Archive for the ‘Diary & News’ Category

2011 – What Next?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

At the start of the new year and as I gradually feel more settled here in our new home, I have begun to ask myself what I plan to do with any free time I may have and which new craft projects I’d like to embark on. I have to admit that there are times when I find it difficult to motivate myself to start dyeing again. I don’t produce items for sale and, with the exception of yarns dyed for my own personal projects, most of my dyeing is done as experiments for whatever article or book I am working on currently. As I still have so many naturally-dyed yarns waiting to be used, I feel reluctant to add even more to my stock, especially when I recall how much I gave away when we moved.

My main interest has for some time been the textile traditions of the past and I am working on some more Anglo-Saxon style dyeing experiments. I realise this is a very loose description, as what I have been doing is considering the colour range that might have been available to ordinary people living during the Anglo-Saxon period, particularly those who may not have had access to alum mordants. So I shall be writing more about this at a later date.

I have also decided that it is about time I learned some new skills, as well as trying to improve some old ones. As I am so interested in the textile skills of the past, I plan to teach myself card (or tablet) weaving and with that in mind I’ve purchased a book to guide me through the processes involved. I also hope to improve my spindle-spinning and my naalbinding techniques. As an added encouragement, for Christmas my friend Chris Dobson, who shares my interest in ancient textile techniques, sent me some lovely wooden weaving tablets, together with a shuttle and a beater, and also a bone naalbinding needle.  So, having committed my intentions to print in this post, and with the equipment I need ready at hand, perhaps this will give me the incentive I need to get started. Indeed, as the photos below show, I have actually managed to thread my tablets ready for weaving, using blue and tan yarns dyed with woad. Now I must follow the next pages of instruction and actually do some weaving! (Thank you, Chris, for getting me started!)

Of course, when the weather improves we shall begin to make some changes here in the garden, probably starting with two new beds for herbs and dye plants and we also plan to plant some roses. I do miss my old garden, especially when I think of all the hellebores and bulbs that will soon be flowering there. But I have already noticed some bulbs beginning to emerge from the ground here and we have created some spaces for hellebores too, so eventually this new garden should hopefully bring as much pleasure into our lives as did our garden in Shefford.

On a personal note, our daughter is expecting her second child in early March, so I am also knitting one or two items for the baby. As these will use up only a tiny part of my yarn stock, I suspect I may also need to embark on other knitting projects – perhaps more cushions? – as the year progresses.

Tablet weaving set up on our old Italian fruitwood chest

Tablet weaving set up on our old Italian fruitwood chest









A closer view of the tablets threaded ready for weaving

A closer view of the tablets threaded ready for weaving

Thanks and Good Wishes for Christmas and 2011

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

2010 brought many changes in my life and also the long-awaited reprint of “Wild Colour”, this time in a new, revised edition. Once again, I’d like to express my gratitude to Mary Walker, who arranged the Facebook page for the book, and to all those who supported our efforts to persuade the publishers to reprint “Wild Colour”. Having tried unsuccessfully myself so many times, I know I could certainly not have achieved this on my own. So sincere thanks to you all.

As the holiday season approaches, I’d like to wish everyone a very happy Christmas and all the very best for 2011.

Findon Church

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

As we gradually explore the countryside around us here, one of my favourite places has been the area near Findon church, which is separated from the village by the A24. This means that to get to the church one either has to cross the A24 on foot or drive out of the village and over the main road to the country lane that leads up to Findon’s Saxon church of St. John the Baptist. It is very unusual for a village church to be cut off from the village in this way but its isolation does give the church a particularly tranquil and peaceful setting, especially as the church is approached by a quiet narrow lane with trees on either side. The views over the countryside are spectacular and it is also along this lane leading to the church that I have found some interesting specimens of fungi and some wonderful old trees, including a walnut tree.

Findon church is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 but an architectural study of the building shows evidence of a Saxon church which predates the Norman record and was probably built around 900AD. In 1120 the Norman parts of the church were built and in 1254 the church had its first recorded patron, Reginald de Northank. The early patrons were the owners of the manor of Findon, until 1506 when Magdalen College Oxford took over the responsibility. In 1949 the patronage of the parish passed to the Bishop of Chichester.

