask.

Feel free to take these templates, adapt them to your own uses for your own record-keeping and project-tracking!
labricoleuse: (shakespearean alan cumming)
The folks over at The Lost Colony are of course still reeling from the fire that consumed their costume shop, storage, and maintenance facility in September.

They first set up an online donation form for monetary donations, presumably because that was the easiest thing to deal with immediately after the fire. They've now progressed to soliciting donations of items, having posted the lost inventories of both the costume shop and maintenence shop:

Check it out and see if there's something you can help with!

(Incidentally, this is a good illustration of why keeping a current inventory is a good idea, and also an opportunity to see what the inventory of the shop of an outdoor drama looks like, should you wish to compare and contrast it with inventories of other shop facilities.)
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
Today is Blog Action Day, on which participants are encouraged to blog about a particular issue--today that issue is the environment.

Normally, this blog has absolutely nothing to do with environmental issues--it's all theatre costuming, all the time--but every so often it's fun to participate in one of these things and try to find a way to remain topical. I think i've clinched it here with my research of late into how one can run a professional dye shop (and by extension, a theatre costume shop) when in the midst of extreme drought and water regulations.

Unless you are part of my local readership, you may be unaware of the extreme drought gripping most of the American South. Mandatory water conservation measures are in place for all 100 North Carolina counties. Our governor announced yesterday that, unless changes are made, we have only 107 days left of water in Raleigh's reservoir. After that, we are, as one local official put it, "sucking sediment." Since i'm not exactly pants-afire to taste-test some sludge-Slurpees, i intend to do as much as i possibly can to minimize my water usage both at home and at work.

It's clear to me that no ethical North Carolinian can pursue water-conservation measures that consist only of prayers for rain. I don't often use this blog as a platform for espousing any personal observations and views, but i have to say i find myself getting angry when i see someone watering their lawn (it's October, for Pete's sake) or washing their car. What about the phrase sucking sediment sounds so appealing it's worth washing your car to risk living it first-hand?

Rather than just sit and fume though, i've decided to research and implement ways of conserving water not just in my home but also in my workplace--the costume facility of the PlayMakers Repertory Company.

Most people have heard all the drought adjustments for home water conservation--restricting toilet flush capacity by putting a full 2-liter in the tank, flushing only solid waste, shortening showers, ceasing car-washing and lawn-watering practices, utilizing a rain barrel and collecting "grey water" for non-drinkable water use. Businesses too are stepping up conservation efforts--for example, you don't get a glass of water in a restaurant now unless you specifically request it.

We use a lot of water here in the PRC costume department--the wardrobe crew do many loads of laundry after each performance, costumers pre-wash fabrics before turning them into costumes, and crafts artisans dye yardage and garments in large dye vats. Some dye processes require multiple baths or multiple rinse cycles. We wash smaller dye pots and measuring tools by hand in enormous steel sinks, and the dyeshop must be frequently and thoroughly cleaned to prevent contamination of mixtures.

Our management and design assistant staff members are helping out by prioritizing the purchase of fabrics already dyed to the proper colors--this involves often more legwork and research on their behalf but for every fabric length i and my assistants don't have to custom dye, we eliminate the use of nearly 200 gallons of water!

Small steps can be just as important as large steps. Collecting water for reuse is a big one. There's not many dye-related water uses that can be reused--dyeing is a chemical process and as anyone knows who's run a load of whites just after machine-dyeing, residual dye particles are fairly tenacious. You can't skimp on cleaning up your equipment after dyeing or you relinquish your ability to control your results.

I've begun to collect non-dye-related grey water for use in rinse cycles--for example, i have to test our faucet-mounted eyewash each month by letting it run uninhibited for five minutes. Instead of letting it run out, i let it discharge into a couple of 10-gallon pots, then use that water the next time i run a rinse cycle. (You don't have to let a washer fill itself--you can dump in grey water, rain water, collected bath or shower water, etc.)

