Archive for the ‘Diary & News’ Category

South Downs Yarn

Thursday, 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

Saturday, 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

Sunday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Monday, 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

Friday, 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.

 

 

Learning to weave on a rigid heddle loom

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

 

Last year I bought a second-hand spinning wheel from a local charity shop and with it came a rather ancient rigid heddle table loom. Eventually I decided it was time to start learning how to weave. With the help of a U-tube video clip, my husband and I managed to warp up the loom and so we embarked on our first weaving project.

 

As I never want to spend time making something for which I may have no practical use, I rejected the advice to start with something small, like a table mat, and decided we would weave a scarf. Rather ambitiously, we decided to use several colours in both the warp and the weft and to aim for a checked pattern. We also started off using cotton, as we had inherited a large quantity of mercerised cotton in a variety of attractive colours.

 

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My husband is holding our first scarf as it came off the loom, with the rows of waste yarn still in place. Of course the edges are not completely straight and the colour changes not made perfectly, but I have to say we were quite pleased with our first efforts and felt inspired to continue weaving.

The photo below shows our latest efforts, this time using naturally-dyed wool, some of it handspun. The colours are from woad, madder and fungi.

 

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The garden in late spring

Friday, June 21st, 2013

 

We have had some lovely sunny days recently and so I took the opportunity to take some photos of my little garden. I do miss my old garden but I have tried to make the most of the small space we have here. I have concentrated on dye plants and plants to attract bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. I have tried to grow mainly native plants, except for some summer plants, such as fuchsias and dahlias, for pots and the plants that were already here, such as wisteria, and of course roses, which I could not be without for their perfume.

 

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Woad in flower in the tiny dye garden in front of my summer house

 

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Wisteria in flower

 

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General garden view with angelica in the foreground

 

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A detail of the angelica plant which the bees love

 

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The roses are just beginning to come into bloom

 

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Centaurea montana which the bees love

 

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The grass is full of daisies which are popular with insects and with my granddaughter for making daisy-chain necklaces

 

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The native red campion (Silene dioica) which is often full of bees

 

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This photo shows on the left the native Geranium pratense and on the right Pilosella aurantiaca or Orange Hawkweed, also called Fox and Cubs

 

 

 

 

Learning new skills

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

 

I’m afraid I’m just showing off but I’m so pleased to have learned two new skills from workshops at the West Sussex Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, of which I am a member. The West Sussex Guild is very small and friendly and one of its features is the willingness of members to share their skills. So, although we can’t always afford the more expensive tutors, we have opportunities for learning new techniques from one another.

The first workshop, led by Martine Woodvine, was on spinning fancy yarns and this is something I have wanted to learn for many years. In fact, I find it hard to believe that I have been a handspinner for over 30 years and have only just begun to learn how to spin fancy yarns.   The photos below show some of the yarns I have spun.

 

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The other workshop, led by Jane Rodgers, was on simple braiding techniques. I must admit that braiding is not something that has ever really attracted me, mainly because I prefer crafts that enable me to produce items for which I have a use and I couldn’t see that I would have much use for braids. However, now that I have been introduced to the delights of braiding, I realise that braids can be made into many things, including necklaces and bracelets, and I am now about to start my fourth braid. I love watching the pattern emerge as the braid begins to grow and I can see that braiding can become quite addictive! The photo below shows two of my braids made into necklaces and a third braid waiting to be finished off.

 

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I am grateful to Martine and Jane for enabling me to discover the pleasures of two new skills.   P.S. No natural dyes this time, I’m afraid

Jill Goodwin 1917 – 2013

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

 

This week I was saddened to learn from her daughter that Jill Goodwin, author of “A Dyer’s Manual”, died on March 23rd at the age of 95.

 

“A Dyer’s Manual” is a classic in the natural dyeing field and was a vital source of inspiration and information for me and so many dyers of my generation and also for the generation of dyers that followed. Without  this book, which is full of Jill’s knowledge and experience presented in a clear and direct manner, I would certainly not have had the information or motivation to experiment with dyes from plants.

 

I corresponded with Jill at regular intervals over many years and cherish the letters she wrote me.  One of my most prized possessions is a hat she crocheted for me from her handspun walnut-dyed wool and each time I wear it I am reminded of her generosity of spirit and warmth of personality. Jill was a spinner and weaver as well as a natural dyer and she always kept abreast of developments in the textile world generally and in the field of natural dyeing in particular. She never lost her interest in everything new and was often the first to tell me about the latest new fibre or dyeing technique. Every now and then she would telephone me and she usually started by asking “Have you heard about….?” or “Did you know that….?”

 

Whenever I visited Jill – and I wasn’t able to do so very often – she had more dyed samples and hand-made treasures to show me and she was always keen to hear about my latest experiments. She was in contact with dyers from all over the world and shared her knowledge readily and enthusiastically. The breadth of her experience was vast and her advice was always useful and to the point.

 

I will miss Jill and I feel privileged to have known her. I am grateful for all that I was able to learn from her over the decades and I am sure that “A Dyer’s Manual” will continue to inspire dyers for many years to come.