Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Creating colour to combat the Christmas blues and two reviews of books.

At last time to write a blog.  Well that is not strictly true what I really mean time to do something and write a blog about it. Somehow Christmas and a frozen world had blocked all my creativity

This is what the dye garden looked like after heavy snow and -10degees C .  Most of  the UK and now half of he US look like this not to mention many European countries but I like to have  a memory of what is a very unusual event for us.

I waved off the family yesterday and immediately fell down into the dumps, the post Christmas blues hit me right between the eyes.  This required emergency action so after a token stripping the  beds and dumping sheets into washing machine I began to think.   Although we have had a thaw here my studio still has all the water turned off as I have one burst pipe and all the dye pots and also my mordant pots are all frozen up.  However I did  manage to pull out some mordanted carded mohair.  Aha! This has a history, Years and years ago our local bargain store that sold bin ends had some of this . As spinners we were very snooty about it as it spun  nothing like spinning mohair from fabulous high quality mohair fleece. .  However it is just the thing for Pluckyfluffs clouds of mohair yarn. page 139 of Intertwined by Lexi Boeger aka Pluckyfluff ISBN 13-978-1-159253-374-9  Here carding fabulous mohair results in too heavy a result so rather than light clouds I had lumps. Now I didn't have this mohair but a friend of a friend had bought masses and being a hoarder there it was in a huge sack in her loft which she now wanted to clear out so this is what I dyed in preparation for a lovely exciting spinning session. January is such an  ideal month for sitting warm and cosy and spinning.
So quietly while DH was out with the dog and no one could see  I crept into the kitchen and dyed carefully on the kitchen table. ( I feel guilty only because I have a studio, an office and mostly a summer house for my own use not to mention two spinning wheels, a drum carder and related baskets in the sitting too)  but actually DH only laughed at my sneaked in  little dyeing corner)
I mixed up lac, cochineal, logwood, logwood and fustic and Jazz (an Earthues dye that gives a reddy purple) If you are going to do this don't forget to wear a mask and gloves and never use for dyeing something you might later want for cooking

I put some cling film onto an old baking tray more  to contain the dye than for any other reason
I poured some of the dye in and then covered it with cling film and pressed the dyes into the rest of the mohair.
Then I added a silk cap to mop up the excess dye.  Although my mordanted pot was full of them I could only free two and even these had to be defrosted in my studio microwave
Then I microwaved the lot for 5 minutes ( in my studio microwave )

You know it is ready when the cling film is crinkled and sucked in slightly. Ideally leave the dyes overnight  to set at this point -which is what I always tell my students but what the hell! Laws are made to be broken and I wanted a result.  So I rinsed and spun in the washing machine and put the stuff to dry by the wood burner.  By this time even outside the camera  flashed  when photographing it so the colour are not quite as dark as they  in real life but although the cochineal gave me a little too much pink I was pleased with the resulting colour.
Tonight I  hope to sit and spin .  In Pluckyfluffs instructions she says to card  mohair interspersing it with some sparkly stuff and colour and then to ply with sparkly yarn.  Hmm!  I am not to keen on sparkle bur a yarn I had plied with some sparkly stuff went in a flash at Trefriw Christmas market so maybe I need to be a bit more relaxed about it.  Besides I have  some bought at a stall when I did Lexi's workshop on Bristol in March

I am  still reading Respect the Spindle. This not a new book but one I came across recently so new to me.   I found this a most inspiring book and it really got be going on spindle spinning again so much so I sat on the sofa for two nights spinning watching television and spinning by rolling down my thigh. This meant I was sitting slightly twisted and  the following morning I could hardly move and then I developed sciatica . Two months on it is still giving me a bit of a problem .   This is hardly an advert for the book but in fact it is the best spindle book I have ever read and I loved it .  Especially the story of how Abby learnt spinning a child in the Andes and of leaning over the Inca ruins to spindle and see who amongst her friends who could spin the longest yarn without breaking.  It was usually her she says who had to hurtle down the mountains side to get her spindle.  The book is full of photos of  spindles with beautifully spun cops of wool and she tells you how to do all sort so different spindling as well as having projects in the back.  Now I have a thorough dislike (normally ) of books which are full of projects but these are in fact quite gorgeous  and I have started to spin (cautiously) for the neck warmer .