For hot dyebaths, i have two steam-jacketed dye vats--these use water to generate the steam to heat the get the idea. I'm developing a long-term plan to switch a lot of our dyeing over to cold-process dye baths. (Some brands of cold-process dyes are Procion MX, PRO Chemical, and Aljo Cold Process.) Cold baths in general use less energy than hot dye processes.

I'm also carefully monitoring the size baths i draw for each project--water is the vehicle for the dye process, but you really only need a bath of enough capacity that your fabric or garment can move freely and be completely and evenly saturated. Dyeing say, one shirt in a 60-gallon vat is wasteful--a better choice would be the 15-gallon stewpot or 20-gallon vat perhaps. I and my students and assistants are being very careful about using only enough water to get the job done without being excessive.

I also posted this question to the DyersLIST, an email list serving professional and hobby dyers and received several responses from subscribers who themselves had weathered a drought while continuing to operate a dye facility.

One woman mentioned employing chromatically-coordinated reuse of rinsewater, rinsing lighter colors and saving the water to rinse like-hued darker colors. Dye artist Cynthia Saint Charles directed me to a blog post of hers on dyeing successive colors using the same soda ash solution in each bath. A third dyer sent me to the archive, where a drought some years back spawned a previous discussion in which one woman even spoke about applying dye in a concentrated solution directly to saturated fabric without a bath at all--she reused her saturation bath as grey water in her toilet tank and managed to dye 7 yards of fabric using only 6 gallons of water! Another recommended disperse dyes in smaller baths.

Low-water immersion techniques can be an ecologically-conservative option, and one that yields lovely gradations of value.

The upshot is, there aren't a whole lot of obvious changes one can make to conserve water in a dye facility or costume shop, but research has turned up a few that we are already implementing. If you have any more suggestions, or want to comment with what you might be doing or have done in the past to accommodate drought situations, i'd love to hear about it!

ETA on 10/18/2007:

After a query from a fellow dyer, I realized I should clarify the 200-gallon-per-job water-use estimate stated up near the beginning of this post. That's not an average amount of water used in dyeing a single garment, but instead refers to fabric yardage used to build an entire stage costume--this can be up to 8-15 yards of fabric (depending on the costume design, period clothing taking much more than modern). The 200-gal estimate is a total for the process or "one job": that fabric getting pre-washed/scoured/rinsed, going into our 60-gallon dye vat for at least one bath (sometimes more if an ombre or overdye effect is involved, then through a rinse cycle and a subsequent post-dye washing as well. The fabrics i dye are sometimes synthetics that require specialized chemical processes. Essentially, the figure is an estimate for the type of dyeing that is typical for a professional theatre's dye facility, using immersion-dye techniques in a large-ish industrial dye vat. The average home-dyer uses (hopefully!) far less water than this.

ETA on 10/26/2007:

I had the occasion today to do a four-process custom dye project for our next mainstage show, Crimes of the Heart. By employing some of the suggestions i found in researching this post, i was able to limit the total gallons consumed in the process to 132, which is 68 fewer gallons than the standard estimate. This is a particularly good result because there were four processes to go through (baths and rinses). It's still a lot of water, and i'm going to keep working on ways to use even less, but it's a step in the right direction.

This story in today's News & Observer talks about the imminent crisis. Georgia has already declared a state of emergency and requested federal aid. This slide show illustrates the progression of the drought since March.

This is not a conspiracy theory or a doomsaying situation, this is a fact. We are running out of water down here. Every reusable drop of water we let run down our drain is a drop in a bucket of conceit, selfishness, thoughtlessness, and stupidity. We HAVE to be better than that.

ETA on 8/3/2008:

In a recent symposium on fabric modification, several instructors recommended a book called Color by Accident by Anne Johnston as a great resource for low-water immersion dyeing techniques using Procion MX dyes. If you are looking for a specific source on more info on this, you might check it out!

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