Archive for the ‘Diary & News’ Category

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!

South Downs Yarn & colours from fungi

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Part of the ethos underpinning South Downs Yarn, Louise Spong’s wool company, is a belief in the importance of making use of locally-available fleece, which can be traced back to the flocks from which it came and sometimes even to the individual sheep. The wool for Louise’s yarn comes from Southdown sheep and is sustainably sourced, single-flock wool from smallholders and farmers from the South Downs locality.

The same ethos determines the sources of the plants used to dye South Downs Yarn, so wherever possible the plants used are grown or harvested locally. This can sometimes be challenging, especially where plant sources of pinks and purples are concerned. Whilst virtually all other  colours can be readily produced from locally grown or harvested dyes, pinks and purples are more elusive. Pinks (and also purple) come mainly from the insect dyes, cochineal (found predominantly in parts of Central and South America) and sticklac (from India and South-East Asia). Madder root (Rubia tinctorum) and buckthorn bark (Rhamnus spp.) can sometimes give pinks in the coral range but will rarely give a true rose pink.

The most commonly used source of purple is the heartwood of logwood, Haematoxylon campechianum, from South or Central America. Purple can also be achieved from some species of lichen but lichens are protected in the wild and should preferably not be harvested for dyeing. Lichen purple is also not reliably fast and for that reason I would be reluctant to use this dye for anything I might want to sell or give to anyone else. Alkanet root (Alkanna tinctoria) will give a purple shade under certain conditions but the colours it gives are very variable and not always reliable.

Some time ago I discovered by chance another source of purple, when I added some walnut extract to a madder extract dye bath (both extracts from Earthues). This combination produced a pleasing purple-pink but, following further experiments, I found that this only occurs if the dyes are used in extract form and not when the chopped plant dye pieces are used. (See my earlier posts on this. Not what I was expecting & Walnut hulls & madder root again but no purples or pinks) I must conduct some more tests to see whether this colour can be regularly produced from this combination of extract dyes, as it could prove very useful.

To try and find other sources of pink and purple, I looked again through my dye sample books and decided to try dyes from fungi, in particular from species of Cortinarius.

For this South Downs Yarn fungi dyeing session we used Cortinarius semisanguineus, with an alum mordant and followed by an alkaline modifier. This gave pretty pinks. However, a further alum-mordanted skein followed by a copper modifier after dyeing did not give the purple tones I had hoped for, but a rather dull beige pink. I’m not sure why this was the case but I suspect the exhaust dye bath which we used was too weak to give a pink deep enough to produce the desired result from the copper modifier.

I also had the remainder of a small amount of the fungus Hapalopilus rutilans, kindly sent me from Finland by Leena Riihela for some tests for my most recent book  A Heritage of Colour, and which gives a pretty lavender purple dye colour. I had read that extracting the colour from Hapalopilus rutilans at pH9 to 10 would improve the colour, so I added a small amount of soda ash to bring the water to pH9 when I simmered the fungus to extract the colour. Unfortunately this proved not to have been such a good idea, as the extracted dye colour seemed paler rather than more intense and pink rather than purple in tone and it dyed the skein a rather pale dull pink. (I had probably also added too much fibre for the amount of dyestuff I had and this made the colour paler than I had wanted. Note to self: Don’t add too much fibre in future when you know there isn’t really sufficient dyestuff for a reasonably strong colour to be achieved, especially when you haven’t got enough dyestuff left to re-dye the fibres!) I re-simmered the used dyestuff together with the last remaining few pieces of fungus and used it to dye two small skeins, which this time became a prettier colour, but still pink in tone. I suspect this was because some soda ash solution had been absorbed by the pieces of fungi and had an effect on the dye bath when the fungus was re-processed. However, as this fungus is not readily available I doubt whether I would be able to obtain enough to make it a useful source of purple.

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Cortinarius semisanguineus (photo courtesy of Leena Riihela)

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Shades of pink from Cortinarius semisanguineus (Alum mordant + alkaline modifier) The paler shades are from exhaust dye baths 1 & 2 (Photo courtesy of Louise Spong of South Downs Yarn)

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This skein was dyed in the third exhaust of the Cortinarius dye bath. (Alum mordant + alkaline modifier)

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Hapalopilus rutilans (photo courtesy of Leena Riihela)

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Small skeins dyed in Hapalopilus rutilans after re-simmering the used dyestuff as described above.

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Colours from Hapalopilus rutilans without pH adjustment for colour extraction. The top sample is alum-mordanted & the lower sample is unmordanted.

 

These results indicate that Cortinarius spp. of fungi can be useful sources of pinks. I am also experimenting with the alkaline extraction method on birch bark to see whether this might yield a pink colour. More information about this will follow later.

Autumn Colours

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Autumn seems to have come quickly this year and the garden reflects this change in the seasons. I love the colours of this helenium.

