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.

 

Chickweed as mordant?

February 10th, 2013

 

Before anyone gets too excited, I’m afraid the answer to the question posed in the title would seem to be “No, probably not.” So where did I get the idea that chickweed might be used as mordant?

 

Last year I read an interesting article in “The Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers” about natural mordants. The article was written by Krista Vajanto, who teaches textile history at the University of Helsinki, Finland and is researching Iron Age Finnish textiles. Among the details of the better-known natural mordants (rhubarb leaves, tannin, aluminium from clubmoss) was a mention of chickweed. The positioning of the comment gave the impression that chickweed might also be an aluminium accumulator and if this were the case it would, of course, be extremely useful for dyers who want to use only natural mordants from plants.

 

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a common weed in many gardens (although, rather annoyingly, not in my garden) and apparently several Finnish dyeing books from the 20th century mention using chickweed as a “natural mordant”.  Unlike clubmoss, chickweed is not rare and could therefore be used freely for dyeing, so I decided to do some experiments to test its potential as a “natural mordant”. The article stated that chickweed should be used fresh but unfortunately it proved impossible to locate any fresh chickweed. So, as I usually extract aluminium from dried, rather than fresh, clubmoss, I thought it ought to be possible to use dried chickweed, which I bought from a supplier of dried herbs.

 

I treated the chickweed in exactly the same way as I treat dried clubmoss when I extract aluminium from it and then I used the chickweed solution as a mordant in the same way.

 

I then made a dyer’s broom dye bath and dyed skeins treated with clubmoss and chickweed and also alum-mordanted and unmordanted skeins in the same dye bath. The results were interesting. The alum-mordanted skein and the skein treated with clubmoss dyed a very similar yellow, indicating the presence of aluminium in the clubmoss. The skein treated with chickweed and the unmordanted skein dyed to almost exactly the same shade of pale yellow, which suggested that there was no aluminium present in and extracted from the chickweed. Although I wasn’t able to use fresh chickweed and I admit I might have got different results had I been able to do so, I have so far come to the conclusion that chickweed is unlikely to prove useful as a natural mordant. Indeed, I feel certain that, had it been useful as an alternative to alum, dyers would have been aware of that fact long ago. However, I will reserve my final judgement until I have managed to try the same experiments with fresh chickweed, just in case.

 

So how did this belief originate? I have come to the following conclusions. Firstly, the term “mordant” tends to be used very loosely in some literature and often seems to mean “anything that can be used as a base for other dyes or as an addition to a dye pot”. I suspect that, when applied to chickweed, the term “mordant” was being used in that rather loose sense. I believe it is possible that, in situations where it might have been difficult to obtain more expensive dyes or chemical mordants, plants such as chickweed, which grow abundantly as weeds and give a light yellow colour, might have been used as a base for more expensive or difficult to obtain yellow dyes, in order to reduce the quantity required of the more precious dyestuff. So the belief might come about that, if chickweed “helped out” with yellow dyes, it might also have a similar effect with other dyes.

 

But I’m afraid I feel it is unlikely that chickweed has ever truly been, or indeed is ever likely to become, an alternative “mordant”. Unless, of course, experiments with fresh chickweed suggest otherwise but first I must find some.

 

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The photo above shows samples dyed with dyer’s broom (Genista tinctoria)

From the top: alum mordant, clubmoss mordant, chickweed base, no mordant

Snow!

January 20th, 2013

 

Snow is a  relatively rare occurrence here in West Sussex and we have about 3 inches at the moment but I know this will not impress those of you who live in countries where there is “proper” snowfall. In a news item on the radio about the cancellation of flights at Heathrow airport yesterday, I heard a Canadian say: “I don’t know what the problem is. This is just like a lovely spring day where I live in Canada.”

 

Today we have enjoyed watching some intrepid goldfinches feeding on the seeds left on our teasel heads. Although our garden is small, I like to grow teasels to give some structure to the garden, especially in the winter. As added bonuses, the flowers attract bees and butterflies and the seed heads provide interest in the autumn and winter and food for goldfinches.

 

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New Natural Dye Extracts in Liquid Form

January 8th, 2013

 

Just before Christmas I noticed some new dye extracts in liquid form on the D T Crafts website (see link on the right) and, as these are new to me, I ordered some. The dyes are called Botanical Colors Aquarelle and have been certified as compliant with the Global Organic Textile Standard. So my first dyeing project for 2013 has been to try them out.

