Archive for the ‘Diary & News’ Category

Symplocos leaves as a source of aluminium mordant

Monday, July 24th, 2017

Some plants are aluminium accumulators and can be used as an alternative source of alum for mordanting. Among them are clubmosses and I have written in an earlier post about how clubmosses were used in the past as an alternative mordant.

Another alternative source of alum comes from the leaves of  species of Symplocos. The leaves of Symplocos racemosa are used in parts of India as a source of aluminium mordant and in Indonesia Symplocos cochinchinensis is used in a similar way.

The Bebali Foundation is the organisation behind The Plant Mordant Project which aims to empower women in Indonesia by building partnerships for sustainability with rainforest communities and indigenous textile artists; the sale of dried Symplocos leaves for mordanting is part of this project.

The website www.plantmordant.org provides a wealth of further information on this project and also gives details of where to buy the powdered leaves and how to use them. This extract from their website explains the work of The Plant Mordant Project.

“The Plant Mordant Project offers natural dyers a unique opportunity to avoid mordants produced by industrial processes and make reliable colors 100% from plants. Powdered leaf from Symplocos trees can replace alum in conventional natural dye recipes and produce some exciting new colors. Natural dyers already chose plant dyes over synthetic dyes because they are aligned with their values, and the Plant Mordant Project offers an opportunity to extend the expression of these values by also using a plant-sourced mordant. 
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At its source, the Plant Mordant Project builds partnerships for sustainability with rainforest communities and indigenous textile artists in Indonesia. Through its sourcing and sales of Indonesia’s traditional plant-sourced dye mordant, the Bebali Foundation (www.bebali.org) alleviates rural poverty and empowers women, saves rainforests, and supports the traditional textile arts. The Bebali Foundation brings to this project a decade of experience in the fields of conservation, indigenous culture, and rural livelihoods, while its partnerships with the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and the Indonesian Forestry Department, and its funding from the Ford Foundation bring world class scientific rigor and accountability.

I recently purchased some dried symplocos leaves from Couleur Garance in France and have begun to experiment with them. (www.couleur-garance.com)

Symplocos leaves can be used on all fibres; so far I have only used them on wool and I am pleased with the results. One thing to bear in mind is that Symplocos leaves also yield a yellow dye, so the yellow colour of the mordanted fibres may have an effect on the colours achieved from the dye pot. However, I found the colour difference on madder-dyed wool when compared with wool dyed on a traditional chemical alum mordant was very slight.

I used the powdered leaves at the rate of 50% weight of the fibres and simmered them in rainwater for about 30 minutes until they sank to the bottom of the pot. I used rainwater because the recipe stipulated “soft water” and I live in a hard water area. I then strained off the liquid and allowed it to cool to 40C as directed.

I washed the wool thoroughly and then soaked it in a weak solution of washing soda (soda ash) as directed in the recipe. (I suspect this washing soda soak is probably more relevant for use in areas where dyers may not have easy access to other wool washing materials. The important thing is to make sure the fibres don’t have any grease or dirt adhering to them.) I then added the wool to the cooled mordant solution and slowly raised the temperature to simmering point (95C) over a period of one hour. I allowed the solution to cool then removed the fibres and rinsed them. The fibres were a medium yellow colour, although the recipe said they would be a”pale shade of yellow”.

In order to be able to compare the effectiveness of Symplocos leaves as a mordant, I added samples mordanted with two other types of alum mordant – 10% aluminium sulphate and Kaltbeize AL, a cold mordant of aluminium formate, which I have written about in previous posts. I also added three further samples – two mordanted with different sources of tannin – blackberry leaves and shoots and oak galls – and one treated with rhubarb leaf solution.

