the Dye Dept.
Textile Arts, Dyeing and Costume Breakdown


River ~ Lynn Canyon


In 2001 total fibre production worldwide was an estimated 52.81 megatonnes (52.81 x 1000 x 1000 tons). Worldwide production of dyes and pigments in 1996 was about 700 kilotons (700 x 1000 tons).

A market this size is difficult to grasp; the textile artists’ wishes and selections have little or no direct impact. We buy from the fringes of a giant industry. Shifts in manufacture are global – affected by expiring patents, the oil crisis of the 1970s, driven by the economic search for cheap labour and environmental regulations in the 80s and 90s.

How does the textile artist/small manufacturer make informed choices and develop a best practices process?

Working ecologically is a new but already global force. The list of environmental guidelines and regulations that have come into effect during the latter decades of the 20th century is long and continues to grow as care for the environment slowly becomes an integrated part of global culture.

As yet, the full environmental details of the production and impact of a chosen textile product –fabric, paint, soap or dye- is often difficult to uncover. The artist dips into the smallest fraction of colorant production and depends on suppliers who deal in tiny volumes. Sometimes even these suppliers cannot find out with certainty where their latest batch of dye was manufactured.   So how does the artist make choices, set up a best practice?

It is important to be encouraged by the growth of environmental regulations.   Ecological change is being supported on many levels.  Stay informed. Get to know your supplier.  Know that you might be impacted by changing producers, product, patents.  Set up a best practice for your own locality.  The principals behind a best practice are common sense, and can be extrapolated from broad ecological guidelines (such as those listed in the 1998 Pollution Prevention and Abatement Handbook from the WORLD BANK GROUP) to such simple steps as

  • consult with your supplier to avoid toxic dyes; rest assured that many of the worst are no longer available
  • Choose less toxic and degradable ingredients
  • Control loss and wastage of your ingredients
  • Reuse and recycle packaging and materials wherever possible
  • Reuse water wherever possible
  • Minimize wastage

It is important for all artists and makers, however small their production, to develop a best practices process. One way to do this is to be cognizant of the needs of your immediate environment. Is your drainage system a septic field? Are you in a part of the world where salt has become a primary issue? Do you live on a small island? Is there an abundant water supply around you? Is there a seasonal water shortage? Is fuel a primary issue?

Working within your own sphere of influence and production, stay informed, get to know your supplier, your supplies, local regulations and regulatory bodies, and the specific characteristics of your own locality. Think globally, stay informed, act locally. It can be inspiring to place yourself in the greater context. 
And love what you are doing. Relish the richness. Know where you are in history. Privileged. 

Hone your practice, do your best, work safely, be inspired. We are working in an era of extraordinary colour, unlike any that has come before.