Archive for the ‘Diary & News’ Category

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.

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.