Friday, 28 March 2008

Chinese Woad

The Chinese Woad seeds, Isatis Indogotica sent to me by Annee Silk from Prince Edward Island in Canada have now also started to germinate. Enys, who grows the dyeplants, and I are particularly pleased about this as last year the seeds Annee sent did not germinate. So we are very hopeful of having Chinese Woad reputed to have a higher level of indogitin per weight of leaves than Isatis Tinctoria ( woad) according to my favourite author Dominque Cardon.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Japanese Indigo Polygonum Tinctoria

I have just had a message from Enys to say that the Japanese Polygonum seeds have started to germinate. We were getting a bit worried as they were sown about two weeks ago and I had seen a report on the Natural Dyes Online that Japanese Polygonum seeds needed to be fresh and these were seeds saved form last year. I am really pleased as I would like to do more dyeing with these indigo bearing plants.

Walking round the garden today I saw that madder plants are appearing so is the goldenrod, and my Genista Tinctoria is in leaf. No woad has sprung up in my garden but Enys finds woad springing up all over the place in her garden and the other week I tried dyeing with a handful of woad leaves she brought round and got a pale greyish blue,

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Still here-just busy

I have finished the project at Bodfari School and loved every minute of it, although a friend who is a retired primary school teacher and who had a class of 28 thought it very funny that I arrived home absolutely exhausted after merely teaching groups of four or six!
I find that every event I do learn something either about how to run a workshop or it gives me ideas for the next or something develops. The Bodfari school project is a case in point as they wanted their school bell motif in bronze. Browsing through my favourite book Dominque Cardon's Natural Dyes I found that 17th century French dyers had a bronze colour that was dyed for the Marquis de Pompedour and was called after him. No precise recipe was given but apparently the silk was dyed in weld and over dyed in brazilwood. I experimented with mixing the extract dyes and found I could get a colour from golden yellow to a dark bronze. The bell colour came out well and almost everyone at the school said how much they like the colour so as well as teaching I learnt something too. One of the other things I learnt was that dyeing is not very interesting to children. I took my slow cookers and dye stuff which one or two children looked at thoughtfully but I realised without having gathered the dyes themselves it was a bit of a meaningless exercise and as interesting as watching paint dry. This worried me somewhat as I am supposed to be dyeing tomorrow with 10-13 year olds making felt Celtic brooches which also involves dyeing. and my next big school project the week after next does too. How I wondered could I make the dyeing interesting to them? Today I was pottering around my studio making more samples for tomorrow. What was I doing? Mixing extract dyes in paper cups , dipping yarn in and giving it a 3 minute blast in the microwave. Easy peasy-instant natural dyeing. Ping it was like a light went on in my head . I rang the project I am working for tomorrow and said this was what I wanted to do with the children/ Fine said the organiser absolutely fine. So I shall dye yarns with extract dyes for Tan y Fron tomorrow which they will use to create spirals in their felt for Celtic brooches and also at LLanrheadr school next week. Yippee

Friday, 14 March 2008

Bodfari School Project or felters in the making!

I have just started a week long project with my local primary school to make two wall hangings . I had a blissful time with small groups of very enthusiastic children all who made pieces of felt. Even the really little ones ( three-four year old) made a piece each. They loved all my bright colours , many going for the reds, some for the very bright greens and others for the pale indigo blues. One very clever child asked me to come back next year as well and all the children were very enthusiastic about more felting next week. Great fun was had all round. I more usually teach adults so this has been a change for me too and one that I have enjoyed.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Fermented persimmon

I got this book and some of the persimmon powder today from Chris Conrad who has been researching into this traditional Japanese dye for a few years. I have been corresponding with Chris for a couple of weeks after a discussion came up on the Natural Dyes Online on dyeing with persimmon . The persimmon is fermented so this dye fits into the research I am doing into fermented dyes but as someone who paints on paper with dyes Iam also interested in this as it is used to coat paper too. I have only skimmed the book as yet but it is a highly professionl production that I am really looking forward to reading. I love books like this. More later.

Friday, 7 March 2008


Hi first of all a warm thanks to all those who pop in and out of my blog with comments, advice and support it's great- thanks.

Although I have been a bit slow updating the blog I have been busy. A while back I received a sample of weld from Ian Howard who is growing it and selling it from his farm in Norfolk. You can find out more about Ian at his website As you can tell from his web address he also grows and sells woad!

On the 5th of February I put the whole lot ( 300g) into a slow cooker covered with water and left for two days on a low heat. I strained dye plants , put the liquor into a large shallow dyepot, entered back the chopped plant material in a muslin bag and entered in 200g of premordanted merino tops ( 8%alum 7% cream of tartar). I left these on a gentle heat ( about 65 degrees C-70) These are the first two samples on the piece of card the first one on the left hand side the second with ammonia added. The third is the exhaust and the last is weld with one dip of indigo using my standard method. This is one of the reason why I love weld I love the colour with indigo. The dye bath seemd almost exhausted and I expected a pale yellow so what happened next starts to get interesting! I left the dyebath for two days without heat then put in in another 100g of merino tops & silk cap (not shown) and left on a low heat for about a week and yes all the time too! Poor nervous husband says to me "have you left anything on in the studio?"-(no doubt with visions of it going up in flames) and I say "well just one or two on very low". Gradually the colour began to appear almost like a bright yellow stain on the fibres to start off with then deepening and the whole top went that deep yellow. That is the ball of merino tops on the LHS. above the card. The 100g ball on the RHS was the next to be entered here as soon as I entered it it went a buttery yellow.
Now what is happening here? It is not fermentation that is givng this bright yellow -brighter incidentally than the first sample with ammonia- as the temperature has been 65degrees to 70 degrees C centigrade too hot for fermentation. Is it the second dye weld contains -apigenin- appearing? Or a slow breakdown of plant structure releasing more dye. There is still dye appearing too as today I in another 100g which is slowly going yellow.
Weld contains luteolin and apigenin 1 although apigenin is sometimes in very small quantities .Both are these are flavones which stand out amongst flavonoids as having better lightfastness than for example the
flavonols. 2
1Dye Plants and Dyeing John and Margaret Cannon
2NaturalDyes Dominique Cardon p171