In 1867 a major reconstruction of the interior of the church was carried out by Sir Gilbert Scott and this included the tiles on either side of the altar, which were designed by William Morris, one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The entrance to Findon Church

The entrance to Findon Church

Findon Church tower

Findon Church tower

The interior of the church

The interior of the church

Some of the William Morris tiles in the church

Some of the William Morris tiles in the church

A lichen-encrusted headstone in the graveyard

A lichen-encrusted headstone in the graveyard

My new “den”

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Before my summer house (or, as my two-year-old granddaughter calls it, “Namma’s Wendy House) becomes as cluttered and untidy as my workshop at our old home, I thought it would be a good idea to make a photographic record of it in its tidy state. Not that I intend to fill this new “den” with disorganised “stuff” but somehow these things just seem to happen.

The first photo shows a very useful plastic garden storage unit, left behind by the former owners of the house. This has turned out to be the ideal place for storing all my dye equipment and dyes etc.

As the other photos below suggest, I haven’t spent much time in my “den” yet, so everything looks much tidier than I am accustomed to. I can’t imagine the tablecloth will remain on my dyeing table when I get round to some serious dyeing and the new heat source will certainly soon be as stained as all my old ones.


Storage unit for my dyeing equipment etc

Storage unit for my dyeing equipment etc



My spinning area

My spinning area

This shows the spinning area from a different angle

This shows the spinning area from a different angle

My dyeing area, complete with shiny new heat source, as yet unused.

My dyeing area, complete with shiny new heat source, as yet unused.

Area for relaxing (particularly popular with my granddaughter)

Area for relaxing (particularly popular with my granddaughter)

Exploring the local area

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

I’m afraid I haven’t yet managed to get round to starting any dyeing projects, as we are spending so much time with our granddaughter and also trying to explore a little of the local area.

We recently made a trip to Bosham, a delightful village near Chichester and known to be the oldest site of Christianity in Sussex. Bosham has many beautiful old buildings, including a wonderful church dating back to Saxon times, some parts of which have survived from this period. Perhaps Bosham is most famous for being depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. Harold, Earl of Wessex, the future king, had a home in Bosham and in the scene from the tapestry he is shown riding to Bosham and entering the church, before embarking on his ill-fated trip to Normandy in 1064. 

Bosham church also has a memorial to one of King Canute’s daughters who, according to tradition, drowned and was buried in the church. In 1865 a small stone coffin was found which was thought at the time to be from the 11th century. When in 1954 the coffin was again exposed a second larger coffin was found nearby containing some bones. However, without closer examination, precise dating of the coffins is difficult and the truth of this story has not been verified.


A view of Bosham church tower

A view of Bosham church tower

The interior of Bosham church

The interior of Bosham church









A copy of the section of the Bayeux tapestry showing Bosham church

A copy of the section of the Bayeux tapestry showing King Harold's visit to Bosham church










 This part of Sussex has many other historical sites to visit and next on our list is the Roman Palace at Fishbourne, which has the most remarkable Roman mosaics. We visited the palace many years ago but a further visit is certainly well overdue. The other museum I’m looking forward to revisiting is The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton. So expect more about these two places in due course.

The journey home once again took us over the downs, which are among the most characteristic features of the Sussex landscape.

A view over the downs

A view over the downs

Dyeing at Denny Abbey again

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

For several years I have been tutoring  two workshops each summer at The Farmland Museum at Denny Abbey in Cambridgeshire and, even though the journey from Sussex means getting up about 5.30am, I was keen to continue the workshops this year after our move. I always enjoy working at Denny Abbey, not only because the setting is so beautiful but also because the atmosphere there is so peaceful.  I also love to visit the dye garden at Denny, for which I supplied some plants from my own dye garden several years ago. This year was especially poignant for me, as I no longer have my own dye garden, so it was good to see the plants I had supplied thriving and flourishing.

