Borax crystals - grown on a nylon wire and on textile. The technique used here is crystallization from a solution. The borax crystal is clear and faceted with great definition so it is often compared to diamonds. However these can get so big that it is not really credible that they are diamonds, but they play with light in similar ways. Less triangular than for example alum crystals.
Surface treatment, Solids
Color without additives: transparent and translucent white. (Turns opaque after baking in the oven for 10 minutes at 100 degrees Celcius.)
Preparation time: 1 Hour
Processing time: 6-24 hours
Need attention: None. Leave in a warm place, don't move or touch it.
Final form achieved after: 1 day
Estimated cost (consumables)
2,25 Euros for a 400 ml saturated solution
- Borax powder - 7 tbsp (approx. 150g)
- also called: sodium tetraborate decahydrate: we will try to reorganize these molecules into crystals.
- Water - 400 ml/gr
- To dissolve the borax powder and reorganize into a crystal
- Water - 1000 ml/g
- to create a bain marie
- Vinyl fish wire - 20 cm
- This is so smooth it is harder for the molecules to attach to so they will all attach to the rougher surfaces you put in.
- Fluffly textile decorations get fluffy balls or balls on a string. Pipe cleaners also work very well.
- Cooker or kettle
- A smooth glass jar or bowl big enough to fit your textiles without it touching the sides or having to fold or crease it. Make sure this is totally clean. Prepare as many jars as you have textile surfaces. You can't put them together: the two surfaces would compete in attracting the available borax molecules.
- A wide heat-resistant bowl or oven pan this is the bain marie: the glass jar(s) should fit inside this bowl and have some space for hot water
- Sticks or chopsticks that are long enough to stay put on top of the glass jar(s).
- Clips to fasten the string(s) to the stick
About 80-100% of the borax powder will attach itself the silk in the form of larger crystals.
- Weigh the borax
- Prepare the longer fluffy textile by draping it over a jar. Secure where necessary.
- Tie the fish wire around a fluffy ball of piece of fabric even, and suspend it inside the bowl with clips and a stick. None of the materials should touch the bottom or the sides of the jar(s).
- Boil the water
- Put the glass jar(s) inside the wide oven dish/pan. Pour as much boiling water as possible into the bigger pot, without making the glass jar(s) float. This is the bain marie that will keep your crystal solution warm and help it cool down very very slowly (resulting in bigger crystals).
- Put this in a (warm) place where you can leave it for 8-16 hours without anyone moving or touching it.
Dissolving the alum
- Measure 400 ml and put it in the glass jar (which is already inside the bain marie to keep it warm).
- Spoon by spoon, add the borax while stirring. When no more borax dissolves and just sinks to the bottom, your solution is saturated. If there are grains on the bottom, pour off the liquid and clean the jar before continuing. You don't want anything on the bottom of the jar.
- Now suspend your textiles into the jar, again making sure it doesn't touch any sides or the bottom.
Let the crystals form
- Leave the crystal to grow. The less you touch it, the easier it is for the molecules to find each other on the silk and form big beautiful crystals.
- If you have the patience, give it 16-24 hours. But pretty decent-sized crystals will have formed as soon as 6-8 hours later.
- Rinse them under cold tap water and let them dry.
- Mold depth: N/A
- Shrinkage thickness: N/A
- Shrinkage width/length: N/A
Shrinkage and deformation control
Curing agents and release agents
Minimum wait time before releasing
8 hours but more is better
Store the crystals in a dry place. They will re-dissolve immediately when the are submerged in hot water. Starts to dissolve after 4 hours in water at room temperature.
Don't throw away left-over liquid or unused crystals, they can be redissolved a next time.
Further research needed on drying/curing/growth?
More research on colorants could be done. Black soot ink results in black crystals.
Preparing the jars and textiles, Loes Bogers, 2020
Suspending the textiles, Loes Bogers, 2020
Growing borax crystals, Loes Bogers, 2020
Pipe cleaner (top), a fluffy ball on fish wire (left) and string with balls (right), Loes Bogers, 2020
String with crystals grown on the fluffy balls, Loes Bogers, 2020
Borax crystal turned opaque white after 10 mins in the oven at 100 degrees celcius, Loes Bogers, 2020
- Add a colorant such as black soot ink (other natural dyes are still experimental!)
- Turn your crystals opaque white by putting them in the oven for 10 minutes at 100 degrees celcius. It adds definition to the faceting.
- Try to grow even bigger crystals by using the crystal you grew on the string as a seed crystal. Make a new saturated solution (let it cool enough so it doesn't feel hot anymore but more towards lukewarm, so your seed crystal doesn't dissolve). Suspend the crystal in it and watch it grow bigger. Take it out immediately if it dissolves: check that it is fully saturated and let the liquid cool more before trying again.
- The same technique can be used with epsom salt, sugar and borax.
- Adding conductive paint to the solution creates crystals that can be used as capacitive sensors.
- troubleshoot and tweak further by playing with the known parameters for crystal growth:
- properties of the input material: concentration, solvent type, using a seed crystal or not, scale, temperature, impurity profile of the starting materials.
- processes are: agitation, cooling rate, hold time, seeding protocol (see below), anti-solvent addition and temperature cycle.
ORIGINS & REFERENCES¶
Cultural origins of this recipe
Crystallization is a general process by which a solid forms, where the atoms or molecules or atoms are highly organized into a structure known as a crystal. It happens in nature (salt lakes) but can also be induced artificially. Crystallization also has a broad industrial application as a separation and purification step in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries.
