The Nepcote Flock of Southdown Sheep

November 30th, 2014

 

This week I was invited to meet some of the Southdown sheep from the Nepcote Flock, which provided the prize-winning fleece I bought at the Findon Sheep Fair in September.

The sheep in the Nepcote flock are owned by Graham Langford, Hari Doman and Martin Rolph and can be seen in several fields around Findon, where they have become part of the village landscape.

 

It was a typical English November day – damp and misty with drizzling rain – when Hilary Langford, Graham’s wife, took Louise (of Southdown Yarns) and me to the field where some of their Southdown sheep are kept. Graham had kindly put some of their sheep in a pen, so we could see them at close quarters and inspect their fleeces, which were remarkably clean and looked as if they could be ideal for handspinning. The sheep we met were this year’s lambs and some of them are used to being led on the halter in preparation for the show ring. so they seemed quite content to be admired and stroked. It was so quiet and peaceful in the field with the sheep that no-one seemed to mind getting wet.

 

Southdown sheep are relatively small and particularly appealing, with their woolly faces and legs. The wool of the Southdown is among the finest wools of the British breeds and it is used for a wide range of high quality fabrics, including hosiery, hand-knitting wools, dress fabrics and lightweight tweeds.

 

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This shows some of the Nepcote Flock penned ready for us and interested in inspecting their visitors. From the directions in which they are looking, it is easy to guess where we were standing.

 

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Graham is holding the halters of two of the sheep, which stood patiently nuzzling one another for nearly an hour while we admired them and inspected their fleeces.

 

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Our presence was noted by one of the unpenned sheep, which came over to greet us.

 

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Such appealing faces!

 

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A close-up of the Southdown fleece, which has an average staple length of 4 – 6 cm

I hope that when the sheep are shorn I will be able to purchase some fleeces for handspinning.

 

 

Southdown fleece & the drum carder

November 15th, 2014

 

Last year I bought a second-hand, but unused, Barnett drum carder. Thanks to Louise Spong of South Downs Yarn and her eagerness to see the effects of drum carding on Southdown fleece, I was given the necessary incentive to get the drum carder set up and at last I have finally got round to trying it out on the prize-winning local Southdown fleece I bought at Findon Sheep Fair..

 

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Washed Southdown fleece ready for the drum carder

 

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The drum carder in action. I think I may have introduced too much fleece at once onto the drum. This would be typical of my rather impatient nature, I fear!

 

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Batts from the drum carder ready for spinning. They are probably not the best carded batts ever produced and should, I think, be smoother and finer.

 

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These skeins have been handspun from the drum-carded Southdown fleece batts above and the ball of wool was handspun from commercially-produced Southdown tops.

I suspect I need to practise more in order to produce better batts, as better batts should produce a more even yarn with fewer lumps and bumps – unless one wants lumps and bumps, of course.

 

I have become quite enthusiastic about Southdown fleece. Although the staple length is usually fairly short, carding produces fleece which can easily be handspun and produces a yarn which is soft, lofty and bouncy. Other advantages of yarn from Southdown fleece are that it dyes extremely well and it doesn’t tend to felt or “pill”.

 

I get particular pleasure from working with fleece from the sheep which have for centuries roamed the South Downs near my home in Sussex, especially when I can buy local Southdown fleeces from the sheep I can see in the fields around my village.

Wonderful Woad!

October 12th, 2014

 

Following a remark by friend and fellow-dyer Sue Craig that, if woad flowers gave a yellow colour, this could then be over-dyed with woad blue to give green, I felt moved to try this for myself. It seemed particularly useful for those years when one has a bumper crop of woad and would be unlikely to need the vast number of seeds the flowers would produce.

 

My experiments showed that, sure enough, yellow woad flowers do indeed give yellow dyes, which can be over-dyed in a woad vat to give pretty greens. Following this method, unmordanted wool produces a sage green and wool mordanted in alum gives a grass green.

 

To dye yellow with woad flowers, just use the usual simmering method and use at least 100% woad flowers for really rich colours. If you use both unmordanted and alum-mordanted wool, two different shades of green can be achieved, as described above.

 

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The photo above shows, from left to right: 1. woad flower yellow (no mordant), 2. number 1 over-dyed in the woad vat, 3. woad flower yellow (alum mordant), 4. number 3 over-dyed in the woad vat                                     (NOTE: No 2 is less blue & more green in tone in reality.)

