Archive for the ‘Diary & News’ Category

Ethel Mairet Masterclass

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

I am delighted to have been invited to be part of the forthcoming Ethel Mairet Masterclass at Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft, organised in conjunction with Selvedge magazine.

This 5-day course runs from April 3rd  to April 7th 2017 and will give students an opportunity to experience working in the stimulating environment of the museum and to immerse themselves in the world of Ethel Mairet, in the charming village where she lived and worked.

More details are available on the Selvedge and Ditchling Museum websites.

Booking is via the Selvedge website. (www.selvedge.org)

I shall be leading the natural dyeing component, which will give students the chance to follow some of Ethel Mairet’s recipes, as presented in her book “Vegetable Dyes”. There will also be an opportunity to study and compare the different editions of this classic work. I was thrilled to find that one copy of the book even has Ethel Mairet’s own handwritten pencil notes on some of its pages and this really breathes life into her recipes.

Ethel Mairet’s importance lies particularly in her inspiration as a teacher and educator. In “Vegetable Dyes” she follows in the tradition of earlier professional dyers, imparting knowledge & sharing experiences in order to encourage dyers to aim for the highest standards in their work. Her comments give an insight into the working methods of the professional dyer in the early 20th century and on the course we will consider how Ethel Mairet’s work can inspire today’s natural dyers to improve their own practices.

Although “Vegetable Dyes” covers very many sources of dye colour, in fact Ethel Mairet herself used mainly the classic dyes, madder, weld, cochineal and indigo and these are the dyes we will be using on the course; they remain the most reliable dyes for use today and those which I recommend to dyers who wish to be sure of consistently good results. They are also dyes from which a wide range of shades and tones can be achieved and this is something we will be exploring on the course.

 

A range of colours from indigo, madder and weld

Although some of the recipes in the dye book require the use of chemicals which are no longer recommended for use today, many recipes are still relevant and useful. These are the ones we will be following to dye both wool and silk skeins and while some recipes may appear rather complicated, many are brief and relatively straightforward – at least they are when one has managed to adapt the quantities for smaller weights of fibres.  The two recipes below are typical examples.

CATECHU STONE DRAB (10 lbs cotton)

Work the cotton for ¼ hour with 2 pints catechu (1 lb catechu to 7 or 8 gallons water; boil and add 2 oz copper sulphate) in hot water, lift and add 2ozs copperas in solution. Work for ¼ hour and wash. Add 2 oz logwood to a bath of warm water & work cotton in this for 10 minutes. Lift and add ½ oz alum. Work 10 minutes; wring out and dry.

PINK WITH COCHINEAL FOR WOOL

(For 60 lbs wool). 5lbs 12 oz alum. Boil and immerse wool for 50 minutes. Then add 1 lb Cochineal and 5 lbs cream of tartar. Boil and enter wool while boiling, till the required colour is got.

Samples above dyed following some of Ethel Mairet’s recipes for weld, indigo, cochineal and madder

Students on the masterclass will also have an opportunity to see and study in detail the wonderful and ever-increasing array of colourful dyed skeins, which form part of the current Ethel Mairet exhibition. These have been dyed especially for this event by dyers from many parts of the world, following recipes in the 1916 edition of “Vegetable Dyes”, and each skein is accompanied by a description of how and by whom it was dyed. This collection of dyed skeins is a unique example of collaborative work from natural dyers who live and work in many different countries and cultures and it will remain a lasting tribute to a remarkable weaver and dyer, who spent most of her working life in the village of Ditchling but whose influence was far-reaching.

I am sure students will share my love of Ditchling Museum and I am really looking forward to leading a masterclass in such a very special venue.

 

 

 

Ethel Mairet Dyeing Project at Ditchling Museum

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft is situated in a beautiful setting in the charming village of Ditchling, near Brighton, in East Sussex . The impact of the many artists and craftspeople who came to live and work in Ditchling from the beginning of the 20th century onwards established this village as one of the most important places for the visual arts and crafts in Britain. The museum is a real treasure and well worth a visit, especially as it provides a rare opportunity to see special objects and works of art in the village where they were made.

The museum holds an internationally important collection of work by the artists and craftspeople who were  drawn to the village, including the sculptor, wood engraver, type-designer and letter-cutter Eric Gill, the calligrapher Edward Johnston (responsible for the famous Johnston typeface used for London Underground), the painter David Jones, the printer Hilary Pepler and the weavers Valentine KilBride and Ethel Mairet.