 

This photo shows from l to r: 10% aluminium sulphate, Kaltbeize AL cold aluminium formate mordant (see a previous blog post), blackberry leaves, oak galls, rhubarb leaves, symplocos leaves

I then dyed all the skeins shown above in a madder dye bath.
The photo below shows the madder-dyed skeins in the same order as the undyed skeins above.
The photo below shows more clearly the difference in shade between the three types of alum mordant. The symplocos-mordanted skein is the third one from the left and it is only very slightly more orange in tone than the skeins from the other two alum mordants.
The second skein may appear slightly paler than the first skein but this is because the wool used for the second skein is more loosely spun and this may have caused the slight colour difference.
 My conclusion from this first experiment using Symplocos leaves as a mordant on wool is that they provide a useful alternative source of alum for mordanting, especially for those dyers who prefer to avoid manufactured chemicals and to use only plant materials. The colour obtained from madder on wool using a Symplocos mordant is virtually the same as the colour from an aluminium sulphate mordant and the initial yellow colour of the mordanted fibres seems to have an insignificant effect on the colour obtained.
I used the remaining Symplocos solution to dye two wool skeins an attractive shade of yellow but I intend to experiment with them to see if the remaining solution also contained enough aluminium to have a mordanting effect.

Some photos of the garden

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

Although my garden is small, I try to cram in as many plants as possible and to make the garden as colourful as I can. I plant mainly native plants and plants with flowers that will attract bees and other beneficial insects. The garden always seems to be humming with bees and when sniffing the scented flowers I have to make sure not to disturb the pollen gatherers!

Here are some photos of the garden in June.

When the much-needed rain has stopped I’ll take some photos of the dye garden, which is beginning to look rather overgrown.

Reprint of “Colours from Nature”

Friday, May 19th, 2017

My book Colours from Nature has been out of print for a while and Search Press has decided not to reprint it. So I have taken over the printing myself, in collaboration with D T Craft & Design, who will distribute the book.

The book has just been reprinted, this time with a coiled (spiral) binding, so it will lie flat when in use. It has a new cover, a few more photos and also has added acetate covers to keep the card covers clean.

Colour throughout, including colour sample swatches and some photographs.

Colours from Nature is a practical handbook for dyers, containing full details of all aspects of applying natural dyes to animal and vegetable fibres, with emphasis on safe, environmentally-friendly methods.

The introduction explains the various categories of natural dyes and gives an overview of the historically important dyes.

The first half of the book covers the preparation and mordanting of fibres, dye bath preparation and the application of dye colour, with chapters on colour modifiers, testing for colour potential and light- and wash-fastness testing.

The comprehensive recipe section, which forms the second half of the book, is arranged according to colour, with recipes for over 100 colours and numerous colour sample swatches. It gives instructions for using all the classic, traditional dyes, including madder, weld, indigo, fustic, logwood, brazilwood and the insect dyes cochineal and sticklac, and also for using more common plants, such as blackberry, rhubarb, oak and walnut. The section on blue dyes has recipes for 3 methods of preparing and using indigo and woad vats, plus useful information for solving some of the problems encountered when using indigo.

Colours from Nature also includes details for creating some compound colours and for using natural dyes in extract form. The final chapter lists other useful plant sources of dye colour. Colours from Nature is a complete guide in itself and it is also an ideal companion book to Wild Colour. It contains information not included in my other books and many more recipes for specific colours on all fibres.

I am delighted that Debbie and Pete Tomkies of D T Craft & Design (www.dtcrafts.co.uk) have agreed to sell and distribute the book for me and they will also be dealing with wholesale orders. If you would like a copy of this book, or if you would like to purchase copies for re-sale, please contact Debbie at D T Craft & Design (info@dtcrafts.co.uk)

 

 

Natural Dyeing Workshop at Ditchling Museum

Monday, April 10th, 2017

As part of the Ethel Mairet project at Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, I recently led a workshop based around Ethel Mairet’s recipes for madder, weld, cochineal and indigo, which are the dyes she most frequently used.

I am extremely grateful to fellow-dyer Deborah Barker, without whose support and assistance with lifting and carrying I would not have been physically able to manage the workshop. The photos in this post were all taken by Deborah, for which I thank her.

We dyed wool skeins and used alum as a mordant, following the recipe below except in the case of cochineal, for which we used 20% alum, as in Ethel Mairet’s instructions in the recipe we used for cochineal.

ALUM MORDANTING RECIPE  (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Example of mordanting with alum –  ¼ lb of Alum and 1oz cream of tartar for every pound of wool. This is dissolved and when the water is warm the wool is entered. Raise to boiling point and boil for one hour. The bath is then taken off the fire and allowed to cool overnight. The wool is then wrung out (not washed) and put away in a linen bag in a cool place for 4 or 5 days, when it is ready for dyeing, after being thoroughly washed.