The workshop followed my usual Denny format, starting with an introductory talk . Then in the morning we dyed wool and cotton samples, using two substantive dyes (rhubarb root and buckthorn bark) and two adjective dyes (madder and weld). We then used four colour modifiers on some of the samples, which meant we ended up with five different shades on each fibre from each dye.

In the afternoon I made an indigo vat and we dyed some wool and cotton samples and the students were then able to dye some of the materials they had brought with them. The day finished with a session round the table, assembling the 22 wool and 22 cotton samples on sample cards and dealing with any further questions or observations.

For me the high point of the day is always when the colours begin to emerge and I can see the students’ delight and hear their excitement at the range of beautiful colours we are achieving. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I teach similar workshops, the magic of these moments never fails to fill me with pleasure.

Dyed samples drying outside

Some of the dyed samples drying outside on pieces of old farm machinery

Revised editions of “Wild Colour”

Monday, September 6th, 2010









The UK version of the revised edition of “Wild Colour” is now available and the US version should be available in November. Several people have contacted me with queries about these two editions, wondering whether they are in fact the same and why one edition appears to be more expensive than the other in pounds sterling on Amazon. I thought I would try to clarify matters by explaining that the only real differences between the two editions are in the spellings of words such as “colour/color” and in word usage, such as “clingfilm/saran wrap”. As far as the plant details are concerned, there is a slight slant in emphasis in the first paragraph of the woad pages in the US version, mainly because woad is considered to be a noxious weed in some US states. Apart from that, the text on the other plant pages is virtually the same in both editions, except for some spellings. The bibliography pages in each edition also vary slightly, as the US publishers insisted on including a list of US suppliers, which meant that some titles had to be removed from the US edition’s bibliography to make space for this. I chose not to reduce the bibliography to include suppliers in the UK edition, partly because so many readers will have internet access and it is often more reliable to find suppliers that way, as over the years of a book’s life most lists of suppliers tend to become out of date. Also, because limitations on the space available would have meant that I could only have included some suppliers and not others, I wanted to avoid causing offence to any supplier not included. As far as the dyeing instructions are concerned, they are identical in each version, so it really doesn’t matter which one works from.  Both editions are paperbacks and the front covers also differ slightly. I am disappointed that the words “revised and updated edition” don’t appear on the front cover of the UK version, although they do appear inside.

The reason why the US version costs more in pounds sterling than the UK edition is because the US price is in dollars and has been converted into pounds sterling for sale in the UK. I have no idea why the US version has not been made available on the same date as the UK version. I’m afraid I am merely the author and I have no control whatsoever over such matters.

Some people have also assumed that, as Karen Casselman seems to appear as “co-author” in the Amazon description of the US version, she must have part-written the book, which would make it a different book from the UK edition. This assumption is false. Karen Casselman played no part in this revised edition of “Wild Colour” but the US publishers insisted her name should remain on the cover of the US edition, probably because she was the “consultant” on the first edition of the book. The US publishers of this first edition insisted that there should be a known N. American “name” associated with the book,  because they feared that otherwise “Wild Color” might not sell in the US, as my name would probably not be known to US dyers. Apart from providing the “name”, Karen Casselman’s role was to advise on matters specific to N. America, such as where in N. America certain plants might be located and whether there were restrictions on growing certain plants in some US states. The text of all editions of “Wild Colour/Wild Color” has always been mine and mine alone, so any errors are solely mine and not the responsibility of anyone else.

