Learning to weave on a rigid heddle loom

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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Buckthorn Bark

September 2nd, 2013

 

Buckthorn bark (Rhamnus spp.) is an extremely useful dye which can be used very successfully without a mordant and gives colours ranging from mustard yellows to true madder-type reds.  (The bark of alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus) can be used in the same way as buckthorn bark and gives similar colours.)

 

For reds, buckthorn bark is best processed using the alkaline extraction method, which means soaking the bark in a solution of water and an alkali, such as washing soda or wood ash water. The exact proportions of water to alkali don’t really matter as long as the solution has a pH reading of 10 to 11. As the solution begins to ferment it will become more acidic, so more alkali may need to be added to maintain the degree of alkalinity necessary for reds and pinks. If fibres are added at different stages, a range of shades can be obtained, with colours becoming more orange and less pink in tone as the alkalinity decreases. No heat should be applied to solutions with high alkalinity and the colours develop gradually on the fibres in a cool solution.

 

The fibres can be added together with the buckthorn bark and left to soak with the dyestuff until a suitable depth of colour has been reached. Alternatively, the dye solution can be poured off once the colour has developed and the fibres can be added to this dye solution. Whichever method is selected, no heat should be applied.

 

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This photo shows some of the colours achieved from buckthorn bark using the alkaline extraction method described above. (No mordant)

 

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This photo shows some colours from the exhaust dye bath. (No mordant)

 

The alkaline extraction method is a very useful way of extracting and applying colour and can be used with a variety of dyes. It is one of the techniques I shall be featuring in my new book “A Heritage of Colour”, which is currently scheduled for publication in February 2014 and which will include details for using over 50 plants, including buckthorn. I will give more details about this new book in a later post.

The dye garden is developing

July 18th, 2013

 

As my new dye garden is so small I have had to limit the number of dye plants I grow. So I have decided to grow only native dye plants, or plants like woad and madder that were introduced into Britain at an early date.

Last year the woad crop was very disappointing. No self-seeded woad plants grew and the seeds I sowed produced only a few plants. However, this year has made up for it and I have many woad plants growing well. Weld, too, has grown better this year.

 

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Weld in flower

 

The dyer’s madder is in a separate bed, as it can be very invasive, but the bedstraws are developing well in the dye garden. I have hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo, also known as Galium album), lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) and northern bedstraw (Galium boreale). I have also managed to find a supplier of plants of wild madder (Rubia peregrina) so I hope the plants I bought will thrive. (The supplier was www.wildflowers.co.uk and they will send plants overseas although that can be very expensive.)

 

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Lady’s bedstraw with woad in the background

 

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Hedge bedstraw

 

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Wild madder in a pot with woad and saw-wort in the background

 

The dyer’s broom (Genista tinctoria) is just coming into flower and the saw-wort (Serratula tinctoria) is also starting to flower.

 

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Dyer’s broom

 

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Saw-wort

 

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Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

The yarrow is growing really well this year.

The garden in late spring

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

 

 

 

 

Mediaeval Dyes

June 10th, 2013

 

Following on from my earlier posts about Anglo-Saxon dyes, I thought I’d write a little about the dyes used in mediaeval Europe, from around the 9th century to the beginning of the 16th century.

 

As archaeological evidence and the technical analysis of textile fragments indicate, during this period dyers had access to a wider range of dyes as trade developed and increased. Indigo from woad (Isatis tinctoria) remained the main source of blue and madder ((Rubia tinctorum) was the most common source of reds, with kermes (Kermes vermilio) and sappanwood (Caesalpinia sappan) also being used. Weld (Reseda luteola) and dyer’s broom (Genista tinctoria) continued to be used for yellows and other sources of yellow included heather (Calluna vulgaris), bog myrtle (Myrica gale), Persian berries (Rhamnus spp.), Venetian sumac (Cotinus coggygria) and sometimes also saffron (Crocus sativus).

The Imperial or Tyrian Purple dye from shellfish, famed in the ancient world, was still being used, albeit on a much smaller scale, and some species of lichens were also used in many parts of Europe to produce a vivid, if less permanent, purple colour. The tannin/iron complex remained the most common method of creating black, although the preferred, but more costly, method was to use red, blue and yellow dyes in sequence.

There were also apparently regional differences in the use of colour. By the 11th century Flanders was known for green, the Rhineland for black and Britain for red. Within England itself, some towns were licensed during the mediaeval period to produce certain colours – for example, York for red and purple, Lincoln for green, scarlet and grey, Coventry for blue and Beverley for blue and red.

