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 bath...you 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!