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The forest pansy ( Cercis canadensis) always looks spectacular at this time of year, especially with the light shining through the leaves.

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Even its fallen leaves have a beauty of their own

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Autumn wouldn’t be the same without pumpkins

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The autumn colours inspired me to dye some skeins of South Downs Yarn wool, using dyes harvested from the garden.

From left to right: dyer’s broom, buckthorn leaves plus madder root plus woad, dahlia flowers plus madder root, dahlia flowers (All alum mordant)

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Shearing Day for the Nepcote Flock

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Saturday June 20th was the day set for shearing the Southdown sheep from the Nepcote Flock. Luckily the weather was dry, although rather cloudy, and Louise Spong and I joined the flock’s owners, Graham Langford, Hari Doman and Martin Rolph, at the field. Louise and I wanted to look at each fleece as it came off the sheep’s back so we could select those we wished to reserve. As it turned out, the fleeces were generally of such good quality that we selected nearly all of them.

The photos below are a reminder of a great day with excellent refreshments too!

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Here are the sheep waiting their turn for shearing

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Number 11’s fleece looked good to me, so I made a note of the number and waited for her to be shorn.

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Number 11’s turn has come

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The fleece starts to come off

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Number 11 without her fleece

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Here is her fleece rolled up

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This lamb was very interested in the fleeces

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These two watched the proceedings with interest

 

 

My garden in June

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

In the five years since we moved here I have managed to transform our small garden into one which resembles my old garden but on a much smaller scale. It is full of plants to attract bees and butterflies and other beneficial insects and of course I have a small dye garden too.

Here are some images of my garden in June:

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Woad in flower

 

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Herb beds with a self-seeded foxglove in front of the angelica

 

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Angelica gigas flower heads

 

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William Morris rose

I will add some photos of my dye garden in the next post.

More about the Nepcote Flock of Southdown sheep

Monday, April 20th, 2015

 

It’s lambing time here and lambs from the Nepcote flock of Southdown sheep can be seen in the fields in Findon village, where I live. I took my granddaughters to help bottle-feed one of the lambs, who was rather weak, and they were thrilled to sit with the little lamb on their laps.

 

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I have also been spinning a Southdown shearling fleece from the Nepcote flock. It has a reasonable staple length (about 4 to 5 cms), is soft and fine in texture and is producing a pleasing springy yarn. This fleece was one of three shorn recently from shearlings being prepared for showing later in the year, by which time they should have grown another lovely fleece just ready for the show.

 

The photo below shows washed fleece ready to spin and a handspun skein

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The photo below (taken early in the evening) shows Graham Langford, the co-owner of the sheep, followed by some of his shearlings, including those from which the fleeces came. When the rest of the flock is shorn in June I shall be looking out for more shearling fleeces.

 

Graham herds his sheep

 

 

 

A cashmere fibre project in Afghanistan

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

 

Life can be full of pleasant surprises! Following an exchange of emails with Jane Mundy, who has set up a project in Afghanistan, working with Afghan women using the fibre from cashmere goats to hand-spin yarn for knitting, this week I met Jane  to find out more about her work. The project, called Qaria Cashmere, aims to give Afghan women the opportunity to learn skills which will enable them to gain some independence and make a living using materials from Afghanistan. The Afghan cashmere fibre is wonderfully fine and soft and comes in lovely natural white, brown and grey shades. However, some of the yarn will be dyed using natural dyes and this is where I hope to be involved.

 

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Afghan goats in Badakhshan province in NW Afghanistan

 

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Afghan goat herders in Badakhshan province

 

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Sorting cashmere fibre in Herat

 

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Afghan cashmere fibre

 

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Afghan woman hand-spinning cashmere fibres

 

The natural dyes most commonly used in Afghanistan to dye wool for carpets are madder, indigo, walnut hulls and pomegranate rind and a wild form of larkspur is also used to dye yellows. So my next task will be to test dye some of the cashmere yarns, using dyes which should be available to the Afghan women from the local carpet weavers or from the market. Cashmere fibres will require special treatment to ensure they don’t felt during the dyeing process but I’m sure it will be possible to develop mordanting and dyeing techniques which will be suitable for this lovely fibre.

 

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Dyeing wool for Afghan carpets in Kabul

 

Jane left me some cashmere fibre which I will hand-spin for these tests. However, I fear my skeins will not look as lovely and evenly-spun as those produced by expert hand-spinner, Amanda Hannaford, and shown below.

 

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Samples of Afghan cashmere yarns hand-spun by Amanda Hannaford

 

I will write further posts giving more details of the Qaria Cashmere project. The project has a Facebook page “Qaria Cashmere” and a website (www.qariacashmere.com) is currently being developed.

 

 

The Nepcote Flock of Southdown Sheep

Sunday, 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

Saturday, 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.

South Downs Yarn at Findon Sheep Fair 2014

Saturday, 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