The second book I  have had on my shelves for a while and used the freedom of having time for a concentrated read to get into it although I  found it hard going.

 The Root of Wild Madder by Brian Murphy ISBN-13 978-0-9432-6421-1
This is a book about Brian Murphy's  love affair with Persian carpets
I nearly threw it in the bin following a snooty  comment about western natural dyers being  hobbyists on the level of someone milk churning at a country fair and I struggled too as he writes rather too much about politics and history of Iran and Afghanistan . Slowly however I began to see how he was trying to set Persian carpets into context but he also went off on a mild spiritual journey inspired by a mediaeval poet  and Sufism  so he could find a carpet that had meaning for him.  He describes the best carpets as a form of poetry.   However and infuriatingly he  had very few photos of the carpets he talked about even the ones he bought.  Verdict on the book?  Interesting  yes,  would I recommend it to a friend -hmm- not really it seemed to fall between a lot of stools for  me.  It told me nothing new about natural dyes, not enough about carpets and too much about politics and  history.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The last Dyes of the season

I have just been harvesting the last of the dye plants from the garden.
Persicaria Tinctoria which had been slightly hit by the recent frost had a lot of dark blue leaves . I harvested these and put them into a kilner jar and into a hot bath where it was heated for about 24 hours . The water in the jar is a deep sherry colour and I will hopefully dye with the result today.

Dyers chamomile and Coreopis tinctoria gave double handfuls which went into little pots ready for a spot of rust dyeing on silk.  Frost had killed the marigolds. Much to my surprise my Genisita tinctoria was in flower so I cut those and put them into a convenient tub that had been collecting rainwater for me. Enys ( pictured above)  dug up the vipers bugloss -Echium vulgare.  Reports form the Natural Dye Online  said that you could get blue from the roots- so at last I  get to try it.  I normally extract the blue from alkenet Alkanna tinctoria  roots with acetone so  I may have to wait a few days to get some.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Duchy Square Textile Fairs and Moors

DH and I stuffed the DOG in Kennels and zoomed off down to Dartmoor in Devon to the newly built Duchy Square for Creativity in Princetown ( where the prison is ) in the centre of the moors.  I have moors near me and I am fascinated by  both the similarities and the differences.  Denbigh Moors and Dartmoor North Wales and Devon  respectively feature the same upland bleak look of hills with heather grass and rocks( and sheep)  but Dartmoor has piles of stones called Tors and trees growing on top of stone walls.  and the light is different. Did  I have my camera? Did I heck- I left it on my stall . Now I want to go back because I have gone all painterly and artistic and want to paint it and then do a felt picture.( If you want to see pics of Dartmoor look at Dyeverse)
The reason was a Textile Fair organised by the Duchy Square but very much the  idea and inspiration of Jane Deane  spinner dyer weaver and Reviewer of My Books (and now also a friend) who has a studio there.  It has  a gallery and shop and lots of large light studio's with huge sinks in them and has got lots of artists and crafts people working there.  So DH and I think "good" we can visit Son no 1 in Bristol and son No 2 In Exeter. which are en route. However a variation of Sods law ( if anything can go wrong it will) applied and both sons were off on courses. 
People arrived from 10am on the first day which is always a good sign and I met lots of  lovely people many of whom came and said nice things like " You are such a source of inspiration to me " and other equally nice things which made me feel very happy and warm inside.  Gill Burbridge came to see  me wearing the most fabulous nuno felt jacket  and I am now planning to go down to do a two day workshop with her ( staying hopefully with son no 2 although he does not know it yet)  as I tried her's on and it it was fabulous, comfortable, warm, well felted and light and  I want to make me one. Gill makes then from one piece without cutting and stitching something that really appeals  to me. The second day was quieter than the first and people were not such enthusiastic shoppers but Jane had done a good PR job on my inks and I sold quite a few  as well as fibres and kits but not any of my lovely stoles.or picture.