The dye extracts offered in liquid form are Madder, Lac, Himalayan Rhubarb, Cutch and Saxon Blue. These dyes come with clear instructions and are simplicity itself to use, as they are just added to the dye bath water and stirred in.  They work equally well on all natural fibres, although Saxon Blue tends to produce paler shades on vegetable fibres. A little goes a long way, so I feel they are reasonably priced.

 

The photos below show some of the colours.

 

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LAC: The wool skein on the left was mordanted with alum, the central skein was unmordanted and the skein on the right was another unmordanted skein, this time over-dyed in Saxon Blue. The skeins are shown on unmordanted silk fabric dyed in the exhaust dye bath.

 

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HIMALAYAN RHUBARB ROOT: The upper two skeins were mordanted with alum and the lower two skeins were unmordanted. The skeins are shown on unmordanted silk fabric, dyed in the exhaust dye bath.

 

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SAXON BLUE: This liquid indigo is an improved formulation of Saxon Blue, which was first created in the 18th century. It is used in exactly the same way as the other liquid dyes, so there is no need to prepare a vat using stock solutions or reducing agents and the blue liquid can be added to other dye baths, so for example green can be produced by adding some Saxon Blue liquid to a yellow dye bath. All the samples shown are unmordanted and the skein on the right shows the effect of the dye on grey wool.

 

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MADDER: The two wool skeins on the left were mordanted with alum and the two skeins on the right were unmordanted. The skein on the extreme right shows the effect on grey wool. The skeins are shown on unmordanted silk fabric dyed in the exhaust dye bath.

 

As the photos indicate, the colours from these dyes are lovely and there is considerable potential from just these few dyes for creating further colours by varying the strength of the solution and by over-dyeing or colour mixing. If the Saxon Blue liquid extract lives up to expectations, it should make many compound colours so much easier to achieve.  I feel very enthusiastic about these new liquid extract dyes and look forward to experimenting further with them.

 

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR

January 7th, 2013

 

Warm good wishes for a very Happy New Year!

 

My thanks for all your support, which I really appreciate and value.  I am continuing to work on my new book but I will try to write posts more regularly in 2013.

 

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The beach near Worthing in West Sussex in winter

 

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Looking towards Findon village on a winter’s morning

 

Indigo dyeing with vinegar

December 11th, 2012

 

I have been intending for some time to try the vinegar method of dyeing with fresh leaves from indigo-bearing plants and this year I managed to collect enough Japanese Indigo (Persicaria tinctoria) leaves to make an experimental vat.

 

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These rather pathetic-looking plants did eventually  grow sufficiently well to provide some leaves for a small test vat but still only produced enough to fill about a quarter of a small bucket.

 

I must admit that I have been a little sceptical about the likelihood of being able to produce fast blues  from indigo-bearing leaves using only water and vinegar and no heat.  But obviously one should always try a recipe before offering an opinion.

For this method, the leaves must be processed as soon as they have been picked and, after washing them, it is important to cut or shred the leaves very finely. (First of all, I made the mistake of using a stainless steel demiluna chopper on a wooden chopping board and as a result I wasted some of the dye potential and now have a chopping board permanently stained blue. I considered using a liquidiser but decided in the end to cut up the leaves with scissors.) Then I poured enough cold water over the leaves to cover them and added a little clear vinegar to the water – about 15mls per litre – then vigorously kneaded the leaves in the water-vinegar solution for several minutes until the liquid became bright green. I strained off this liquid into a dye pot and then made a second water-vinegar solution and repeated the process with the same leaves. I then squeezed the leaves very well before straining off this liquid and adding it to the bright green liquid in the dye pot. Then I added the wetted-out fibres and left them to soak in the liquid for about one hour until they had become blue in colour. Then I rinsed the fibres and hung them up to dry. The photo below shows the dyed wool and silk.

 

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I decided to try this method with woad leaves (Isatis tinctoria) but unfortunately, as I had already harvested virtually all my woad leaves a few weeks before, all I managed to find for this experiment were about ten thin leaves left clinging to the plants.  So I wasn’t really expecting this test to be successful but these few leaves dyed the fibres a similar, but somewhat paler, blue. I would hope to get deeper blues from a larger quantity of woad leaves but sadly that will have to wait until next year.

Only time and several washes will prove whether this method gives blues which are light- and wash-fast, so I shall reserve my judgement until a later date. Certainly, if fast blues can be produced so easily and quickly, one wonders why dyers would bother with the more usual way of using fresh woad and Japanese Indigo leaves. And I suppose that thought is what made me sceptical about the merits of this method in the first place.

Back by Popular Demand!

December 6th, 2012

So many people have asked me to put my website back, that I have given in to popular demand and asked my website designer (right) if he could rebuild it just as it was – and here it is!

Thank you, Colin.