When we used iron as a colour modifier we followed the instructions given below:

IRON (ferrous sulphate) also called copperas  (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Copperas is mostly used for the fixing of wool colours (Fustic etc) to produce brown shades; the wool being boiled first in a decoction of the dye for about 1 hour, and then for ½ an hour with the addition of 5 to 8 per cent of copperas. If used for darkening colours, copperas is added to the dye bath, and the boiling continued for 15 to 20 minutes.

NOTE: to avoid the need for extra dye pots, sieves etc, we put the dyestuff for each recipe into a muslin bag, which could be removed once the dye colour had been extracted. In the case of madder, the bag of madder root dye pieces remained in the dye bath the whole time. A little more dyestuff was used to allow for the fact that some dye would be taken up by the muslin bag itself.

These are the details Ethel Mairet gives for madder in her recipe book:

MADDER (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Madder consists of the ground-up dried roots of a plant Rubia tinctorum, cultivated in France, Holland, and other parts of Europe, as well as in India. Madder is one of the best and fastest dyes. It is also used in combination with other dyes to produce compound colours. The gradual raising of the temperature of the dye bath is essential in order to develop the full colouring power of madder; long boiling should be avoided, as it dulls the colour. If the water is deficient in lime, brighter shades are got by adding a little ground chalk to the dye bath, 1 to 2 per cent.

Madder is difficult to dye as it easily rubs off and the following points should be noted.

  1. The baths should be quite clean. Rusty baths must not be used.
  2. Before dyeing, the wool must be thoroughly washed so as to get rid of all superfluous mordant.
  3. A handful of bran to the pound of wool, helps to brighten the colour.
  4. The wool should be entered into a tepid dye bath and raised to boiling in 1 hour and boiled for 10 minutes or less.

I was also fortunate enough to be able to look at Ethel Mairet’s own copy of her dye book “Vegetable Dyes” and discovered the following notes written in pencil by Ethel Mairet inside the front cover.

Madder must be fresh. Chalk essential for madder dye bath.   Mordant: 4oz alum ½oz cream of tartar. Wash after mordant & dye after 24 hours. Boiling water kills alizarin therefore put madder in cool water and keep under the boil.   Dye quickly. Bath 80C. Strong bath for short time (20 mins). Put in dye bath 5 ½ozs madder, a piece of chalk or lime, teaspoon sodium carbonate.

Recipe 1 Red (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Mordant with ¼ lb Alum to the pound of wool. Boil for 1 hour, let cool in mordant, wring out and put away in bag for 3 or 4 days. Wash very thoroughly. Then dye with 5 to 8ozs madder according to depth of colour required, and a handful of bran for every pound of wool. Enter in cool bath and bring slowly to the boil in an hour or more. Boil for a few minutes.

NOTE: as the water at Ditchling is “hard” we didn’t add chalk to the dye bath but we did add bran, which we tied into a muslin bag. We noted the comments made by Ethel Mairet in her own copy of her dye book and raised the dye bath temperature slowly to just below a simmer, making sure not to boil it.

Yarns developing colour in the madder dye bath

Madder for Brown (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

(1lb wool) Mordant with 1oz copperas and 1oz cream of tartar. Dye with 6ozs madder

Or: “If used for darkening colours, copperas (iron) is added to the dye bath, and the boiling continued for 15 to 20 minutes.”

COCHINEAL (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

The dried red bodies of an insect (Coccus Cacti) found in Mexico are named cochineal.

Recipe 4 Crimson (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Mordant with 20% alum or with 15% alum and 5% tartar. Dye in separate bath, after well washing, with 8% to 15% cochineal. Boil 1 hour. A slight addition of ammonia to the dye bath renders the shade bluer.

Samples dyed with cochineal

Recipe 7 Violet for Wool (1916 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Mordant with 2oz alum for 1lb wool. Dye with 1oz cochineal and 1oz of solution of iron in which the wool is kept till the shade is reached.