 I bounced around the centre taking photos but few are very exciting so I have only posted a few, my lovely next door neighbour who lent me a mirror and then gave it to me as gift and Handweavers stylish studio on the  other side and  my stall  with a happy looking DH who enjoyed the whole stay.
We zoomed back picked up sad DOG who hurtled out of dog prison with every sign of falling hysterically on our necks sobbing "I thought you would never return "so we have decided not to put her into Kennels again.
Now we are having a rest and break while North Wales Suffers a sever weather warning and as I write  rain and wind are pounding down.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Rust Dyeing

 I have been having fun with rust dyeing. So simple-just rusty nails , silk and dye.

Half the fun is opening the packages.
 You never know quite what will come out

and despite the expression on my face I  am really pleased with this one.

 I love them and they are quite my newest passion !


And they are lovely to felt with.
The one on the left in the picture  is felted with some of  my fabulous 15 micron merino.

.I am  taking these to the Textile Fair at Duchy Square Centre for Creativity this weekend 29th and 30th October . Ok an unashamed plug but it looks to be a fantastic event with some very interesting stalls so get there if you can.
See you there I hope.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Life and Jenny Dean's book Wild Colour

I am madly busy.  I keep trying to write a blog and not getting it finished.
Here is some of my busy stuff.
Open art Studio  (known  here as Helfa Gelf art Trail)- the first bit being Welsh for Art treasure hunt

Very successful please note my new till  ( top right hand corner and now I can also take credit cards wow! That really made a difference to my sales) . The pictures were in the summer  house as was my shop except for the stoles hanging up on the left.  ( I sold two)  The dog  is my dog's doggy friend Rosie saying "what are doing and why are you not throwing balls for ME"
And here is the fun I have had with patterning silk with rusty nails or tieing flower heads in.

I meant to write  a review of Jenny Deans Wild Colour. But what can I say .  It is a dyeing classic,it is superb, get it and just make sure before you read the recipes you understand the symbols and you will have a reference book for life It is the best dye book available for anyone wanting to dye their own fibres and fabrics safely and get fabulous colours.  She has a really good mixture of the major world dyes such as logwood and madder  and garden plant dyes  such as coreopsis and dyers chamomile which she also tells you how to grow.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A lovely day in the Dye Garden Frogs and Solar pots

On Monday, bank holiday Monday here in the UK and the last bank holiday before Christmas , the skies cleared and the garden was full of dappled autumnal  sunshine.
We got up late. So we had Breakfast in the Dye Garden
Lythrum salicaria - purple loostrife behind
Lunch in the Dye Garden.

 Lythrum salicaria the other way outside my studio  -the original lot.  The stuff by the pond planted itself there but  I love it and so do the bees.

The Solar pots got to about 35 degrees C
and we heard a little splash and saw the Frog in our dear little pond.
 He/she  eyed us up without concern and went slowly under an overhanging ledge form where we heard a soft croak .

Many of the solar pots have ceased to develop colour much so soon I shall have an Opening and see what  is there.
And finally my little fermentation vat is going at full steam ahead! Here is some teeswater I dyed in in it  I stir it daily and add a teaspoon of washing soda if needed and it is fine.

Friday, 27 August 2010

fermented indigo vat

Madder/Bran Fermentation vat ]
I started this on Tuesday night. as  I want it for my Dyeing the Blues Workshop on Saturday.
The recipe calls for 9 litres of water but I filled up a small stainless steel pot- I think it might be 6litres
60g madder
30g bran
500ml of wood ash lye at pH 14. ( This is the last of my oak ash lye). I put this as even though  in proportion it might be too much but somehow I thought it would be okay. and as it turned out the final pH of the solution  was 9 verging on 10 which was fine and in fact the one important and critical measurement (along with the temperature)

25g of  finely ground indigo.stirred with hot water to a paste. The recipe called for 22g but I had a packet of 25 g so what the hell! It all went in. Would 3g really make a difference?