Perhaps I should also add a few words here about how and why the revisions were made. When the publishers told me they were prepared to reprint “Wild Colour”, I would have been happy for the text to have remained unchanged as, to my knowledge, it did not contain any errors or any out-of-date information. However, the publishers would only reprint if I made changes to 30% of the book’s text pages. These changes could be small (eg to only one word or sentence on a page) or could include larger changes, such as revisions to several paragraphs. But whatever changes I made, they had to fit into the text areas as already established around the colour sections and photos, because none of the existing colour sections could be moved or changed.  I was also not allowed to add any further pages, so I couldn’t add any more plants or techniques, which would probably have been my chosen way of revising the book. It was also not possible to add plants or techniques by replacing existing ones, as the added ones would not fit with the existing colour photos, which could not be changed. Text could only be added in any spaces at the top of pages above photos, as in the green boxes added on pages 39, 41, 55 and 57, or on pages where the text did not run to the bottom of the page. Otherwise, revising meant painstaking juggling of words, so as to retain the same number of letters + spaces while also making changes, such as in the changes made to some of the indigo and woad dyeing methods. Readers familiar with both editions of “Wild Colour” may find it difficult to locate the revisions, because at first glance the books appear so similar, but changes actually occur on pages: 15, 25, 30-31, 36-37, 38-39, 40-41, 44-45, 46, 49, 52, 54-55, 56-57, 58, 69, 74, 78, 83, 94, 98-99, 100-101, 102, 105, 110, 114-115, 119, 120, 125, 133, 139, 140-144

I hope all these comments help to clarify matters.

Our new local area

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

We have started to explore the countryside around us here in West Sussex and have come to the conclusion that we are very fortunate to have ended up here in Findon. Findon is a delightful village and everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. There are two shops here selling basic foodstuffs for our daily needs, plus a post office/newsagents/general store, and also several pubs which offer food, and an excellent Bangladeshi restaurant and take-away. Our new home is in the South Downs National Park and very near Cissbury Ring, which is an iron-age hillfort, with the remains of Neolithic flint mines.









 This is a view over the Downs from the base of Cissbury Ring.

















The above two pictures show some of the local vegetation. It’s interesting to find so many shrubs and flowers here that are not familiar to us from Bedfordshire and we are beginning to identify some of them. Among those we’ve identified so far, I think we’ve found wild parsnip, hemp agrimony and the wayfaring tree, Viburnum lanterna. Apparently the latter was named the “wayfaring tree” by John Gerard, the 16th century herbalist, because it was such a common roadside tree and therefore very familiar to wayfarers.










This is another view over the downs, taken on a rather dull day. If you look very closely you should be able to see some sheep in the distance, just in front of the trees. Each year in September, Findon village has a Sheep Fair, which is held on Nepcote Green, just at the end of our lane. Apparently this fair dates back to 1261, but nowadays sheep are no longer auctioned at the fair. However, this year there will be sheep judging in two categories, Downland and Rare Breeds, and sheepdogs showing their skills, so there should be plenty of sheep on show.

Help needed with identification

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Can anyone help us identify a shrub, which we have growing in the garden here? It seems to be relatively common here in West Sussex. Our daughter has a very tall specimen growing in her garden and earlier in the year it seemed to have small flowers that were almost black in colour. Our example is about six feet tall and about 3 feet wide. The photo below shows the rather interesting glossy striped leaves. We’d be grateful for any suggestions as to what this tree might be.


Settling into our new home

Monday, August 9th, 2010

At last we have moved into our new home and are back online after several weeks without an internet connection. Although there is still much to be done in the house and garden, I feel sure we will be happy here in West Sussex, especially as it only takes 10 minutes by car to reach our daughter and granddaughter.

I haven’t had chance to set up any dyebaths yet but I’m beginning to get my dyes and equipment unpacked and to plan where I shall do most of my dyeing.



This is the view from the kitchen window of our terrace and back garden





As will be clear from the above photo, this garden is very much smaller than the garden at our previous home. I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to grow many dye plants here but I did manage to find spaces for some madder and woad plants I brought with me.



The madder looks as if it’s settling quite happily into its new position.







Sadly, the woad plants I so carefully watered into their new site have been eaten by caterpillars and look very sorry for themselves.












This summer house at the end of the garden will be my workshop and “den” and I’m gradually filling it with my dyeing and spinning equipment. I have made a resolution to keep it tidy and clutter-free but I fear this may not be easy!








This shows my indigo dye pot from Thailand, waiting to be put to use. It sits so well on this spot and I think this will be an ideal outdoor dyeing area. The madder and woad plants have been planted in the raised bed on the left of the picture.