Archive for the ‘Diary & News’ Category

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.

A moving date at last!

Monday, June 28th, 2010

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

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

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

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

News from Uganda

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

















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

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

Moving house

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

I’m afraid my posts will probably be very infrequent during the coming weeks, as we are planning to move from Bedfordshire to West Sussex to be nearer our granddaughter and our daughter and her partner.

When we put our house on the market in the new year, we expected it would take many months before we found a buyer and also a property to move to. However, things have proceeded rather faster than we had anticipated and we now face the daunting task of clearing and sorting nearly 34 years of family life in this house. There is just so much to do that we hardly know where to begin. And we shall be moving to a much smaller garden, which means that many of my large plant pots will have to stay here, plus all the treasured plants from so many years of happy gardening. And my dye garden, too, will be a thing of the past – at least until I try to establish a much smaller one in our new garden. The outbuildings will also have to be cleared – something I can’t even bear to think about because they are so full of “stuff”.

The prospect of moving away from what has been the home where we raised our children brings so many mixed emotions. The house is full of memories of happy family times (and a few not-so-happy ones, too, of course) and our children are also feeling sad that the home to which they have returned for so many years will no longer be theirs to come back to. Roger and I feel similar regrets but we are also looking forward to starting a new phase of our lives in fresh surroundings, with the challenge of making another home and garden. It will be lovely to be close enough to be able to play a more active part in our granddaughter’s life, although we are sorry that this move will take us further away from our son, who is based in Cambridge. However, as he has pointed out, he will be able to combine visiting his sister with visiting his parents, instead of having to make two separate trips, so there are positive aspects, too.

However, as we haven’t yet exchanged contracts, I suppose events may slow down again if any problems arise. We are keeping our fingers crossed that all will go smoothly, whilst also remaining aware that there are still several bridges to be crossed before the sale of this house and the purchase of our new one are completed.

I will certainly update my blog with any further developments.

A New Book

Saturday, February 20th, 2010









The gloom of this dull, damp, miserable winter was relieved this week when I received an unexpected gift through the post – a recently-published  book on natural dyeing, co-authored by Eva Lambert and Tracy Kendall.

I have known Eva for many years and visited her several times in her studio and dye-workshop on the Isle of Skye. She has a wealth of practical experience to share, as she has been running her own business, Shilasdair, for many years, selling her naturally-dyed yarns and beautiful garments made from them. Tracy Kendall, whom I met several years ago when we were both demonstrating dyeing at a conference on Mediaeval Dyes, is a lecturer at Central Saint Martins College in London and she also has her own design studio producing hand silk-screened wallpapers.

The book, “The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing – Techniques and recipes for dyeing fabrics, yarns and fibres at home”, is a lavishly illustrated, full colour paperback, published by Search Press and selling at £12.99. It covers the basics of mordanting and dyeing, and the yarn section, written by Eva Lambert, also includes top-dyeing, tie-dyeing and random dyeing. The fabric section, written by Tracy Kendall, covers several fabric-patterning techniques, including various resist-dyeing methods, such as folding, clamping and batik.

The dyeing sections cover collecting and preparing dyestuffs and give recipes for using a wide range of dyes, including classic dyes, such as madder, cochineal, weld and logwood, plus a section on indigo dyeing.

As a dyer, I am always interested in the methods and techniques used by other dyers. Some of the recipes in this book, especially those for mordanting fibres, differ from those I use  myself and I found the sections on colour and patterns interesting. All in all, this book is a delight, full of useful techniques and recipes, with luscious colour on every page.

Thank you, Leena

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

As a Christmas gift to myself, I was unable to resist buying some of Leena Riihela’s naturally-dyed skeins of wool. (Click on the link to her website for more details of what Leena has to offer.)

My daughter had asked me to knit a jumper for Milly, my granddaughter, and she wanted something that could be worn outside as an alternative to a coat. The advantage of a jumper is that it has no front-fastening buttons to come undone and I also knew that I’d need to knit something warm enough for outdoor wear and loose enough to enable Milly to wear a T-shirt underneath.

So this is the jumper I knitted. The pattern I made up is so simple, as it consists mainly of rectangles and the sleeves are knitted by picking up stitches around the armholes and working down towards the cuff. The shoulder-opening makes it easy to put on too and I hope my daughter and granddaughter will be pleased.








The wool was dyed mainly in cochineal, with some indigo, and the shades blend in together beautifully. So many thanks to Leena for producing such lovely colours.

More About the Uganda Project

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

A little while ago, I wrote about a group of basket makers in Uganda, who weave beautiful baskets from naturally-dyed raffia. (See post “A Natural Dyeing Project in Uganda”)      

One aim of this project was to produce blues from the leaves of Indigofera arrecta, an indigo-bearing plant which grows wild in the area around Rubona, where the project is based. For some time I have been in correspondence with the project leader, Rupert Kampmueller, offering advice to help him achieve this aim, and I was convinced that the methods used to extract indigo from fresh woad leaves could be adapted for use with this local source of indigo.

This week I was very pleased to hear from Rupert that, after much trial and error, he has at last been successful in his attempts to produce deep blues from locally-harvested indigo leaves. Based on the methods I use for dyeing with fresh woad leaves, Rupert has developed suitable extraction and dyeing methods to enable the ladies in the Rubona group to produce a range of blues on raffia, using the leaves of locally-growing Indigofera arrecta. The next stage will be to see whether the method I use for storing woad solutions can also be used successfully with indigo solutions made from the leaves of these Ugandan plants.

The following photos, supplied by Rupert, show some of the stages of production.









 This photo shows Indigofera arrecta growing wild near Rubona.

Following processes similar to those used with fresh woad leaves, leaves from these indigo-bearing plants are harvested and first steeped in very hot water. After an hour or so, the leaves are removed and soda ash is added to the liquid. Oxygen is then incorporated into the solution to precipitate the indigo particles.








This shows the strained-off indigo solution being poured from one bucket to another to incorporate oxygen.









This shows the froth containing the precipitated indigo pigment.








 This shows the raffia dyed in the indigo vat made from the leaves of Indigofera arrecta.

This successful use of local indigo plants is of great significance for the weavers of Rubona, as it means they now have a readily available source of blue and no longer need to rely on imported indigo.

Sincere thanks again

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Once again, I send my most sincere thanks for all the kind messages I’ve received, following the announcement that “Wild Colour” will be revised and reprinted later this year.

I really appreciate all the encouragement and support I’ve been given.

Good News!

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

I am delighted to be able to tell you that the publishers have agreed to reprint “Wild Colour” and revised editions will be published in both the UK and the US in September/October 2010.

I shall be making changes to the text of some sections of the book but its appearance will be basically the same.

I would like to thank most sincerely everyone who supported my efforts to secure this reprint and most particularly Mary Walker, who organised the Facebook page and kept the US publishers informed of the degree of interest in the book. Without Mary’s efforts, together with her encouragement and the support of so many people, I am sure this reprint would not be happening, so I am truly grateful to you all. Many, many thanks.