I boiled the madder  and bran , wood ash lye ,and water for twenty minutes,  allowed it to cool to 40 degrees C before adding the indigo paste, covered  and placed on the heating pad to keep warm. pH was 9. Incidentally a scientifically minded friend though the boiling was to get rid of the alizarin in madder. Certainly the froth  goes a fabulous purple or dark red colour.(I have had both colours). On this occasion it was more a dark red.
Wednesday am. The vat was 38 degrees, a  few bubbles on the surface. pH 9. Stirred . The vat is starting to smell that characteristic slightly sweet smell
Wednesday pm The vat was 42 degrees pH had dropped to 6.  I added 2 tablespoons of sodium carbonate ( washing soda). The pH drops because of the lactic acid produced by fermentation and at this stage you need to check the vat twice a day as pH can drop rapidly as you can see.  If the vat becomes acid the vat is described as going sour and the indigotin is lost.Vat smelling
Thursday am The vat was pH 7 I stirred added 2 tablespoons of washing soda, stirred and checked again. pH was now 9.
Thursday pm about 5.  The vat had dropped to about pH8 and was nicely warm at 42 degrees C.
I checked it again at 7 ish and it had dropped to Ph 6-7 so I stirred , and added 2 tablespoons of washing soda.  I used to make a solution and indeed used to use wood ash lye but this either means adding cold liquid  which cooled the vat down or heating it up and now I find adding washing soda works fine.  If in doubt as to howmuch to add  add a little like a teaspoon , stir and check the pH.
Friday am
Ph7-8  37 degrees C!-it seems to have been really cold overnight as the studio felt really cold this morning to the extent tha\t I discussed with DH lighting the wood burner to take off the chill.
I stirred, added 1 tablespoon of washing soda  to pH 9.
The vat had an indigo sheen this morning as well as a slight froth and the sweet fermented smell . I added some newly washed teeswater ( about 25g) down the side of the vat. At first  I  thought they went an olive green then perhaps a more yellowy colour.  Anyway I have left them in till this evening or possibly till tomorrow when the workshop starts.
Friday pm 
pH 7-8
 Stirred added 1 tablespoon of washing soda. Forgot to takethe temperature.

I have changed the title of my blog- this morning it seemed funny tonight feeling down it seemed offensive. .
I have lost a follower I  wonder why?

Madder bran vat day 3.5  sheen of indigo flower on surface 

Rather surprisingly the fibres have quite a green cast.  Was it the teeswater being a bit discoloured? I don't know.
very gradually the fibres turned a darker green but not really a blue.
Vat was 35 degrees C PH was 8, so Iadded a tablspoonof washing soda to bring it up to 9 and the little vat dyed all the day coping with 6 students putting two lots of stuff in each. A lot of the fibres still had this strange green cast and my other thought was that there was some yellow dye in the pan left after dyeing  otherwise I really cannot account for it.  In the evening I just  stirred it and left it.
 A tidy studio ready for 6 students!
The Blue Table

 The results on the airer. The students  had 100 g of merino, half a silk cap, some silk chiffon,  and could pick from teeswater, silk cocoons, carrier rods.and some  yellow merino dyed with Gensita Tinctoria as as well as  dyed teeswater.  I think everyone had to work quite hard but they all dyed everything in their packs and some managed repeated dips for a darker blue

 On the Dyeing the Blues Day. We dyed with fresh woad leaves, fresh Persicaria Tinctoria for blue and in acidulated  water for turquoise-hanging at the further end of the airer.  We made up a Chemical reduction vat and the students were able to use a fermented vat.  The woad was  better than  I thought but the persicara-grown in Enys's greenhouse - was superb.  We did not have time to use the persicaria vat made form my home grown leaves so I am going to use  that this morning.
Much to my surprise  this morning the fermented vat had bubbles on the surface and the pH was 9 Temperature was 36 C.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Two New Pictures and Helfa Gelf Open Studio

Yesterday I picked up my other two new pictures from the framers ready for Helfa Gelf  Open Art studio event in September.  .  When I picked these two up I felt excited and  I am so pleased with them both.  The Slate  Fence  is probably my favourite but the Snowy Fields  done one afternoon in the kitchen (because it was too cold to work in my studio) while looking at the  snow covered hills  is probably the nearest I get to painting at location.  It is has a slightly different frame from the other dark brown and woody looking with a slight texture and is a very quiet picture.  Chanel (one half of the picture framing team -the other is Tim) and I  both feeling very tired fantasised about a little quiet minimalist  room  with a  cup of coffee a book and my picture. Not got time to write more  I have got 6 people coming for a Dyeing the Blues day on Saturday and my studio has to have a major tidy to fit them all in

Monday, 16 August 2010

Natural Dye GArden on TV

My  dye garden  along with Enys and me is featured on a programme  called  " A little Piece of Paradise" about gardens open in Wales for the National Garden  Open Scheme tonight 16th of August at 8pm ITV Wales.  Here is an article about this programme and about my garden in the Daily Post.

