Sunday, 20 January 2008

Workshops and stuff on madder

A not too brilliant photo of my most recent workshop .

I find it really difficult to take photos and do the teaching and stuff and so tend to just quickly point my camera and click. The workshop was called Leaves of Gossamer Felt . The students played around with creating semi transparent layers, with gossamer light felts , adding fabrics and other fibres and yarns and as always I wished I was doing it too! I thought it was a light easy relaxing workshop because making felt with merino 100's is very easy-a little bit of rubbing and hey presto it is done , even Enys who grows my dye plants and who comes to winter workshops because she can't garden has to admit it is quick. Enys is famous for being completely impatient with felt demanding "is it done yet"? , after she has rubbed for 10 seconds or so. Some of the students however felt that I was a bit deluded about it being easy, but soldiered on and made beautiful pieces which I forgot to photo and were very pleased to find that there was a pick me up in the form of a locally made bara brieth ( a traditional Welsh rich bread) in the afternoon. The students ranged from complete beginners to experienced feltmakers, some made small pieces, two a wall hanging, and five made fine felt scaves, one so fine it really was like a cobweb.

I came back feeling unusually exhausted. Is this my age :( or the time of year or do I need a holiday? However I was pleased with the way the fine merino took the colour and also how open and easy to use the fibres were. I didn't do enough purple however and prehaps rather too much yellow and as always I can think of a 100 and one ways I could have done things better.

I am having the most frustrating time with dyeing merino( 64's or 23 micron) red with madder for my medieval hat maker. The problem is that scaling up from dyeing 100g to 350g at one go does not seem to be working. So far I have produced oranges, orange brown, a small amount of red, a bright orange and as I have spent the last five years really getting on top of dyeing with madder I am feeling very cross & frustrated. 100% madder dyeing 100g of merino in a slow cooker set at 80 degrees C produces a deep red, 100% madder dyeing 200g of merino in the same slow cooker mordanted the same way and everything else the same produced a dark orange. I am so frustrated at this I could jump up and down and scream. I wish I lived in time past where I could blame someone or something for casting an evil eye on my madder bath and I have eyed my springer spaniel accusingly. However I have to acknowledge that I am doing something but what?!

sigh! the life of a natural dyer can be hard!


  1. How very frustrating about the madder. Any possibility of the ph being different in the different dye baths? Or the second lot of wool having a bit more grease in it? I know you have a lot more experience of dyeing than me.

    I was puzzled when I got orange and red wools out of the same dye bath when I first tried madder but one lot of wool was Shetland and the other merino and I learnt by this the simple lesson that they behave differently.

    Your workshop sounds like great fun, especially with the bara bireth as encouragement.

  2. I don't have any answer for you either about the madder:( I hope you can use the wrong colored fibers to something else, so that they won't go to waste. I have had the same problem couple of times with some mushrooms, with a smaller smaple, the colors are different than with a bigger amount of yarn. Then sometimes everything works out beautifully.

    Btw, I envy you of your ability to make the beautiful things with felting, they are very special! I have admired them ever since I first saw your pages.

  3. Hi Helen, your blog has is always inspirational for me so I've got an award for you over on my blog. Come by to pick it up.

  4. I also use madder and find that to get red I have sometimes to leave it steeping in a warm place eg on the side of my rayburn for a week!!
    I also agree that different wools behave differently....oh the joys!!

  5. i dyed cormo and merino locks with madder and got some red on the tips but for the most part different oranges. i steamed it very low and long and still that was the reddest i could get. i asked my mentor about using harder water or other ideas about getting more reds from madder and she said that the finer wools just won't give you those reds.

    this blog is amazing, i just discovered it! i don't even know why i am commenting since you are obviously brilliant on this.