A moving date at last!

After what has seemed like an eternity of waiting, we have now exchanged contracts on our house sale and purchase and have a date of completion. On Tuesday July 13th we shall be leaving our home here in Bedfordshire and setting out for West Sussex and our new house.

It is difficult to describe my feelings now that the move is just over 2 weeks away. There is still so much to do and very little time to dwell on the implications of this change in our lives, but I know I shall miss the familiar surroundings and all the friends and contacts we have here in Bedfordshire, where we have brought up our children and spent such a large part of our married life. However, I’m sure new friends and interesting experiences await us in Sussex and the joy of being nearer our granddaughter should soon dispel any misgivings I may have.

The other positive aspect of this sale is that the prospective new owners are exactly the sort of people we hoped would want to buy our home. They fell immediately in love with the house and garden and we couldn’t have wished for a nicer couple to take over our old home. They are young and full of energy and ideas but also want to live in the house just as it is for a while, to get a “feel” for the place. And they are enchanted by the garden, which they plan to keep as it is, whilst also developing the vegetable and fruit-growing areas. So we can move on, knowing our old family home will be in good hands.

I expect it will be a while before I write another post but more details of our new house will follow in due course.

News from Uganda

















I was delighted to receive these photos from the basketmakers of Rubona in Uganda. They show how proficient the dyers have become in using their native indigo plants to achieve a range of blues. I am delighted this has been such a success.

For more information, see my earlier posts: “A natural dyeing project in Uganda” and “More about the Uganda project” (Both under “Diary and News”)

Summer is coming

I couldn’t resist taking a few photos to remind me of the delights of this garden in late Spring and early Summer, when everything looks lush and green and the roses fill the air with their wonderful fragrance.


































Some Useful Garden Trees

As the time for our move to Sussex draws closer and we shall have to leave this house and my dye garden, I thought I would write a little about some of the trees in this garden that have been useful sources of dye colour.



WALNUT (Juglans spp.) 






This is a very small walnut tree, I know, but I have cherished it, as I’ve already tried unsuccessfully several times to persuade a walnut tree to establish itself in our garden. This one was given to me as a seedling and, although I have already managed to harvest leaves for dyeing as they fall in Autumn, it will be many years before I can harvest walnuts.

The walnut is rich in tannin and all parts of the tree can be used in dyeing, including the leaves, bark, heartwood and the outer green cases of the nuts. Walnut doesn’t need a mordant – in fact walnut leaves have a higher fastness rating when used on unmordanted wool than if used on alum-mordanted wool. (Ref: Fast or Fugitive by Gill Dalby). Although dried walnut leaves tend to give colours in the yellow to tan range, sometimes fresh leaves harvested in early summer can give deep browns. Different depths of brown can be achieved from all parts of the walnut tree and colour modifiers can be used to vary the shades. Darker shades of brown can often be achieved by using a rhubarb leaf mordant or base and by using an iron modifier. For maximum colour potential, walnut hulls should be soaked in water for at least several weeks before being simmered to make a dyebath and I often leave them soaking for a year or two. As tannin is astringent they don’t seem to develop an unpleasant odour, as long as they are completely covered by the water, but it’s a good idea to check the liquid level every few months, in case some evaporates. It can sometimes be difficult to get really rich browns from walnut hulls and I have found that adding some oak gall solution to the dyebath often results in deeper shades. To apply the dye, I simmer the fibres in the dyebath, then leave them to cool and repeat the process several times until a reasonable depth of brown is achieved.


BIRCH (Betula spp.)






Birches make lovely garden trees, with their leaves trembling gently in the breeze and their attractive bark, and I shall really miss this beautiful tree when we move. Birches are among the most ancient of trees and birch leaves and bark have been used for centuries as dye sources. The leaves give clear yellows and the bark gives shades of tan, brown and sometimes pink. Birch leaves are best used with an alum mordant. The bark can be used without a mordant but an alum mordant will intensify the colours. Birch bark has several layers and the inner layers will often give pretty shades of pink. Like most barks, birch bark benefits from lengthy processing and I usually soak it in water for several weeks before simmering it gently for about an hour to extract the maximum amount of colour. The fibres can be added at any stage, if you intend to leave the bark in the dyebath. However, as small pieces of bark can sometimes be difficult to remove from fibres, I tend to strain off the extracted dye liquid and then I add the fibres, bring the solution to simmering point and then keep the temperature just below a simmer for as long as seems necessary. This is because I have sometimes found that, if a bark dyebath is allowed to boil too much, the tannin in the bark can dull the colours. I then leave the fibres to soak in the dyebath overnight before rinsing them.


STAGHORN SUMAC (Rhus typhina)






 The staghorn sumac tree is particularly rich in tannin and the leaves can be used as a tannin mordant for silk and vegetable fibres. The leaves also give a soft yellow dye and the inner bark of the tree can give attractive shades of rust. Apart from its usefulness to dyers, staghorn sumac is an attractive garden shrub, particularly in the Autumn when the  leaves turn beautiful red and orange colours. Its branches are covered in fine brown downy hairs and, when the leaves have fallen, in silhouette they look like antlers, which is why the tree is called staghorn sumac. Some species of sumac have poisonous berries (usually white) but the berries of staghorn sumac are red and harmless and, when ripe, they form candle-like clusters at the tips of the branches. Although the colours from sumac are not remarkable, they can provide useful contrasts to stronger colours.

I shall certainly miss my garden and all the plants and trees that have provided me with such a variety of dye sources over the last 33 years.