Adding the iron to the cochineal dye bath

WELD (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Weld, Reseda luteola is an annual plant growing in waste places. The whole plant is used for dyeing except the root. It is the best and fastest of the yellow natural dyes. The plant is gathered in June and July, it is then carefully dried in the shade and tied up in bundles. When needed for dyeing it is broken into pieces or chopped finely, the roots being discarded, and a decoction is made by boiling it up in water for about ¾ hour. It gives a bright yellow with alum and tartar as mordant ………… 8 percent of alum is often used for mordant for weld. A little chalk added to the dye bath makes the colour more intense; common salt makes the colour richer and deeper.

Recipe 2 Yellow (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Mordant with alum, and dye with 1 lb of weld for every pound of wool. Common salt deepens the colour. If alum is added to the dye bath, the colour becomes paler and more lively. Sulphate of iron inclines it to brown.

Samples dyed with weld

INDIGO

NOTE: In the 1916 edition of “Vegetable Dyes” there are recipes for indigo extract, for the ferrous sulphate vat and for various fermentation-style vats. However, there are no recipes for the hydrosulphite vat, which is the most common method of using indigo today. The 1924 edition of the book gives recipes for the hydrosulphite vat but I decided to use indigo extract, or Saxon Blue, in the workshop .

INDIGO (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Indigo is the blue matter extracted from a plant Indigofera tinctoria and other species growing in Asia, South America and Egypt. It reaches the market in a fine powder, which is insoluble in water. There are two ways of dyeing with Indigo. It may be dissolved in sulphuric acid or oil of vitriol, thereby making an indigo extract. This process was discovered in 1740. It gives good blue colours but is not very permanent, darker colours are more so than the paler. It does not dye cotton or linen. The other method is by the indigo vat process which produces fast colours but is complicated and difficult. In order to colour with indigo it has to be deprived of its oxygen. The deoxidized indigo is yellow and in this state penetrates the woollen fibre; the more perfectly the indigo in a vat is deoxidized, the brighter and faster will be the colour. For wool dyeing the vats are heated to a temperature of 50C. Cotton and linen are generally dyed cold.

 Indigo extract (4 to 6lbs wool) (1924 edition of “Vegetable Dyes”)

Mordant 25% alum. Stir 2 to 3ozs Indigo extract into the water of dye bath. The amount is determined by the depth of shade required. When warm, enter the wool and bring slowly to boiling point (about ½ an hour) and continue boiling for another ½ hour. By keeping it below boiling point while dyeing, better colours are got, but it is apt to be uneven. Boiling levels the colour but makes the shade greener. This is corrected by adding to the dye bath a little logwood, 10 to 20 per cent which should be boiled up separately, strained and put in bath before the wool is entered; too much logwood dims the colour. Instead of logwood a little madder is sometimes used; also Cudbear or Barwood.

Note: Extract of indigo, also called Saxon Blue, is a mixture of oil of vitriol (sulphuric acid), precipitated chalk and finely ground indigo. It can be purchased ready made from Fiery Felts or DTCrafts. (See list of “Useful Websites” opposite.)

Samples developing colour in the Saxon Blue dye pot

GREEN (1924 edition of Vegetable Dyes)

Green results from the mixing of blue and yellow in varying proportions according to the shade of colour required. Every dyer has his particular yellow weed with which he greens his blue dyed stuff. But the best greens are undoubtedly got from weld and fustic.                 The wool is first dyed in the blue vat; then washed and dried; then after mordanting, dyed in the yellow bath. This method is not arbitrary as some dyers consider a better green is got by first dyeing it yellow before the blue. But the first method produces the fastest and brightest greens as the aluming after the blue vat clears the wool of the loose particles of indigo and seems to fix the colour. The wool can be dyed blue for green in three different ways;- 1st in the Indigo vat, 2nd with Indigo Extract with Alum mordant, 3rd with logwood with Chrome mordant. For a good bright green, dye the wool a rather light blue, then wash and dry; Mordant with alum, green it with a good yellow dye, such as weld or fustic, varying the proportion of each according to the shade of green required. Heather tips, dyer’s broom, dock roots, poplar leaves, saw wort are also good yellows for dyeing green. If Indigo Extract is used for the blue, fustic is the best yellow for greening, its colour is less affected by the sulphuric acid than other yellows.

Recipe 2 Indigo extract and weld for wool (1924 edition of “Vegetable Dyes”)

Mordant 1lb wool with 4ozs alum and 1/2oz cream of tartar. Dye blue with sufficiency of indigo extract, wash and dry. Prepare a dye bath with weld which has been previously chopped up and boiled. Enter wool and boil for half an hour or more.