 

Once woad leaves have been used to make a woad vat, the same leaves can be used again to make a dye bath for pinks and tans. So when you make a woad vat for blues, don’t throw away the leaves but retain them to use again. Just simmer these used leaves for about 30 to 45 minutes to extract the pink-tan dye, strain off the dye liquid and add the fibres (unmordanted and/or alum-mordanted). Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, leave to cool, then rinse and wash as usual.

 

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The photo above shows, clockwise from top left: pale blue from the woad vat, darker blue from the same woad vat, pink from the leaves re-used after they have been processed for the woad vat (alum mordant), pink from the leaves re-used after they have been processed for the woad vat (no mordant)

 

This means that it is possible to achieve blues from the woad vat, pinks and tan from the same woad leaves after they have been processed for blues for the woad vat, and greens from the yellows produced from the flowers and over-dyed in the woad vat. Oh, and I’m forgetting to mention the pinks and soft greens available from the woad seeds! (See my latest book “A Heritage of Colour” for details and a photo of the colours from woad seeds.) Woad is indeed a remarkable dye plant!

 

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South Downs Yarn at Findon Sheep Fair 2014

September 20th, 2014

 

It is a long time since I last posted but I have been out of action for several months following a further hip dislocation and then hip revision surgery. I am now beginning to regain some mobility and my first real trip out was a visit to Findon Sheep Fair 2014 on 13th September.

 

I have already written a post about the Findon Sheep Fair that takes place every year in our little village here in West Sussex. The sheep fair has been here since the 13th century and even took place without sheep for a few years when we had foot and mouth disease in the UK . Although sheep have not been bought and sold at the fair for many years, the number and variety of breeds of sheep being shown at the fair is gradually increasing, with 140 pens of sheep this year.

There is now a fleece tent where the prize-winning fleeces are displayed and where fleeces can be bought by handspinners like myself . This year I bought three fleeces: a prizewinning Coloured Ryeland (lovely greys and browns), a Badger-faced Woodland (white with a fairly long staple) which was unfortunately too late to be entered in the fleece competition and one very local prizewinning Southdown fleece from the Nepcote Flock owned by a group of Findon villagers. Indeed, while I was demonstrating spinning on my wheel a little girl came along and mentioned she helped to look after sheep locally and it turned out that I had bought a fleece from one of the sheep in “her” flock. She was delighted to discover this and I gave her my email and phone number and suggested she might like to contact me and come along when I start to use “her” fleece.

 

This year’s sheep fair also provided an opportunity for Louise Spong of South Downs Yarn to showcase the yarns processed from Sussex Southdown sheep from David Burden’s flock near Petworth. (See my previous post “South Downs Yarn”) I will be writing more soon about these yarns, as I am working with Louise to build up some “limited edition” naturally-dyed Southdown yarns and also some knitting kits.

 

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Louise Spong and David Burden (both standing, with Andrew Spong in the background) at the South Downs Yarn stand at the sheep fair

 

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Two of David Burden’s very contented Southdown sheep

South Downs Yarn

April 24th, 2014

 

Recently I have become involved in an exciting new local project, which is the brain-child of Louise Spong who lives not far from me here in West Sussex. Louise has set up South Downs Yarn, a business selling 100% pure wool yarn from the fleeces of local Sussex Southdown sheep, spun to her specifications in a mill in England.

 

Southdown sheep have grazed on the South Downs in Sussex for centuries and are an important part of the local landscape. They are small and docile animals with appealing woolly faces and have relatively short fine, dense wool. Most Southdown fleeces are white but occasionally a lamb will be born with a black fleece and these black fleeces are of special interest because of their rarity.

 

Louise buys the best quality Southdown fleeces from local farmers and has them spun into a lovely yarn, which is sustainably sourced and geo-traceable and available on her website: www.southdownsyarn.co.uk    (See link opposite)

 

The first batch of yarn to be available on Louise’s website is from David Burden’s flock of pedigree Southdown sheep near Petworth in West Sussex.

 

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Southdown sheep grazing on the Sussex downs

 

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Southdown sheep being paraded and judged at a local show

 

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David Burden and Louise Spong with some of David’s Southdown sheep and their fleeces

 

At present only natural creamy-white yarn is available but Louise intends to offer limited-edition naturally-dyed yarns in the future and this is where I am involved on a consultancy basis.