You might like to know that I have raised about £230.00 pounds for charity showing  about 80 people around my garden this summer . 

I started this garden for my own interest and pleasure  and I am still bemused that so many people find it intersting.but in fact we have had a huge  positive response form many people form all sorts of interests-gardening , artists, embroidery,  local WI and Chapel groups .

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Stand for my naturally dyed merino

Dyeing with plants from the garden and making a gorgeous range of colours is one thing packaging and displaying  well to sell is another and  one of the challenges  about having  a stand at a craft fair is making good use of the vertical space.   If you hang things from the tops of the stand they don't sell but if they are on something that stands up they do. My merinos and hand spun yarn  are particularly hard to display and although I have tried all sorts of ways I finally asked   John Stoker the partner  of the Mulberry Dyer to make  me two stands  one for my hand spun yarns (on the left)  and then one large one for my merinos which at Woolfest and Wonderwool occupied one side of the stall.  Then having got got used to hanging my merinos up I was frustrated as I could not take this large stand to many of the smaller events I  do.  For  example next week I am off to teach at Malvern Hills Summer School where I will have twelve students in a small classroom  (Incidentally there are a few places left I believe on the Felted Collars-where we will be using 15micron merino.) .  After a table for samples this  leaves me one table for the "shop".  So. a few months ago .........from the back of my studio I stumbled on a  rotating stand made  many years ago and found it useful  for hanging merino only a little small.   I tried it out when I taught the North Wales Embroidery Guild and the Fiesty Felters in Shrewsbury and found I seemed to be selling more merino despite a price increase. So I decided to ask Michael Williams   who made the stand to make another one only a bit bigger.   Efficiently he still had the design for the first  one although it must have been a few years ago and made me a new one  and  here it is  it arrived yesterday .

Friday, 6 August 2010

New PIctures

Here are two of my new pictures -just back from the framers.
Night Sea and Rocky Stream.
Naturally dyed fibres and fabrics and machine stitch

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Visits to the dye garden, the BBC and Hopi Red Dye Plant

Last night DH said with a huge sigh of relief.  " Good! We can have a lie in tomorrow" This is because over the last few days we have had a textile group from Iceland visiting the dye garden and having a two hour workshop in the summer house and then two days later the BBC came to film the dye garden and what the director insisted on calling the " Dye Lady" for a Children's science programme called Nina and the Neurones.   Hence DH's  sigh of relief as it is he who rushes around mowing the lawn and setting up tables as well as removing dog particularly  from the filming day  (Because of  unwanted woofing)  while I work hard but get all the glory.  I was too  busy to take many photos  but I have put one up of the washing line. Everything on this line was dyed using either plants in the garden or if not quite that by plant material that I also grow. (Except I realised belatedly the red on the extreme left had some cochineal in).   This was in response to the BBC wanting a rainbow of colours on the line and was filmed a lot so it was worth the work. The yellows are Rhubarb root,Rheum spp, Gensita tinctoria and Tansy Tanacetum vulgare . The greens are Genista tinctoria and woad  Isatis tinctoria.  The blues are either woad Isatis tinctoria  or Persicaria tinctoria (which also dyed the blue silks) . The mucky greens are a patchy pale indigo overdyed in rhubarb root. The really dark almost black fibre is somewhat  surprisingly alkanet which I left on too high a heat so it boiled.( This is following extraction of the dye in alkanet by acetone) . The fabrics are silks dyed as solar dyed bundles .