Recipe 3 Green for wool (1924 edition of “Vegetable Dyes”)

Mordant with alum and cream of tartar, add to the mordanting bath a little weld or fustic. Dye with 6ozs fustic (or weld). Dye in a separate bath with indigo extract, a rather bluer green than is wanted. Then put into a yellow bath till the right shade of green is got.

Each student went home with 10 dyed skeins, eight dyed as in the recipes above and two dyed in dye bath exhausts chosen by each student.

The eight colours from the recipes given above. From left to right: cochineal crimson, cochineal violet, madder brown, madder, weld, weld + Saxon blue, weld + iron, Saxon blue

Some sample skeins labelled ready for the students to take home

Ethel Mairet Masterclass

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

I am delighted to have been invited to be part of the forthcoming Ethel Mairet Masterclass at Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft, organised in conjunction with Selvedge magazine.

This 5-day course runs from April 3rd  to April 7th 2017 and will give students an opportunity to experience working in the stimulating environment of the museum and to immerse themselves in the world of Ethel Mairet, in the charming village where she lived and worked.

More details are available on the Selvedge and Ditchling Museum websites.

Booking is via the Selvedge website. (www.selvedge.org)

I shall be leading the natural dyeing component, which will give students the chance to follow some of Ethel Mairet’s recipes, as presented in her book “Vegetable Dyes”. There will also be an opportunity to study and compare the different editions of this classic work. I was thrilled to find that one copy of the book even has Ethel Mairet’s own handwritten pencil notes on some of its pages and this really breathes life into her recipes.

Ethel Mairet’s importance lies particularly in her inspiration as a teacher and educator. In “Vegetable Dyes” she follows in the tradition of earlier professional dyers, imparting knowledge & sharing experiences in order to encourage dyers to aim for the highest standards in their work. Her comments give an insight into the working methods of the professional dyer in the early 20th century and on the course we will consider how Ethel Mairet’s work can inspire today’s natural dyers to improve their own practices.

Although “Vegetable Dyes” covers very many sources of dye colour, in fact Ethel Mairet herself used mainly the classic dyes, madder, weld, cochineal and indigo and these are the dyes we will be using on the course; they remain the most reliable dyes for use today and those which I recommend to dyers who wish to be sure of consistently good results. They are also dyes from which a wide range of shades and tones can be achieved and this is something we will be exploring on the course.

 

A range of colours from indigo, madder and weld

Although some of the recipes in the dye book require the use of chemicals which are no longer recommended for use today, many recipes are still relevant and useful. These are the ones we will be following to dye both wool and silk skeins and while some recipes may appear rather complicated, many are brief and relatively straightforward – at least they are when one has managed to adapt the quantities for smaller weights of fibres.  The two recipes below are typical examples.

CATECHU STONE DRAB (10 lbs cotton)

Work the cotton for ¼ hour with 2 pints catechu (1 lb catechu to 7 or 8 gallons water; boil and add 2 oz copper sulphate) in hot water, lift and add 2ozs copperas in solution. Work for ¼ hour and wash. Add 2 oz logwood to a bath of warm water & work cotton in this for 10 minutes. Lift and add ½ oz alum. Work 10 minutes; wring out and dry.

PINK WITH COCHINEAL FOR WOOL

(For 60 lbs wool). 5lbs 12 oz alum. Boil and immerse wool for 50 minutes. Then add 1 lb Cochineal and 5 lbs cream of tartar. Boil and enter wool while boiling, till the required colour is got.

Samples above dyed following some of Ethel Mairet’s recipes for weld, indigo, cochineal and madder

Students on the masterclass will also have an opportunity to see and study in detail the wonderful and ever-increasing array of colourful dyed skeins, which form part of the current Ethel Mairet exhibition. These have been dyed especially for this event by dyers from many parts of the world, following recipes in the 1916 edition of “Vegetable Dyes”, and each skein is accompanied by a description of how and by whom it was dyed. This collection of dyed skeins is a unique example of collaborative work from natural dyers who live and work in many different countries and cultures and it will remain a lasting tribute to a remarkable weaver and dyer, who spent most of her working life in the village of Ditchling but whose influence was far-reaching.