 

A few weeks ago Louise spent a weekend with me and we experimented with several dye baths, including madder, indigo, weld, chestnut and walnut. The Southdown wool makes a lovely bouncy, springy yarn, which dyes beautifully into full, rich colours, and I am looking forward to working with Louise on more dyeing projects in the future.

 

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Some of the naturally-dyed Southdown skeins

 

My new online shop: www.jennydeandesigns.co.uk

February 22nd, 2014

 

 

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I have finally found the courage to open the online shop I have been preparing for the last three months.  I was beginning to wonder whether I would ever feel brave enough to open it or whether I would continue to add products to a shop that never actually opened for custom.

 

So what is the background to this new venture? For several years I have been limited physically by arthritis, so I have been spending more and more time at home pursuing my favourite crafts – spinning, dyeing, weaving and knitting. Over the years I have built up a large supply of naturally-dyed and handspun yarns, all just waiting to be used. Knitting has long been one of my favourite craft activities but it had been many years since I last did any weaving. However, once I had become re-acquainted with this craft, I found it totally absorbing. Gradually I have accumulated more scarves and shawls than I could ever hope to find homes for and I began to wonder what I could do with them, as my limited mobility made it more difficult to sell them at craft fairs.

 

So this is how the idea of an online shop developed. One day my friend, Joy, (www.theknittinggoddess.co.uk) suggested that I might consider opening an online shop. At first I felt that might be too much of a challenge for me but with Joy’s generous help I managed to create the shop website.

 

The next step was to begin to stock my shop. I then started to think about potential customers. I have made everything with loving care and a passionate belief in the quality of my materials but would my scarves and shawls appeal to anyone else?

I am not a highly creative and artistic weaver or knitter. I don’t work with sophisticated equipment or intricate designs and my approach to my work is straightforward. I use simple basic equipment and I like to experiment with textures and colours in simple, classic designs. My love of handspinning means I can experience the unique nature of each fibre I spin and in my designs I try to make full use of the characteristics of each spun yarn. My love of wool and alpaca in all their beautiful natural colours, together with my passion for natural dyes and the wonderful subtle colours they produce, underpins everything I do. So all the colours I use are either the natural fleece colours or colours created by me from natural dyes.

 

I never make the same thing twice so every item in my shop is unique. Everything has been made by hand, mainly by me but with a little assistance occasionally from my husband, Roger, who also weaves and helps me with warping up the loom. I am passionate about using local materials wherever possible, so I try to source my fibres from local sheep and alpaca breeders. In order to find the most appropriate fibres for each project I may have to look further afield for some materials but the vast majority of my fibres come from Britain and I often also know which farm each fibre has come from and sometimes the name of the sheep or alpaca which provided the fleece.

 

My shop can best be summed up by the phrases:

Natural fibres

Natural colours

Natural dyes

 

Initially I have only scarves in my shop but I hope to add some shawls, some handspun yarns and possibly some small coverlets for babies.  I open this shop with some trepidation and I hope my products will appeal to those who appreciate the unique characteristics of items lovingly handcrafted from beautiful natural fibres and colours.

 

To see what I have to offer,  please click on the link to Jenny Dean Designs under My Online Shop on the right hand side of the page.

 

My new book is now available

February 16th, 2014

 

I am pleased to announce that my new book “A Heritage of Colour” is now available.

 

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I hope it will be favourably received and that natural dyers will find it useful and informative. For more information click on “My Books” on the home page or look at the blog post “A HERITAGE OF COLOUR  - my new book”

A Project in Chile

February 5th, 2014

 

A few weeks ago I received an email asking about sources of natural dyes in Chile. The writer, Marianne Meier, works with a group of Chilean women who keep sheep but who have been throwing away the fleece, rather than making use of it.

 

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Marianne has taught the group how to use the fleece to make felt and, rather than using chemical dyes, she is starting to teach them how to use plants to dye the felt and the fleece. The photos below show the ladies in the group with some of the felt they have made and testing some plants for dye potential.

 

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The group is based in Valdivia, which has an oceanic climate and where the summer temperature can exceed 30C and the maximum winter temperature is 10C. The region also has abundant rainfall throughout the year. The natural vegetation is the Valdivian temperate rainforest.

