…but first, the Big News! Silicon Valley added FOUR HUNDRED JOBS this month!! Four hundred!! Yay! Wahoo!!
…actually, that is big news. Check it out:
From the San Jose Mercury News (http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/9956462.htm?1c ):
Silicon Valley added 400 jobs last month.
It’s only the second monthly job gain since the local economy collapsed back in March 2001, according to payroll data released Monday. While minuscule, the numbers have given some economists hope that the region may be about to emerge from its economic coma.
At the same time, observers cautioned that growth will remain slow and that it will be many years — at best — before the region recovers the more than 200,000 jobs it lost.
According to the latest payroll data, Santa Clara County reported 839,600 jobs in September, up 400 jobs from August.
The job gain is seasonal, and can primarily be attributed to 1,100 jobs added by government, mainly in education. Such gains are typical in the fall, and Silicon Valley is still more than 7,000 jobs short of where it was this time last year.
But in recent years, even seasonal gains haven’t been enough to offset losses in other areas. Since the last time Santa Clara County posted a monthly job gain — 300 jobs in November 2003 — things have been sluggish even in the peak job months of September and December.
So hey, maybe there’s hope for the Valley. I have noticed that the job market has loosened up recently. (Hey, I might even be employed soon.)
Back to indigo–I wrote this little piece, which you may find amusing, in the midst of a discussion about color names. True to form, it’s a discussion of indigo chemistry mixed with the more (ahem) colorful parts of indigo’s story.
> On the other hand, since most of your example colors have been bits of
> plants and such, perhaps “Indigo” is the color of bit of the “Indigo”
> plant rather than the color of the dye…
No, actually. Indigo is one of the most interesting natural dyestuffs, chemistry-wise, and the plant itself is green. Not only that, but a properly prepared dyebath is antifreeze-green (no, really!). Indigo itself doesn’t dye anything; it’s totally insoluble and won’t bind to fiber. To get it to stick, you have to put it into a reducing bath and reduce it to indigo white, which *is* water-soluble, and is colorless to pale yellow-green. Then you dip your fabric into the bath, let it slosh for a short while (not too long because the bath is strongly alkaline, bad for wools), pull it out, and air it until the indigo white oxidizes into indigo, turning the yarn from green to blue.
Once it’s fully oxidized, you dip it again. The color gets darker with each dip. The trick with indigo is to make sure that each dip is long enough to saturate the fiber, but short enough that the already-deposited indigo doesn’t vanish back into your reducing bath. In the literature, many short dips into a weaker dyebath produce better results than one dip into a strong dyebath, and this was what was recommended in colonial times. The Akha, however, use a very strong indigo bath and only dip 1-3 times. They’re willing to live with lots and lots of bleeding, however.
The other entertaining part about indigo is that, as noted, it has to be dyed in an alkaline dyebath. Well, how do you get such a dyebath from natural ingredients? Fermented urine. (Per the literature, the best such urine came from a boy-child under ten years of age, collected in the morning. (I hesitate to even ask how they did *that* study.) However, there are amusing reports in books on indigo about “Mme so-and-so having another one of her piss parties,” where apparently men were invited over and plied with beer so a dyer could collect pee for making indigo. Sadly, the resulting piss was probably more beer than urea, which is the useful substance.)
Anyway, I got a bit off track, but the best and most washfast indigo was made using urine dyebaths, which gave them an (ahem) characteristic odor. Along come synthetic dyes, and now there’s a cheaper process for indigo, but it tends to bleed and crack and generally be inferior to urine-dyed indigo. Smart consumers, of course, then started picking up and sniffing the fabric to make sure it was the “good stuff” (urine-vat-dyed). Equally smart manufacturers, of course, got one ahead of *that*, which led to “Urine Vat Fragrance #5”, which was apparently sprayed into cheaper chemically-dyed indigo fabric to make it smell like the real thing.
So now you know at least one use for urine perfume. 🙂
(I made a desultory attempt at a urine vat once, but couldn’t seem to get it to ferment properly–possibly because, in an attempt to stave off the horrendous odor that is reputedly associated with such fermentation, I kept it a bit too well-sealed, so not enough air got in. I must confess that I wasn’t terribly inclined to insist on a repeat experiment, though I still intend to try it someday.)
At any rate, the indigo plant itself was too tropical to be grown in Europe, where the dominant source of indigo dye was…anyone remember the Celts? –woad. Identical dyestuff. But indigo had a much larger percentage of dyestuff, and so was typically imported in cakes of “indigo blue”, which were then rather laboriously ground up and used in dyeing.
So…how did they grind it into a very fine powder, given that indigo chunks are harder than most rocks? They cracked it into small bits, tossed it into a bucket with two cannonballs and a bunch of water, and had some poor soul churn the cannonballs around and around. Eventually, he got to stop, they let the water settle a bit, then poured off the blue water and used that for dyeing. Anythign that wasn’t fine enough to stay in suspension stayed in the bucket, water was added, and the poor soul got to start rolling the cannonballs around again. (This job was obviously the precursor to McDonald’s. 🙂 )
In modern times, there are easier ways to get your indigo ground into small bits, but they mostly involve sacrificing an electric coffee grinder. I had one that I used to grind indigo and other dyestuffs. It was not happy.
The other interesting thing about indigo is that it is (to my knowledge) the *only* washfast, lightfast blue in nature. *Every* plant that produces a washfast blue, produces indigo. There are one or two other blues available (logwood mostly), but they all oxidize to brown over time. That’s pretty unusual; there are any number of natural dye chemicals that produce a permanent yellow or red, but there’s only one (permanent) blue. But if you think about it, blue is pretty sparse in nature, too. Most blues are anthocyanin, which oxidizes to brown eventually.
This random interlude on natural dyestuffs brought to you by…