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The more you know the more you know you don’t know

by Professor Martin Bide, Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design, University of Rhode Island, USA

Dyeing and colour are subjects that lie in the Bermuda-like triangle with the academic/scientific, industrial/technical, and creative/artistic at the corners. (Outside the triangle is a vast sea of “how hard can dyeing be, anyway?” but we won’t go there!)

The academic publishes papers that the real world dyer will rarely find to be of practical value, and that the designer will struggle to interpret. The industrial dyer seeks answers to everyday dyeing problems and often fails to find them. The creative dyer of natural dyes produces goods that are attractive but which use processes with energy and environmental issues that would prevent them being scaled up. The designer likes the color that the dyer has produced, but wants it to be a little ‘happier’. (That eternal struggle is brilliantly portrayed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxTaBD87z7o )

These players begin in different places. The academic may have studied colour chemistry in college, but have little experience of the real dyehouse. The dyer may have been promoted from the weaving department. And the designer may only have a keen interest in color and its effects on the emotions, with little technical knowledge to back it up.   If any of them venture into the triangle, it soon becomes apparent that “The more you know the more you know you don’t know”. Dangerous waters, indeed! So where do you find the answers?

Cartoon_LadyFor many years, companies that supplied the industry with fibers, dyes and chemicals were a major source of technical know-how. Their interest was not entirely altruistic, of course, but it was valuable enough for much of it to be published as respected papers in the JSDC. In more recent times, the products have become commodities with low profit margins, and the time and money devoted to knowledge sharing has declined.

Today, the web is the major source of information but it is easy to overlook the fundamental difference between what you can find in a library, and what you can find on the web. Those who have grown up in a web world need a reminder, and have to be instructed to apply the “CRAAP” test to work out if sources are reliable. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psaOdZFPTEM

Even then, it’s often garbage. The web is where the world is flat, and Elvis is still alive. Take an area in which you are passingly familiar, search the web, and you will soon find that ignorance is everywhere: in the articles themselves, and especially in comments posted beneath. Even sources that are mostly right can still leave you with a feeling of “yes, but…”. Anyone reading this who understands dyes might steel themselves and take a look at http://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-protection/buying-safe-products/textiles-recalled-after-tests-for-azo-dyes. It’s disturbing that the CRAAP test gives a greenish light to sites ending in “.gov”

How does one survive in this triangle? Where is the good information that is useful to all the players in this fascinating game? Fortunately, there are safe harbors in the middle, in the shape of the professional societies and associations, exemplified by the Society of Dyers and Colorists. Such societies have education and the sharing of knowledge and information as their major raisons d’etre. Its members are drawn from each of the triangle corners. They come together in a forum in which they can communicate freely and without commercial bias, and get to understand what lies beyond their immediate area of expertise. The academic can hear first hand about the causes of unlevel dyeing, the commercial dyer can explain the efficiencies required in the dyehouse, and the designer can get to appreciate the pitfalls of metamerism. dont believe what you read onlineAll this can happen at training courses, webinars, conferences, local meetings, via the publishing of textbooks and academic journals, or (most pleasantly) via some casual conversation over a glass of something-or-other.

You may not get all the answers straight away, but the more you know, the better equipped you are to sort out the valuable and useful from the snake oil, and develop your own version of the CRAAP test!

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