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.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Bits and Pieces from the Dye Garden

Just to cheer the spirits- a view from our little pond across the grandly named patio or  terrace -really a piece of uneven paving stones to the studio.  Not many dye plants as such although the lilies are  a pleasure however in the immediate foreground is Purple Loostrife Lythrum salicaria just coming into flower, on ne of the plants high in tannin.   The pond is thronged at the moment with birds having sips of water and visiting dogs prefer the pond water to nice clean bowls of water any day.

I had been getting ready for a workshop with a lovely group of ladies known as the Fiesty Felters in Shrewsbury making and painting fine felt with extract dyes.  Here on the line are samples of the ten dyes we used.
Logwood purple, Bodfari green, , Fustic, Annatto, Madder,Pomegrante Lac.Cutch waste,Cochineal and Logwood grey.

The Silk caps were painted with all ten dyes. I didn't have time to take photos of the workshop -but it seemed to go well.  They were nice and very talented bunch who bought  a lot! Particularly my inks .  I sold all I took bar a few bottles and am now completely out of bronze and blue so will need to get going on those.  Both are complicated and take time. 
I said this was a post  was a bits and  pieces! Here are some of the  flowers I have picked to dry.
Top:marigold ( tagetes spp),  Coreopsis spp, Cosmos spp.
And finally a pot of yarrow.  The fibres were a pale yellow. I added a bit of ammonia to brighten the yellow and left it overnight and now it has gone slightly green.  I will rinse it out to day  and see what the colour is then but it looks an intriguing greeny yellow.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Books Reviews and Money

Every now and again I  review books.  Normally dyeing books , sometimes related one such as textile embroidery  books.  Yesterday for example I mentioned Jill Goodwin's  A Dyer's Manual, my first dye book and still after 30 years a valuable source of information on colours to expect from a wide variety of British Plants.  Somewhat dated I said on the level of mordants.  Now if you buy this book I will earn a little money .  I feel a little uneasy that I may have compromised my self on this but on the other hand I write honest reviews -and will go on writing them and I don t see why I should not earn a little from my expertise.  I had been planning to write a list of dye books for example that I recommend. However I find that the link is to the American Amazon site not the British which may make a difference.  Hmm!
A Dyer's ManualA Dyer's Manual, First Edition.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Recovering and new solar pot

I have had a peaceful couple of days-pottering around and amongst other things making a new solar pot. To do this I had to empty one in use and I chose my birch leave pot which has been on the go since May 5th and does not appear to be changing. So I removed the fibres-some teeswater and some prefelt and washed them and hung them on the line.
One of my first dye books- I think I have mentioned before- is Jill Goodwins A Dyer's Manual published by Batsford 0-7207-1327-7 . Jill, still, her daughter tells me spinning and dyeing in her 90's , has a fantastic list at the back of her book of all the plants she used and the colours with various mordants. The book itself is a little out of date particularly on the level of mordants but I still use Jill's method of dyeing with woad and I think it is still worth getting if only for the list at the back .
Very slowly I get round to trying some of the plants on her list. It was here I found that could get green with Mullien Verbascum thapsus and copper and also with horsetail (Equisetum spp).
I now make a copper mordant by submerging copper piping in water containing vinegar and leaving till the water goes blue with the copper acetate-Ipresume that this is what it is. I add copper piping and some solution to the pot so it is a very hit and miss affair, quantity wise .I picked 200g of equisetum from the hedgerow as I walked the dog, chopped it up , added some alum mordanted prefelt,and some unmordanted fleece, hot water , copper solution and my pot was done.
Left to right they are
Madder, Eucalyptus with iron , Golden rod with iron, new pot.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Dye Garden in summer (and going down with crash!)

The Dye garden has n ever looked so good and many of the dye plants are now in flower.

Saffloweer Carthamus tinctoria just opening leaning against Hopi Red dye Amaranthus whatsit-must ask Enys for the correct Latin name as it is in none of my dye books, ( she has the one on North American Dye plants) . Behind it is Cosmos and the green is Persicaria tinctoria
Vipers Bugloss -Echium vulgare. It is a huge attractor for bees and so I managed to get one with a bee on it . This is a member of the Boriganacae family many of which give purple or blues with the roots. Someone on Natural Dyes Online mentioned a couple of years ago that they had got blue from the root. This is why we grow it ostensibly but really because Enys adores it and because it attracts bees. ( And I love it too) I haven't tried it yet. Why? Because you have to dig it up and although I always tell visitors to the garden that Enys won't let me dig it up really I couldn't bear too either. It is such a fabulous blue too.
In front the Vipers bugloss, behind Genista tinctora just opening ,with common yarrow Achilleia millifolium in full flower. You can't really see it but the Staghorn Sumach Rhus typhina is in full flower. I have never seen so many on it before and I wonder whether the flowers give any colour. Has anyone tried them?

