Guiding the fabric through the machine ready for the sublimation printing process to begin! (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

Guiding the fabric through the machine ready for the sublimation printing process to begin! (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

During my third week at Cirque du Soleil I was lucky enough to be working in the textile department where they print and dye on a diverse range of fabrics. The incredible facilities that exist in this department are brought to life by the hard working team that creates the colour and texture for every show. The rooms are filled with enormous dye vats that resemble industrial sized kitchen spaces and screen-printing tables that seem to go on for miles. As I began work in the dye department I quickly discovered that Cirque du Soleil can proudly say that 90% of their fabrics are bought as white and are dyed in house; a major positive factor for such a large creative company.

Dye stock solutions ready for the week ahead (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

Dye stock solutions ready for the week ahead (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

Like in any production process, precision plays a vital role in the success of the outcome; but in the dyeing department even the smallest variation in powder or water content could disrupt the final aesthetic. With each dye batch being measured with scales to the precise gram or millilitre that is required; with any mistake or miscalculation the batch is simply started again and redone. You could almost say that the process of dyeing at Cirque du Soleil is a mix between chemistry and design!

Hombre Nylon filaments dyed by Sylvie and I (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

Hombre Nylon filaments dyed by Sylvie and I (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

For the first three days I worked with my mentor Sylvie in the dye lab, developing the stock solutions that will be used by the entire team for the week. During our time together we completed orders that were required for current shows, that ranged from dyeing cotton crochet pieces for the TORUK show, elastics and binding. We also experimented with a diverse range of colours and different fibers such as Nylon filament strands (that almost look like strands of synthetic hair). Using Sylvie’s expertise in adding the appropriate levels of citric acid to ensure the right level of colour was absorbed into the fiber, we experimented with different dyeing methods such as hombre and solid dyes. If you have ever seen a Cirque du Soleil show you would have noticed how each costume is perfectly tailored to fit and move with the performer. Working with this team I am only just beginning to understand the true level of dedication that goes into making this happen. With over fifty different skin tones in Cirque’s dye colour library, the costume and the performer really do blend together as one!

Cirque du Soleil team screen-printing for the show KOOZA (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

Cirque du Soleil team screen-printing for the show KOOZA (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

In addition to dyeing, sublimation printing plays an important role in the development of Cirque du Soleil’s prints. Allowing the team to achieve the highest quality result possible on polyester (a durable and strong fabric that is desirable for a high-level impact show). On my last two days in this department I worked with the team of textile designers that are often found with their heads glued to their work on the computer, bringing the vision of the designer to life either in the form of creating files for sublimation printing or other screen-printing methods. During this time I was given the opportunity to work on a freelance project with the brief of creating a costume with the show OVO in mind. With the assistance of my mentor Carl, I worked on creating a range of digital print designs that captured the aesthetic of the show. Using Cirque du Soleil’s sublimation printers we printed my designs on to a specifically engineered paper that is then heat transferred onto the desired fabric, a truly breath-taking process to be part of.

Printing my design using sublimation printing (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

Printing my design using sublimation printing (Photo: Tess Tavener Hanks)

It was wonderful to be part of yet another incredible team at Cirque du Soleil this week and I continue to have great respect to the hard working people that make the shows we all enjoy that are a sheer delight to watch. I am sad to say that my last week is rapidly approaching however I am looking forward to what my final week brings.

– Tess Tavener Hanks, March 2016