Ditchling museum also regularly has special exhibitions of the work of other artists and craftspeople. Currently, in addition to the exhibits based around Ethel Mairet’s work, there are three further exhibitions, relating to the work of William Morris and the Kelmscott press, to the artist, weaver and tapestry maker Tadek Beutlich and to the author and illustrator John Vernon Lord, who lives in the village.

As if all that were not enough, the museum also has a tempting shop and a cafe serving excellent coffee and cake. And the village itself is a delightful place to explore, with some interesting shops and good pubs and eating places.

As I wrote in an earlier post, this is the centenary of the publication in 1916 of Ethel Mairet’s classic work on natural dyeing, “A Book on Vegetable Dyes”. To mark the event, Ditchling Museum is inviting dyers to contribute to an ever-growing exhibition of skeins dyed following recipes from the book. Anyone in any part of the world can take part by simply following the links on the museum website: (www.ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk/event/dyeing-now/) Once the dyer has selected the fibre and the recipe, the skein is sent out for the participant to dye and then return to the museum.

As part of this focus on the work of Ethel Mairet, I shall be giving a talk at the museum about natural dyes in the evening of January 26th next year and also leading a natural dyeing workshop there on March 25th 2017. Full details of both these events can be found on the website: (www.ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk/what’s-on/all-workshops-events/

I have dyed ten cotton and linen skeins for the project and I recently made another visit to to the museum to see how the Ethel Mairet dyeing project is progressing.

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This is the framework on which the dyed skeins are displayed as they arrive

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The photos above show some of the dyed skeins in place

Below are some of Ethel Mairet’s own samples with their characteristic luggage labels

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The three photos below show some of Ethel Mairet’s work on display in the museum, Sadly my photos cannot do full justice to her vibrant colours and beautiful weaving.

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(All photographs taken with kind permission of Ditchling Museum)

 

 

 

Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft: Ethel Mairet Natural Dyeing Project

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

Ethel Mairet (1872 – 1952) was a handloom weaver and dyer and a pioneer of the 20th-century modern craft revival in Britain. She was influential in the development of weaving in the first half of the 20th century and she was an enthusiastic and inspirational teacher, dedicated to passing on to future generations the knowledge and experience gained from her lifetime of experimentation with natural dyes and textiles.

Her first husband was the geologist and art historian, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and with him she spent some time at Charles Robert Ashbee’s community of artists and craftspeople in Chipping Campden. The couple also travelled to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India, where they collected textiles and Ethel Mairet learned about handweaving. In 1913 she married her second husband, Philip Mairet, and they established a joint home and studio near Stratford-on-Avon. In 1914 she was visited by Gandhi, who knew of her work in Ceylon and was interested in using simple textile techniques in India. In 1916 she visited Eric Gill and the Guild of St Joseph & St Dominic in Ditchling in Sussex. This was a Roman Catholic community, based on the idea of the medieval guild, which existed for the protection and the promotion of the work of its members, who included Eric Gill, Hilary Pepler, Valentine KilBride and George Maxwell. Ethel Mairet was so impressed that she decided to set up her weaving studio in Ditchling and during the 1930s and 1940s she trained people in weaving and natural dyeing in her studio at her home “Gospels”.  In 1939 she became the first woman Royal Designer for Industry (RDI).

In common with many of her Ditchling contemporaries, Ethel Mairet shared the view that the sustainability of craft lay in communicating with a new generation of practitioners and between 1939 and 1947 she taught at Brighton Art School, favouring experimentation rather than technical expertise. Her book on natural dyeing, “A Book of Vegetable Dyes”, was published in 1916; it was one of the first British books on natural dyeing to reach a wide audience and was so successful that it ran to five editions (including a version published by Hilary Pepler’s St Dominic’s Press).

Although some recipes in “Vegetable Dyes” include chemicals considered unsuitable for use in today’s safety-conscious and environmentally-concerned world, the book remains a classic work which still has much to offer the natural dyer.

Ethel Mairet also published books on handweaving, including “Handweaving Today” (1939) and “Handweaving and Education” (1942).

To mark the centenary of the first edition of “Vegetable Dyes”, from September 17th 2016 Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft will have an exhibition of Ethel Mairet’s dyeing and weaving and all five volumes of the book. In addition, the museum has launched a project inviting dyers and craftspeople from all over the world to reproduce many of the recipes in the book. The project runs from September 17th 2016 to April 16th 2017 and anyone interested in taking part can obtain full details from the museum’s website: www.ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk

I have dyed 10 skeins for the project and they are shown in the photo below. In each pair the first skein is cotton and the second skein is linen. All were mordanted with 5% alum acetate.