 

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I think Marianne would like to use plants that the ladies in her group could gather locally if possible. Cochineal doesn’t seem to be available but I wonder whether it might be possible for her ladies to find species of Relbunium, which is the source of madder reds in parts of South America. I suggested dahlias, which are native to some areas of South America, particularly Mexico, and the group has tried dahlia flowers with some success. I also suggested that the ladies could save the skins from any onions they use, as onion skins could provide a useful and cheap source of colour.

 

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The photo above shows the preparation of the dahlia dye bath.

 

I have urged Marianne to try and obtain a copy of Ana Roquero’s book Tintes e Tintereros de America, which has detailed information about South American dyeing traditions and photos of South American dye plants. Otherwise, I don’t feel be able to give the group much more information, other than that which applies to most plants from which one wishes to extract colour.

 

I wonder whether any readers have experience of  using plants for dyeing in Chile or other regions of South America with similar climatic conditions and might be able to suggest which plants to test for their dye potential? If so, Marianne and her group would be thrilled if you would be willing to share your knowledge, perhaps by contacting me through this website?

If anyone has any information or suggestions to offer, Marianne and her group would be most grateful.

 

“Colours of the Romans” – natural dyeing course at Fishbourne Roman Palace

January 27th, 2014

 

In June  this year I shall be leading a workshop exploring the colours produced on textile fibres by the Romans. This day course will take place at Fishbourne Roman Palace near Chichester in West Sussex on Saturday June 28th from 10.00am to 4.30pm. Students will learn about Roman dyes and also all the basic natural dyeing techniques and, in addition, each student will compile a set of sample cards for future reference. For more details contact the education department at Fishbourne Roman Palace (educfish@sussexpast.co.uk) or to book a place contact: palacebookings@sussexpast.co.uk.

 

Dyeing for Colour

Discover the magic of natural dyes

 Saturday 28 June, 10am-4.30pm

Colours of the Romans

 An inspiring practical workshop with expert Jenny Dean

Discover how to use plants to dye textiles as the Romans did 

 £45 per person, including materials and admission to the Palace

 Please book your place in advance by contacting us on  01243 785859 or palacebookings@sussexpast.co.uk

 

 

“A HERITAGE OF COLOUR” – my new book

December 6th, 2013

 

 

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A HERITAGE OF COLOUR

Natural Dyes Past and Present

 

I have been working on a new book for the past year and I am pleased to report that the final proofs have been checked and the book is now with the printers. The title of this new book is “A Heritage of Colour – Natural Dyes Past and Present”  and it is due for publication by Search Press in February 2014.

 

“A Heritage of Colour”  differs from my other books in several respects. Firstly, it has a historical slant and one of my starting points was the report on the technical analysis of dyed textile fragments from the Iron Age site at Hallstatt in Austria. The results of this analysis inspired me to carry out a series of experiments which are described in the book.

Another feature of this new book is its focus on the use of native and easily-grown or gathered plants. Over 50 plants are featured  and the dyeing methods used in the experiments can be used for any plants, not only those featured in the book.

“A Heritage of Colour” also has sections on contact dyeing on fabric using plant materials, dyeing with frozen flowers and creating multi-coloured skeins and fabrics. In addition, there are sections on using lichen and fungi for dyeing.

The book has over 250 colour photographs, including photos of dyed samples for each plant.

 

The main sections are:

  • Introduction
  • Inspiration from the Past
  • Environmental Considerations
  • The Basics of Natural Dyeing
  • Contact Dyeing on Fabric using Plant Materials
  • Dyeing with Frozen Flowers
  • Over-Dyeing and Multi-coloured Skeins and Fabrics
  • 50 Dye Plants (with dyeing details, photos of each plant & photos of dyed samples)
  • Using Lichens for Dyeing
  • Using Fungi for Dyeing
  • A Brief Outline of Some of the Dyes used in Europe from the Iron Age to the Middle Ages

 

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The photo above shows some colours from beech leaves and is an example of the photos of dyed samples that accompany each plant. At least one page is devoted to each plant and several pages and photos are devoted to the more significant dye plants.

 

“A Heritage of Colour” has been written with the aim of adding further perspectives to the ancient craft of natural dyeing and I hope dyers familiar with my other books will find within this book much to interest them and inspire them to experiment further with plant dyes. For those new to the craft of dyeing, this book should provide a starting point from which to embark on an exploration of the colourful wonders of the natural world.

 

 


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