Well I am  here typing, because  while DH is snoozing peacefully down stairs with dog,  I am upstairs in my office having -and this is sod's law- woken up early! So I thought I would share with you my experiments with hopi red dye plant. Amaranthus .whatsit I have been told by a friendly comment that this is A. cruentus x A. powellii,which is just as well as every time I ask Enys she looks vague!
Enys tried to grow this two years ago,  The seeds did not germinate so she threw the compost onto the greenhouse floor in disgust.  The following year she noticed she had lots of  little red plants growing on the green house floor. So she planted loads in my garden and in her own and in the green house.
When it came to dye with them I could find out very little.  None of my dye books -even the one Enys bought back from the USA on native North American Dye Plants contains any information beyond the fact that the Hopi Indians used it for dyeing corn in ceremonies.  A quick search on Google was not much help either resulting only in  that the Aztecs also used it in some ceremonies around blood.

So I picked a large handful of leaves and flowers chopped them up covered with water and added some pre-mordanted silk and teeswater fleece and heated in a slow cooker.   The teeswater went orange and the silk pinks as you can see but the pink washed out.  I added some  more fibres to the  dye bath and everything went a deep vivid pink.  About an hour of heating it all went orange and then another hour ) the colour had almost  gone and all I was  left with was a beige.
Aha! I  thought to my self,  this plant is a candidate for long slow dyeing , along with red cabbage and others where the dye seems to be destroyed by heat. (the only information I could gather was that the dyes are anthocynanins).

I had a friend here for the afternoon who often gets pressed into helping me and she suggested that we split the plant.  So we made up three solar  pots one of leaves, of stalks and one of flowers.
These are now sitting  in my sunny place waiting for some really hot sun to get going.  All the pots have now dyed the fibres a deep pink.

Sunday, 18 July 2010


Not a colour I often get asked for but earlier on this week one of my regular customers emailed me to ask for 200g of  brown . I had some rhubarb root with iron but not much else so enjoying the challenge I set to soaking and mordanting.
 I decided to go for the boiled madder brown, cutch and logwood (chocolate brown)  and because I had  had a brown recently with eucalyptus leaves and iron  (when I was trying to get black) I decided to try that. (Why did I not do just cutch?I haven't an  idea just trying to be too clever by half I think plus the fact that cutch on wool is not a strong brown)
Natural dyes are perverse,  maddening and never do what you want .  The boiled madder refused to go brown -now how often have you seen in dye books "be careful not to raise the temperature of the bath too high as you  will get a brown"! Over dyed orange madder in indigo normally gives a wonderful warm brown but this time gave me a fabulous purple.  If I had been trying for purple I would have got brown. The eucalyptus which gave a wonderful warm brown with iron is giving a soft greens  browns and almost creams ,but here the difference must have been in the soaking time as previously it was soaked for  at least a week after boiling.  The cutch and logwood came out a wonderful dark grey.  I added some fustic extract why I don't know I think that morning my brain was a bit addled  and I suppose because until I rinsed it I  thought it was purple) and it went green so I added some madder extract and that is still in the pot waiting to be rinsed. All these" not browns but something else"  is partly because I  tend not to keep enough records-mea culpa- and also because I do just tend  to dye rather than dyeing for particular colours but  it would have been infuriating if I had not got such a fabulous grey and also the purple from madder and indigo which  is lovely. I can use all the colours and sell them so it is not a problem really but dyeing for specific colour is not my forte.
Here are some of them hanging on the line.
Above a very exhausted madder giving beige, Cutch/logwood/fustic. Eucalpyptus and iron  (also on right). Madder overdyed in indigo. Cutch/logwood first bath.   Next to it just out the bath so very wet is madder and iron.  A lovely dark red not really a brown. Hiding shyly under the  dark indigo-incidentally at least 8 dips- is a brown.Orange madder overdyed in indigo second attempt.
In more detail.
The over dyeing in indigo is patchy because I was using quite a small vat.  Now wouldn't you think I would  know better!
Now I will go and rinse the remainder out.  Also I shall be rinsing out to day some of the hand painted 15micron merino I dyed yesterday with extracts.  They are looking fabulous. I am teaching the way to felt with  this fabulous fibre  at Malvern Hills Summer School in August in one day workshop.