What setting up a dye studio is all about…

I have been fascinated by dyeing since learning its fundamentals while studying Textile Arts at Capilano University. It is a challenging amalgam of art and science; a skill that takes time and patience to develop.The process of dyeing is affected by numerous variables such as chemical and mechanical factors, fiber content and dye type. I feel challenged and stimulated by this process. I have also gained a more in depth understanding of color, color mixing, and chemical processes that influence it.

While at Capilano University I was very privileged to have unlimited access to a well equipped, spacious and safe dye studio, that I have taken for granted. Continuing my education at Emily Carr University opened my eyes to the challenges of not having such a space to experiment and learn at. As a result I have been limited to a handful of simple processes that are nonetheless challenging in makeshift spaces, available to me on my almost non existing budget. Because of this I have been on a lookout for shared or rentable dye spaces and equipment, for facilities with proper safety features that one could rent by hour or day depending on need.So far I have not found any options within these parameters.

I thought it would be interesting and useful to look at what it would take financially to set up a safe, well equipped, versatile dye studio and whether this would be a feasible option for me in the near future. I conducted my research by interviewing persons with professional dye studios in my community and by researching logistics and costs such as installing an industrial sink, a ventilation fan or a 220V electrical plug. My findings have been useful in clarifying the costs and challenges of setting up such a space.

I initially contacted Anthea Mallison of ‘the Dye Dept’, Charlotte Quan of ‘Maiwa’ and Dianne Saunders of ‘The Silk Weaving Studio’.

In the interview with Anthea Mallison I was directed to a fellow Emily Carr graduate Lexy Skoureff who has recently set up her own studio. Dianna Saunders was very approachable but had limited information on dye studio set up as she out sources her dyeing to individuals and business in the local and international community. My most informative interview was with Anthea Mallinson followed by the interview with Lexy Skoureff. Most of my conclusions are based on information gathered from these two artists. My set-up costs were gathered by informal calls to plumbers and electricians that I know personally or through family and friends. My main source of information on prices was an acquaintance who works as a general contractor in Victoria.

The most plausible way to set up a dye studio is to start conservatively in a space with potential and build up gradually as finances allow. Finding that affordable suitable space is one of the largest challenges in this quest. Such a space would have a lot of operable windows allowing for natural light and proper ventilation. It would have numerous electrical outlets and water hook up. A space without its own sink would be challenging to work in as almost every step of the dyeing process requires copious amounts of water.

The work surfaces of a dye studio need to be non porous and easy to clean, preferably made out of metal.  These surfaces can be improvised from repurposed household tables and cabinetry, or can be reused metal industrial work surfaces (more costly, but more durable option).

One also requires numerous stirring and measuring utensils, such as spoons, measuring spoons, measuring cups, whisks, blender, stirring sticks of various lengths. All of these can be old kitchen utensils, but once they are used for dyeing that is all they can be used for.

Scales are also a standard necessary piece of equipment and range in price from $30 for small electronic ones up to $300 and more for more precise 3 beam scales used in chemical labs and fancy kitchens.

If a stove is not an option in a space, hot plates are a cheaper, yet less efficient alternative.

A useful addition to exhaust fans for dispensing toxic dye powder is a plexiglass dye box that covers the scales. It costs about $100 for one of these boxes.

Due to the high price of set up most dye studios limit the number of the types of dyes they are equipped to handle. Many artists opt to start with their favorite dye process/method and build up from there. A lot of artists use a free form way of combining colors that require less precise measurements and less rigid methodology. This does not mean that their safety precautions can be more relaxed.

A number of personal artist studios take up parts of privately owned residences, many making extensive use of the outdoor areas for ventilated spaces for dye mixing and heating. These studios are major investments over a number of years.

Other studios are much more humble and make shift, full of improvised multipurpose surfaces, working  with very limited dye selection. Dye mixing is a major health hazard if done without proper safety equipment and in a space that is not ventilated. In these circumstances it is best to use any outdoor space available for dye mixing and keep the air within the studio moving as much as possible. The limitations in this type of set up are of financial nature.  The most important thing is to choose something one is invested in and engaged by, start small and never look back.

Some approximate costs of installing important equipment:

  • If one had to install a reused industrial sink, depending on the pre-existing set up, or lack thereof the cost would be $500 and up.
  • If one wanted a 220V plug for a dryer or an industrial sewing machine, depending on the position of the main electrical panel, its distance from the space and how many walls had to be drilled through the price is $300 and up. This type of plug needs to be connected directly to the main panel and it is independently grounded and insulated from the surrounding surfaces.
  • Installation of reused industrial exhaust fan, also depending on the preexisting structures or infrastructure costs about $200 and up.

It costs a lot of money to set up a dye studio!

This does not come as a surprise, but it is discouraging to have a vague, ballpark number that already seems so out of reach.

Contingent upon finding the right kind of space for rent- which would be a more expensive space because of the electrical, plumbing and ventilation needs of a dye studio, the additional equipment and supports, investment would be from $1000 to $3000 not including dye and other chemical supplies.

It makes sense to  start small with something appealing yet simple for set up and wait for the financial situation to improve, investing in equipment gradually and on a small scale.

It seems unreasonable to borrow money for any kind of set up without a clear business plan and a profit generating strategy. The survival aspect of forming and running a commercially viable space puts on enough pressure to make the whole idea utterly unappealing.

It seems more prudent to take a continuing education class through Capilano University and by doing so gain access to their studio for a couple of hundred dollars a semester.

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