Behind the bears is dyers chamomile Anthemis tinctoria , which is what the children will use when the BBC come to film a children's science programme in a couple of weeks. It is called Nina and the Neurones.
And the crash
A Chest infection -out of the blue not preceded by anything but an itchy cough which I put down to hay fever . So now I am on massive doses of steroids to keep my lung function from dropping to hospital admission level and antibiotics. The trouble with the steroids is that make you disinclined to sleep and to want to eat and eat and eat because you never feel full. OH woe!
Still the dye garden is lovely and DH loves doing the routine jobs like weeding and watering. And my poor student who was coming on Monday has had to pull out because of an injury to her wrist so in some ways it is all panning out. We are hoping she can rebook when she starts to recover.
I am going to have to slow down! sigh.
I keep forgetting to welcome new followers. So welcome lovely to have you all. Please do drop by and leave a note. I love getting them.

Thursday, 1 July 2010


I am coming to after a hectic time. First we had ITV Wales filming the garden as part of National Garden Open in Wales. For those of you not from the UK this is a uniquely British event where people open their gardens sometimes just for one day sometimes for groups visiting . All the gardens are listed in a famous yellow book. The visitors fee goes to Charity. Most of the gardens are absolutely stunning and often very grand stately homes but also little tiny cottage gardens too. My parents were very fond of visiting gardens and when my father moved up here he and I went round gardens together although mostly I think because my father was very partial to the home made cakes that so often feature! Quite where I found the courage to propose the dye garden to the organisers I don't know. I think it came from the day when we opened the garden last year as "Shopping for Colour" and it was so obviously enjoyed. Someone said to me you should open under the National Garden Open Scheme and here we are. We are open to groups visiting when Enys and I talk about the plants and I talk about dyeing and then conduct them around the garden. The solar pots have been a very good way to introduce people to the colour of the garden especially the madder , birch and golden rod pots.
So last week -was it really only last week?- ITV filmed. I forgot to ask Enys to take pictures of me demonstrating woad dyeing and I only took a few of her but it gives you the flavour of the day. We both enjoyed it it very much and it was a fascinating experience. I picked woad leaves six or seven times while they filmed it from different angles-amazing that the woad leaves held up. I kept finding another little plant hiding under something else as it has self seeded around the dye beds.
Two days after that we loaded the car, squeezing an unhappy dog into one tiny corner and set off for Woolfest. "Don't buy anything will you" said DH "there is no room even in the top box". Not buy anything! Go to the Woolfest and not buy anything. The poor man obviously had sun stroke. Fortunately a good friend with an empty car came to the rescue and took back my two fleeces and a swift and I sold some big bulky items such as all my new solar pot kits complete with 2 litre Kilner Jars which took up a lot of space. We could have sold these twice over they were all gone by of the second day. Another great success of the Woolfest was my inks of which I sold a lot. These inks designed by me for painting and writing turnout to be excellent fabric paints too. I painted some pre-mordanted silk with them steamed and rinsed. No colour came out at all

In between ITV filming and setting off for the Woolfest my new Aura wheel, the fantastic new spinning wheel from Majacraft, which had arrived but was sitting tantalisingly in it's box was set up. My original vision was that I would sit spinning some fantastic textured yarn at Woolfest to advertise both my fibres, my packs and my new Beyond the Twist Yarns. A good friend ( I am very lucky in my friends) recovering from a hip replacement carded me some batts to spin and some batts to sell. Did I get a chance to spin? Well I expect you are smiling as you read this . Of course not- except for a few minutes here and there. Plus the fact that people bought the batts which were meant me to spin so at the end I had no batts at all! The wheel attracted a a lot of interest. I directed them all to poor Martin of PM Woolcraft who imports them and from whom I bought mine. I say poor because none of his ordered wheels had arrived. I was very fortunate to have mine as it is at the moment one of only three in the UK. What is so good about it? Well it spins like a dream. The huge flyer and fantastic threading system (no hook pulling the yarn through a tiny orifice) means it will spin from laceweight to bulky yarn. A hugely versatile tensioning system with two different tensions means it is very flexible. In the picture you can see some fine yarns ( some of my cashmere and silk plied with a laceweight merino) and an over the top yarn with teeswater curls spun in whole.
What am I doing now?Getting ready for the student coming on Monday for two days. Which means tidying up my studio. Sigh! (And I still have not fully unpacked the car)