Living colour

27th January 2006 at 00:00
A group of Bradford students don gloves, goggles and aprons in a bid to discover how dyes work and colours are made. Kevin Berry reports

There is great excitement in the workshop room at Bradford's Colour Museum.

Graham Alcock, the curator, is explaining the procedures for compression and batik dyeing. Some Year 6 children from Barkerend Primary School, in Bradford, are going to dye handkerchiefs and ties. The dyes have been prepared, the necessary wax has melted and everyone has been shown how to use an iron on their creations.

"We must all wear gloves," says Graham, a former industrial designer. "The dye won't do you any harm, but it will take a few days to wash off." Ten minutes later he notices that his own glove has split. "Ah well. Looks like I'll be having a blue thumb all weekend."

The handkerchiefs are folded again and again and various washers are slipped in between the folds. The hankies are then tightened with G-clamps and dipped in the different dyes. The ties are tied, dipped in the hot wax and then into the dyes. There is curiosity on every face.

Uzmat Munir unfolds his handkerchief design after each dipping and is astonished: "The pattern changes every time. There's a surprise every time you open it out."

The Colour Museum was established by the Society of Dyers and Colourists and is the only museum in the world devoted to colour. It is near the centre of Bradford in an area of 19th-century industrial architecture.

There are two interactive galleries - the lower serves as an introduction to colour, while the upper looks at colour in industry.

Another group from Barkerend Primary is following a Children Challenging Industry Trail in the upper gallery, and discovering the history of Turkey Red Cloth. In the basement's Colour Laboratory, which trains adult technicians, some other children are working with trainer Malcolm Brown.

Each child has a piece of multi-fibre test fabric, containing six material strips. One dye will produce a different colour on each strip. "Normally we see colours," says Aftab Ali. "But now we are making them!"

The multi-fibre test fabrics are produced by the Society of Dyers and Colourists for use in the textile industry. The children, all wearing safety goggles and laboratory aprons, feel like industrial chemists.

The Colour Museum attracts all age groups, with schools and colleges coming from as far afield as Cambridge, Scarborough, Leicester and Merseyside. The introductory courses for teachers are thoroughly planned.

"We do a colour-blindness test with all the groups who come for a workshop," explains Graham. "And we let the teachers know the results, without embarrassing anyone. We do find that out of an average class of 30 children, one youngster tends to have a problem. Yesterday, for the first time, we found someone who was almost totally colour blind. That's a one in about seven million chance. He was six years old and nobody had picked up on it.

"They used to test for colour blindness in schools, but not any more. Even art students are not given a colour-blindness test."

The dyeing is finished. Gorgeously coloured ties and handkerchiefs are laid out on a carpet. Everyone has a vote and it is decided that Anjulie Baidya has produced the best hankie and the best tie. Anjulie pretends to blow her nose with her beautiful hankie and everyone giggles.

"Well done," says Graham. "The people at Tie Rack will be jealous."

* Admission plus workshop costs pound;4 per child. Early booking is essential


The Colour Museum

Perkin House

82 Grattan Road



Tel: 01274 390955

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