From left to right: brazilwood, sanderswood, lac, quercitron, Saxon Blue + quercitron

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Dyeing large quantities of woollen skeins

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

A friend asked for help as she wanted to dye one kilo of handspun woollen skeins all the same colour. Dyeing such a large quantity of fibre is not easy, unless one has suitable equipment. I don’t have a pot large enough which could be heated and I no longer have a large Burco boiler, so the only option seemed to be to use a plastic container and opt for cool dyeing. Cool mordanting with alum is not a problem, as long as the fibres remain in the cool mordant bath for at least 24 hours and preferably longer. However, cool dyeing limits to some extent the dyes which can be used, as not all dyes can be successfully applied without heat.

The colour my friend chose was the pale green/yellow shown in the top sample below:

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To achieve this colour, I decided to apply an alum mordant and then dye with weld extract, followed by indigo. I already have a large plastic container I keep for alum mordanting and fortunately it was just large enough for the quantity of wool, so I filled the container with cool water, added the alum mordant and left the yarn in the mordant bath for a couple of days.

I decided to use a large plastic garden trug as my dye pot, so I dissolved the weld extract in boiling water and added it to the cool water in the plastic trug.  I stirred well and then added the wetted-out yarn and allowed it to steep in the dye bath for about 24 hours, by which time it had become a suitable shade of yellow and was evenly dyed.

The final step was to make an indigo vat, also in the large plastic garden trug. The wool was then over-dyed in the indigo vat.

Although the trug seemed large enough for the quantity of wool being dyed with weld, I think the wool probably needed even more space in the indigo vat, as the results were somewhat variegated. However, the colour on the sample was also variegated and my friend was pleased with the results of our labours, so all was well.

The photo below shows the dyed skeins:

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I then decided to dye a further kilo of wool, this time Romney Marsh fleece from local sheep, processed into yarn at Diamond Fibres in East Sussex. I wanted a colour suitable for a jacket that I could wear with most things and as I would have to dye without heat I chose to use buckthorn bark, which responds well to cool dyeing and which would, I hoped, give a caramel colour.

I simmered up about 200gms of buckthorn bark and then strained the dye liquid into the water in the trug. I added about 1 teaspoon of walnut hull extract in the hope that this might make the shade slightly browner in tone. (However, my initial feeling that walnut might not dye well without heat probably proved correct, as there is little evidence of any walnut influence in the final colour.) I added the wool skeins, which absorbed the dye more quickly than I had expected and I removed them after about one hour, rinsed and washed them and then left them to dry. These skeins also appear variegated but not this time because the trug was too small for the yarn. Buckthorn bark tends to change colour a little when left to dry in the light and it is important to open up the skeins and move them around, so they dry evenly. However, because the skeins were so dense and thick it was more difficult to open them up, so the final colour effect is variegated. Fortunately, I like this effect anyway and, although I had been aiming for a more caramel tone, I am also pleased with the colour.

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The final results.

Further alkaline extraction method tests and some puzzling results

Monday, April 18th, 2016

Following on from my recent alkaline extraction method experiments, I decided to try the method used by Krista Vajanto in her dissertation and described in my post of March 8th. So before adding a further set of samples, I left the dye baths to become acidic. This proved more difficult than I had expected, as the pH decreased a little and then remained stubbornly at around pH9 and refused to become more acidic. After a couple of weeks, I decided to add another set of samples anyway, which I left to steep for about 4 weeks. The dye baths looked very strongly coloured and I was hoping for well-dyed samples. Indeed, on removal from the dye baths the samples appeared deep in colour but most of the colour washed off, leaving the samples considerably paler than the first set, which had been in the alkaline dye bath for only 2 weeks.

I really don’t know how to interpret these surprising results. If the dye baths had been pH7 or below, I would have assumed that the acidic conditions had made the samples paler. This would have been in line with results from acidic modifiers which often result in the samples becoming paler. But in this case the dye baths were still alkaline, although less so than for the first samples. However, the dye baths had become slimy and viscous and I wonder if this is a sign that fermentation was taking place and the fermentation caused the colours to become paler?

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This photo shows, from the top: birch bark, alder bark, white willow bark, tormentil root, with 4 samples for each. For each dye, the pair of samples on the left is from the first dye bath (2 weeks) and the pair on the right is from the second dye bath (4 weeks). In each pair, the top sample is alum-mordanted and the lower sample is unmordanted. The photo quite clearly shows how much paler the samples are from the second dye bath. Very puzzling!

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.