I am sure students will share my love of Ditchling Museum and I am really looking forward to leading a masterclass in such a very special venue.

 

 

 

Ethel Mairet Dyeing Project at Ditchling Museum

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft is situated in a beautiful setting in the charming village of Ditchling, near Brighton, in East Sussex . The impact of the many artists and craftspeople who came to live and work in Ditchling from the beginning of the 20th century onwards established this village as one of the most important places for the visual arts and crafts in Britain. The museum is a real treasure and well worth a visit, especially as it provides a rare opportunity to see special objects and works of art in the village where they were made.

The museum holds an internationally important collection of work by the artists and craftspeople who were  drawn to the village, including the sculptor, wood engraver, type-designer and letter-cutter Eric Gill, the calligrapher Edward Johnston (responsible for the famous Johnston typeface used for London Underground), the painter David Jones, the printer Hilary Pepler and the weavers Valentine KilBride and Ethel Mairet.

Ditchling museum also regularly has special exhibitions of the work of other artists and craftspeople. Currently, in addition to the exhibits based around Ethel Mairet’s work, there are three further exhibitions, relating to the work of William Morris and the Kelmscott press, to the artist, weaver and tapestry maker Tadek Beutlich and to the author and illustrator John Vernon Lord, who lives in the village.

As if all that were not enough, the museum also has a tempting shop and a cafe serving excellent coffee and cake. And the village itself is a delightful place to explore, with some interesting shops and good pubs and eating places.

As I wrote in an earlier post, this is the centenary of the publication in 1916 of Ethel Mairet’s classic work on natural dyeing, “A Book on Vegetable Dyes”. To mark the event, Ditchling Museum is inviting dyers to contribute to an ever-growing exhibition of skeins dyed following recipes from the book. Anyone in any part of the world can take part by simply following the links on the museum website: (www.ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk/event/dyeing-now/) Once the dyer has selected the fibre and the recipe, the skein is sent out for the participant to dye and then return to the museum.

As part of this focus on the work of Ethel Mairet, I shall be giving a talk at the museum about natural dyes in the evening of January 26th next year and also leading a natural dyeing workshop there on March 25th 2017. Full details of both these events can be found on the website: (www.ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk/what’s-on/all-workshops-events/

I have dyed ten cotton and linen skeins for the project and I recently made another visit to to the museum to see how the Ethel Mairet dyeing project is progressing.

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This is the framework on which the dyed skeins are displayed as they arrive

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The photos above show some of the dyed skeins in place

Below are some of Ethel Mairet’s own samples with their characteristic luggage labels

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The three photos below show some of Ethel Mairet’s work on display in the museum, Sadly my photos cannot do full justice to her vibrant colours and beautiful weaving.

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(All photographs taken with kind permission of Ditchling Museum)

 

 

 

Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft: Ethel Mairet Natural Dyeing Project

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

Ethel Mairet (1872 – 1952) was a handloom weaver and dyer and a pioneer of the 20th-century modern craft revival in Britain. She was influential in the development of weaving in the first half of the 20th century and she was an enthusiastic and inspirational teacher, dedicated to passing on to future generations the knowledge and experience gained from her lifetime of experimentation with natural dyes and textiles.

Her first husband was the geologist and art historian, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and with him she spent some time at Charles Robert Ashbee’s community of artists and craftspeople in Chipping Campden. The couple also travelled to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India, where they collected textiles and Ethel Mairet learned about handweaving. In 1913 she married her second husband, Philip Mairet, and they established a joint home and studio near Stratford-on-Avon. In 1914 she was visited by Gandhi, who knew of her work in Ceylon and was interested in using simple textile techniques in India. In 1916 she visited Eric Gill and the Guild of St Joseph & St Dominic in Ditchling in Sussex. This was a Roman Catholic community, based on the idea of the medieval guild, which existed for the protection and the promotion of the work of its members, who included Eric Gill, Hilary Pepler, Valentine KilBride and George Maxwell. Ethel Mairet was so impressed that she decided to set up her weaving studio in Ditchling and during the 1930s and 1940s she trained people in weaving and natural dyeing in her studio at her home “Gospels”.  In 1939 she became the first woman Royal Designer for Industry (RDI).