This particular technique comes from the field of chemistry and there are many more techniques known. The technique used here is crystallization from a solution. A solution is made, and made supersaturated until it can take no more. Then the solubility is reduced by cooling (letting the water come to room temperature), but this can also be done by adding socalled antisolvents, by letting the solvent evaporate, or by creating another chemical reaction.
Crystallization happens in two steps: nucleation, when clusters of molecules start to form, and the second phase is crystal growth, when the clusters grow bigger, basically. These phases can be separate from each other, for example: you can just enable further crystal growth from a previously grown borax crystal (which is called a "seed crystal"). Jaroslav Nývlt's work the Kinetics of nucleation in solutions from 1968 is considered seminal work on the formation of crystals from a solution.
About borax: borax is a brand name for powdered sodium borate. It was first discovered in dry lake beds in Tibet - where it was called "tincal" and then imported via the Silk Road to the Arabian Peninsula in the 8th century AD. It has been in common use, also in Europe and the U.S. since the 1900s. It is used as cleaning product, in fertilizers, as fire retardant, wood treatment, and anti-fungal product. It is used the production of fiberglass and the heat-resistant glass used in consumer electronics. Arabian goldsmiths and silversmiths used borates as soldering agents (flux) in the 8th century A.D. It is said that the name borax comes from the Arabic ‘buraq’ meaning ‘white’. They were used in China as early as 11th century A.D. as ceramic glazes.
Further research on the use of crystal growth techniques for design is needed.
Needs further research? Not sure
This is a variation on: Borax Crystals, in: "Textile as Scaffold" by Anastasia Pistofidou for Fabricademy 30 October 2019. Lecture notes: https://class.textile-academy.org/classes/week088/
It is unclear if there is copyright on this material, further research is required.
ETHICS & SUSTAINABILITY¶
Saying anything about the ethics and sustainability mineral crystals is relative. What do you compare it to? It is currently not known to be tied to practices of exploitation (when compared to, for example, the blood diamonds people fight horrific wars over. Substantial deposits of borates (minerals that contain boron) are relatively abundant - again, compared to say, diamonds - but are still a finite resource that involves mining practices with all its historical problematics around stealing land from indigenous peoples, as well as worker's safety and depletion of the earth's resources (which is likely to be downplayed in factsheets from the mines themselves). Boron, California is one of the world's biggest mining sites and is considered one of the safest mining corporations in the U.S. Borax has been found in Chile, Bolivia, Romania and Turkey but can also be synthetically produced from other boron compounds (for which there are many more sources).
Unlike diamonds, borax and alum crystals can be regrown into different constellations infinitely allowing for multiple designs that can be executed reusing the same compound. They are not precious in the way diamonds and are, but pretty brilliant in their own right.
- Renewable ingredients: no
- Vegan: yes
- Made of by-products or waste: no
- Biocompostable final product: yes
- Reuse: yes, dissolve and regrow in hot water
Needs further research?: yes, local producers seem reluctant to share sourcing information about these products. It is unclear where it comes from exactly, whether it is natural or synthetic and what kind of mining practices are involved.
- Strength: medium
- Hardness: rigid
- Transparency: transparent/variable (turns opaque after 10 mins at 100 degrees celcius)
- Glossiness: glossy/satin
- Weight: heavy
- Structure: closed/variable
- Texture: rough
- Temperature: cool
- Shape memory: high
- Odor: none
- Stickiness: low
- Weather resistance: poor
- Acoustic properties: needs further research
- Anti-bacterial: needs further research
- Non-allergenic: needs further research
- Electrical properties: needs further research
- Heat resistance: low/needs further research
- Water resistance: low
- Chemical resistance: needs further research
- Scratch resistance: high
- Surface friction: sliding
- PH modifiers: none
Maker(s) of this sample
- Name: Loes Bogers
- Affiliation: Fabricademy student at Waag Textile Lab Amsterdam
- Location: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
- Date: 25-02-2020 – 26-02-2020
- Outside temp: 5-11 degrees Celcius
- Room temp: 18 – 22 degrees Celcius
- PH tap water: 7-8
Has recipe been validated? Yes, by Cecilia Raspanti, TextileLab, Waag Amsterdam, 9 March 2020
Images of the final sample
Borax crystals on fish wire and textile, Loes Bogers, 2020
Borax crystal on fish wire, Loes Bogers, 2020
Borax crystal on textile decoration, Loes Bogers, 2020
- Textile as Scaffold by Anastasia Pistofidou for Fabricademy 30 October 2019. Lecture notes: link
- Dark diamond mining by EJTech, 25 February 2020: link
- Borax Crystals: How to Grow Giant DIY Borax Crystals by Tanya for Dans Le Lakehouse, 2015: link
- Kinetics of nucleation in solutions, by Jaroslav Nývlt, Journal of Crystal Growth, Volumes 3–4, 1968: link
- Brunsteiner et al., Toward a Molecular Understanding of Crystal Agglomeration, Crystal Growth & Design, 2005, 5 (1), pp 3–16: link
- Crystal Growth Kinetics, Material Science and Engineering, Volume 65, Issue 1, July 1984: link
- Crystallization and Precipitation: Optimize Crystal Size, Yield, and Purity with Crystallization Equipment by AuthoChem Applications, n.d.:link
- Crystallization, Wikipedia, n.d. link
- Boron Operations, by U.S. Borax Operations, n.d.: link
- Borax, Wikipedia, n.d.link
- Borax ( Na2B4O7. 10H2O ) - Sodium Borate - Occurrence, Discovery and Applications by AZoM, 16 August 2004: link