Thanks and Good Wishes for Christmas and 2011

2010 brought many changes in my life and also the long-awaited reprint of “Wild Colour”, this time in a new, revised edition. Once again, I’d like to express my gratitude to Mary Walker, who arranged the Facebook page for the book, and to all those who supported our efforts to persuade the publishers to reprint “Wild Colour”. Having tried unsuccessfully myself so many times, I know I could certainly not have achieved this on my own. So sincere thanks to you all.

As the holiday season approaches, I’d like to wish everyone a very happy Christmas and all the very best for 2011.

Fresh Walnut Hulls

I suspect I am not alone in sometimes finding it difficult to achieve a really deep brown from walnut hulls. However, one solution to this problem is to use fresh green walnut hulls, rather than dried brown ones. This Autumn I was lucky enough to harvest some walnuts and, after eating the nuts, I saved the green hulls to use for dyeing. I left the hulls until they had started to become brown before I simmered them until the liquid was deep brown in colour. I then strained off the liquid, added some unmordanted wool skeins and simmered them for about an hour. I left them to steep in the cooling dyebath overnight before rinsing and washing them.

As can be seen from the first two skeins in the photo below, this dyebath gave a rich deep brown and the exhaust dyebath gave a paler shade. Now I just have to find a reliable source of fresh walnuts each year. However, I should be able to use these hulls for a year or two, as I always save the used hulls, plus their liquid, to use again and again. Don’t worry if mould forms as time passes – this will only improve the dye.

I also made a dyebath from fresh walnut leaves, which gave paler browns. (See the last two skeins in the photo below.)
Fresh green walnuts

Fresh green walnuts

Walnut leaves

Walnut leaves

The walnut hulls simmering to make the dyebath

The walnut hulls simmering to make the dyebath

Skeins dyed in the walnut dyebath

From the left, skeins 1 and 2 were dyed using fresh walnut hulls and skeins 3 and 4 were dyed using fresh walnut leaves

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Findon Church

As we gradually explore the countryside around us here, one of my favourite places has been the area near Findon church, which is separated from the village by the A24. This means that to get to the church one either has to cross the A24 on foot or drive out of the village and over the main road to the country lane that leads up to Findon’s Saxon church of St. John the Baptist. It is very unusual for a village church to be cut off from the village in this way but its isolation does give the church a particularly tranquil and peaceful setting, especially as the church is approached by a quiet narrow lane with trees on either side. The views over the countryside are spectacular and it is also along this lane leading to the church that I have found some interesting specimens of fungi and some wonderful old trees, including a walnut tree.

Findon church is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 but an architectural study of the building shows evidence of a Saxon church which predates the Norman record and was probably built around 900AD. In 1120 the Norman parts of the church were built and in 1254 the church had its first recorded patron, Reginald de Northank. The early patrons were the owners of the manor of Findon, until 1506 when Magdalen College Oxford took over the responsibility. In 1949 the patronage of the parish passed to the Bishop of Chichester.

In 1867 a major reconstruction of the interior of the church was carried out by Sir Gilbert Scott and this included the tiles on either side of the altar, which were designed by William Morris, one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The entrance to Findon Church

The entrance to Findon Church

Findon Church tower

Findon Church tower

The interior of the church

The interior of the church

Some of the William Morris tiles in the church

Some of the William Morris tiles in the church

A lichen-encrusted headstone in the graveyard

A lichen-encrusted headstone in the graveyard

A woad-bearing visitor

Just over a week ago we had our first non-family guest to stay for a few days and we very much enjoyed this visit from Chris Dobson, a dear friend of nearly 30 years. Chris is a true kindred spirit and we have shared many happy hours engaged in various textile-related activities, especially natural dyeing, so I wasn’t surprised that she arrived bearing a large bag of woad leaves from her allotment.

We soon got down to making a woad vat and the leaves performed their magic, even though they had been in a plastic bag for nearly three days before we used them. Chris, who is also a horticultural expert and source of information on all botanical matters, told me that, as long as the leaves are stored slightly damp in a little water in a plastic bag in a cool place, there is no reason why they can’t be picked a few days in advance and still give excellent blues. (I think the reason why we failed to get blues at Stanmer Park (see earlier post) from the stored woad leaves was probably because they had been stored in a fridge and the temperature had been too low.)