In common with many of her Ditchling contemporaries, Ethel Mairet shared the view that the sustainability of craft lay in communicating with a new generation of practitioners and between 1939 and 1947 she taught at Brighton Art School, favouring experimentation rather than technical expertise. Her book on natural dyeing, “A Book of Vegetable Dyes”, was published in 1916; it was one of the first British books on natural dyeing to reach a wide audience and was so successful that it ran to five editions (including a version published by Hilary Pepler’s St Dominic’s Press).

Although some recipes in “Vegetable Dyes” include chemicals considered unsuitable for use in today’s safety-conscious and environmentally-concerned world, the book remains a classic work which still has much to offer the natural dyer.

Ethel Mairet also published books on handweaving, including “Handweaving Today” (1939) and “Handweaving and Education” (1942).

To mark the centenary of the first edition of “Vegetable Dyes”, from September 17th 2016 Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft will have an exhibition of Ethel Mairet’s dyeing and weaving and all five volumes of the book. In addition, the museum has launched a project inviting dyers and craftspeople from all over the world to reproduce many of the recipes in the book. The project runs from September 17th 2016 to April 16th 2017 and anyone interested in taking part can obtain full details from the museum’s website: www.ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk

I have dyed 10 skeins for the project and they are shown in the photo below. In each pair the first skein is cotton and the second skein is linen. All were mordanted with 5% alum acetate.

From left to right: brazilwood, sanderswood, lac, quercitron, Saxon Blue + quercitron

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Dyeing large quantities of woollen skeins

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

A friend asked for help as she wanted to dye one kilo of handspun woollen skeins all the same colour. Dyeing such a large quantity of fibre is not easy, unless one has suitable equipment. I don’t have a pot large enough which could be heated and I no longer have a large Burco boiler, so the only option seemed to be to use a plastic container and opt for cool dyeing. Cool mordanting with alum is not a problem, as long as the fibres remain in the cool mordant bath for at least 24 hours and preferably longer. However, cool dyeing limits to some extent the dyes which can be used, as not all dyes can be successfully applied without heat.

The colour my friend chose was the pale green/yellow shown in the top sample below:

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To achieve this colour, I decided to apply an alum mordant and then dye with weld extract, followed by indigo. I already have a large plastic container I keep for alum mordanting and fortunately it was just large enough for the quantity of wool, so I filled the container with cool water, added the alum mordant and left the yarn in the mordant bath for a couple of days.

I decided to use a large plastic garden trug as my dye pot, so I dissolved the weld extract in boiling water and added it to the cool water in the plastic trug.  I stirred well and then added the wetted-out yarn and allowed it to steep in the dye bath for about 24 hours, by which time it had become a suitable shade of yellow and was evenly dyed.

The final step was to make an indigo vat, also in the large plastic garden trug. The wool was then over-dyed in the indigo vat.

Although the trug seemed large enough for the quantity of wool being dyed with weld, I think the wool probably needed even more space in the indigo vat, as the results were somewhat variegated. However, the colour on the sample was also variegated and my friend was pleased with the results of our labours, so all was well.

The photo below shows the dyed skeins:

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I then decided to dye a further kilo of wool, this time Romney Marsh fleece from local sheep, processed into yarn at Diamond Fibres in East Sussex. I wanted a colour suitable for a jacket that I could wear with most things and as I would have to dye without heat I chose to use buckthorn bark, which responds well to cool dyeing and which would, I hoped, give a caramel colour.

I simmered up about 200gms of buckthorn bark and then strained the dye liquid into the water in the trug. I added about 1 teaspoon of walnut hull extract in the hope that this might make the shade slightly browner in tone. (However, my initial feeling that walnut might not dye well without heat probably proved correct, as there is little evidence of any walnut influence in the final colour.) I added the wool skeins, which absorbed the dye more quickly than I had expected and I removed them after about one hour, rinsed and washed them and then left them to dry. These skeins also appear variegated but not this time because the trug was too small for the yarn. Buckthorn bark tends to change colour a little when left to dry in the light and it is important to open up the skeins and move them around, so they dry evenly. However, because the skeins were so dense and thick it was more difficult to open them up, so the final colour effect is variegated. Fortunately, I like this effect anyway and, although I had been aiming for a more caramel tone, I am also pleased with the colour.