 

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From left: Reds and rust from madder (alum mordant), brown & tan from walnut hulls (no mordant), gold & yellow from weld (alum mordant), moss greens from weld + iron modifier and blues from woad (no mordant)

 

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Black from madder + weld + woad (alum mordant)

 

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Purples from the lichen Ochrolechia tartarea (no mordant)

 

Trade flourished in the Middle Ages and the most expensive of all dyestuffs was the insect dye, kermes (Kermes vermilio), from a shield-louse that lives on the kermes oak, Quercus coccifera, found in various parts of the Mediterranean. Sappanwood, from the heartwood of the tree Caesalpinia sappan, was imported into Europe in the later Middle Ages from India, Ceylon and Java and gave red colours. The wood and the dye were known locally as “bresil” or “brasil” and when at the end of the 15th century Portugese explorers found a related tree, Caesalpinia echinata, growing in the country now known as Brazil, they named the country “terra de brasil” after the tree and the red dye from Caesalpinia echinata was called brazilwood. Sappanwood was brought into Europe in surprisingly large quantities and 80% of the reds analysed on fabrics from around 1100 to 1450 prove to have been dyed with at least some sappanwood. It was added to madder dyebaths to enhance the colour and was also used for browns and for some compound colours. Sanderswood (Pterocarpus santalinus) from India and Ceylon was also introduced in the later Middle Ages and was used for reddish rusts and compound colours.

 

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Kermes (Kermes vermilio)

 

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Red from kermes (alum mordant)

 

Mediterranean alum became more widely available and was imported into Britain from Italy, Spain and Asia Minor. Italy dominated trade and Italian dyers had access to dyes that were not generally available in many other parts of Europe. The 14th century archives of  Francesco di Datini in Florence and Prato list lac (Kerria lacca), an insect dye from India and South-East Asia, and indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) from Baghdad among their items of trade.

 

During the Middle Ages dyeing flourished in Europe and it was the craft of the dyer that added most to the value of textile fabrics. Guilds of master dyers became established and a master dyer’s recipe book was closely guarded. The list of dyes and details of dyeing techniques found in dyers’ recipe books of the period indicate the increased complexity of some of the methods. The first known manual written for the professional dyer was the Plictho de larte de tentori, which was a collection of recipes for dyeing wool, silk, cotton and linen. It was compiled by Gioanventura Rosetti, Master of the Arsenal in Venice, and published in Venice in 1548. This manual is an important document in the history of dye chemistry and technology and clearly shows the stage of development that the dyer’s craft had reached by the middle of the 16th century.

Learning new skills

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

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.

Dyeing brown and grey wool fibres

March 24th, 2013

 

In my new book I am focusing to some extent on native plants and fibres, so wool plays an important part – and not only white wool but also naturally-coloured wool. Recently I have been spinning naturally-coloured light brown and grey wool fleece and I love the effects when these skeins are dyed. The colours can be very subtle. Here are some examples:

 

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From left to right: Madder, Indigo, Rhubarb Root

The first skein in each pair shows the dye colour on white wool and the second skein shows the dye colour on light grey wool.

 

All the skeins are unmordanted.

 

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The samples above are from horsetail (left) and tansy (right) and show from left to right: alum mordant on white wool, no mordant + alkaline modifier on brown wool , no mordant + alkaline modifier on grey wool

 

I find alkaline modifiers extremely useful, especially when used on fibres that have not been mordanted with alum. Even when the colour on the dyed fibres looks rather insipid initially, an alkaline modifier can often deepen and brighten it. The results of alkaline modifiers on naturally-pigmented wool are particularly pleasing, as I think the samples above show.

Hacked again

February 27th, 2013

 

I’m afraid my website has yet again been hacked into, so Colin, my website manager, has suggested I make it more difficult for people to make comments, at least for the time being. I apologise if this causes any inconvenience.

However, I can still be contacted by clicking on to  “Contact Jenny” at the right-hand side of the home page.

 

On a more positive note, I’m pleased to report that the first draft of the new book is ready to be sent to the publishers. Oh, and the sun is shining here today, although it is cold; the primroses and hellebores are brightening up the garden and the daffodils are beginning to come into flower. Perhaps spring will come before too long and I will be able to take the few remaining photos for my book.

 

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P.S to the post about chickweed

February 16th, 2013

 

On Leena Riihela’s blog there is a post with some useful comments about some Finnish sources of information about chickweed and some suggestions as to how the misleading notion that chickweed could be used as a mordant might have come about. The post is written in Finnish but there is an English translation underneath. Some of the comments on Leena’s post are also interesting.

 

If you click on the link to “Riihivilla” on the right hand side of my blog, you will find a link there to Leena’s blog.

 

Also, in a German dyeing book, “Farben aus der Natur” by Gretel Fieler, published in 1981, I have found a reference to a recipe from 1817 in a German dyeing book by Johann Hinrich Ehlers, in which he mentions the use of chickweed plus alum as a mordant used with logwood for dyeing shades of blue. However, although chickweed is mentioned in the mordanting paragraph, alum is added to the chickweed solution before the wool is mordanted, so it is the alum which is the true mordant here, not the chickweed. I think it is possible that the chickweed may have been used for its potash content, which could shift the colour from the logwood from purple towards blue. It is interesting to find such an old recipe, which is almost identical to those mentioned in the more recent books from so long ago.

 

Now I must find the time to try out this recipe with chickweed, alum and logwood, to see how it compares with the colours from logwood when chickweed is not included. But before I do anything else, I must continue working on my new book.