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The final results.

Further alkaline extraction method tests and some puzzling results

Monday, April 18th, 2016

Following on from my recent alkaline extraction method experiments, I decided to try the method used by Krista Vajanto in her dissertation and described in my post of March 8th. So before adding a further set of samples, I left the dye baths to become acidic. This proved more difficult than I had expected, as the pH decreased a little and then remained stubbornly at around pH9 and refused to become more acidic. After a couple of weeks, I decided to add another set of samples anyway, which I left to steep for about 4 weeks. The dye baths looked very strongly coloured and I was hoping for well-dyed samples. Indeed, on removal from the dye baths the samples appeared deep in colour but most of the colour washed off, leaving the samples considerably paler than the first set, which had been in the alkaline dye bath for only 2 weeks.

I really don’t know how to interpret these surprising results. If the dye baths had been pH7 or below, I would have assumed that the acidic conditions had made the samples paler. This would have been in line with results from acidic modifiers which often result in the samples becoming paler. But in this case the dye baths were still alkaline, although less so than for the first samples. However, the dye baths had become slimy and viscous and I wonder if this is a sign that fermentation was taking place and the fermentation caused the colours to become paler?

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This photo shows, from the top: birch bark, alder bark, white willow bark, tormentil root, with 4 samples for each. For each dye, the pair of samples on the left is from the first dye bath (2 weeks) and the pair on the right is from the second dye bath (4 weeks). In each pair, the top sample is alum-mordanted and the lower sample is unmordanted. The photo quite clearly shows how much paler the samples are from the second dye bath. Very puzzling!

Workshop at Plumpton College

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Earlier in March I taught a workshop for my dear friend Sue Craig and the students on her “Grow Your Own Colour” course at Plumpton College Brighton. Although I no longer lead workshops myself because of my physical limitations, I am always happy to work with Sue and her students because Sue provides all the materials and equipment and prepares everything in advance and she and her students do everything that is required as far as the hard physical work is concerned. I just sit and talk a lot and give the orders, which suits me very well!

This course was “Marvellous Madder”, which showcases the remarkable colour properties of this amazing dye plant. Last time I did this workshop I attempted too much and rather over-worked the students, so we decided to limit it to 26 wool samples this time.

We used the madder as follows:

Use about 80% madder and wash the madder pieces in cold water to remove some of the yellow and brown pigments. Then pour boiling water over the washed madder pieces and leave them to steep for about 45 seconds. Then strain this liquid into a dye pot and repeat this process twice more. This forms the first “pour-off” dye bath. (See second photo below) NOTE: I usually make this “pour-off” dye bath because it helps to use up some of the yellow and brown pigments that might not have been washed out and that can make the red colour from the main dye bath too dull or brown.

Then simmer the same madder dye pieces for about 30 minutes, strain off the dye solution and leave to cool slightly. Then add the fibres and leave them to steep for about 45 minutes to one hour. If necessary, the madder dye bath can be heated gently but keep it well below simmering point. NOTE: madder can safely be simmered to extract the dye colour but it is better to keep the temperature below simmering point after the fibres have been added, otherwise the colour may become too brown in tone. The same madder pieces can be simmered at least once more to make a further dye bath; indeed, the same madder pieces can often be re-used two or three times. So if we had had time to do this at the workshop, we could have doubled or even trebled the number of samples we achieved.

After dyeing, the samples were modified. (Instructions for making and using colour modifiers can be found in my books.)

As so often happens at workshops where time is limited, the colours achieved were not as deep and intense as I would have liked, although we did achieve a wide range of shades. Had we been able to allow the fibres to remain for longer in the dye bath, we would have had some much richer reds.

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This photo shows 24 wool samples.

Each group contains a sample of no mordant, alum mordant, tannin (oak gall) mordant and rhubarb leaf base, in that order. From left to right the groups are: no modifier, acidic (vinegar) modifier, alkaline (soda ash) modifier, copper modifier, iron modifier, iron modifier followed by alkaline modifier (2 modifiers applied in succession)

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These samples, also wool, were dyed in the dye liquid poured off when preparing the madder dye bath. From left to right: alum mordant, no mordant

 

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Sue (left) and I obviously enjoyed ourselves!