The following photos show some of the stages of our woad vat.

The leaves soaking in just-boiled water. Note the metallic sheen appearing on the surface

The chopped leaves soaking in just-boiled water. Note the metallic sheen appearing on the surface

 

 

The blue froth formed after adding washing soda & whisking the woad solution

The blue froth formed after adding washing soda to the strained-off solution and whisking to incorporate oxygen

Scraping out the last of the froth that contains the blue pigment

Scraping out the last of the froth that contains the blue pigment

Adding sodium hydrosulphite to the solution

Adding sodium hydrosulphite to the solution

The vat nearly ready to use

The vat nearly ready to use

Gently adding the skeins to the vat

Gently adding the skeins to the vat

The skeins in the vat. (Notice the blue froth still lingering on the surface)

The skeins in the vat. Notice the blue froth still lingering on the surface, even though we have tried to gently stir it all into the solution

Removing the dyed skeins

Removing the dyed skeins. Next to the vat is a bucket of water, into which the skeins will be immersed after they are removed from the vat. This will get rid of any loose particles of indigo pigment, which might cause blotches.

Some of the dyed skeins drying

Some of the dyed skeins drying

P.S. to “Fungi Again”

The mushrooms which gave such a good yellow have re-appeared on the grass at the front of our house, so I have photographed them in case anyone is able to identify them. I think they may be a species of  Hygrocybe.

These mushrooms gave a lovely bright yellow in the dyebath.

These mushrooms gave a lovely bright yellow in the dyebath.

My new “den”

Before my summer house (or, as my two-year-old granddaughter calls it, “Namma’s Wendy House) becomes as cluttered and untidy as my workshop at our old home, I thought it would be a good idea to make a photographic record of it in its tidy state. Not that I intend to fill this new “den” with disorganised “stuff” but somehow these things just seem to happen.

The first photo shows a very useful plastic garden storage unit, left behind by the former owners of the house. This has turned out to be the ideal place for storing all my dye equipment and dyes etc.

As the other photos below suggest, I haven’t spent much time in my “den” yet, so everything looks much tidier than I am accustomed to. I can’t imagine the tablecloth will remain on my dyeing table when I get round to some serious dyeing and the new heat source will certainly soon be as stained as all my old ones.

 

Storage unit for my dyeing equipment etc

Storage unit for my dyeing equipment etc

  

 

My spinning area

My spinning area

This shows the spinning area from a different angle

This shows the spinning area from a different angle

My dyeing area, complete with shiny new heat source, as yet unused.

My dyeing area, complete with shiny new heat source, as yet unused.

Area for relaxing (particularly popular with my granddaughter)

Area for relaxing (particularly popular with my granddaughter)

Fungi again

The narrow road leading to the church in Findon is lined on both sides with trees and on one old beech tree stump I found some intriguing fungi, which as usual I haven’t managed to identify. Of course I tried some small samples out in the dyepot but sadly, as the photo below shows, the results were not particularly worthwhile.

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Skeins dyed using the fungi shown in the first two photos below

 

 These samples were all dyed using an alum mordant.

 

 

 

 

 

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These fine specimens looked wonderful growing all around the tree stump and gave the colour shown on the left-hand skein (plus a pinch of iron) and the centre skein.

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These were lying on the grass and looked quite sinister. They gave the colour shown on the right-hand skein.

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I think this might be a specimen of Hoof Fungus Fomes fomentarius. It certainly resembles a horse’s hoof and I didn’t want to disturb it for the dyepot.

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Might the upper fungus in this photo be Ganoderma applanatum or Artist’s fungus? Whatever these fungi may be, they looked too attractive to sacrifice for the dyepot.

A few days later my husband pointed out some mushrooms growing on our front lawn, which I think are probably a species of Hygrocybe. These proved more useful in the dye pot and gave a pretty shade of yellow on an alum mordant. I’m afraid I forgot to photograph the mushrooms before I used them in the dyepot, so the photo below of the dyed skein shows the used mushrooms from the dyebath, plus one fresh mushroom I managed to find. I should also add that the depth of yellow achieved was actually considerably deeper than it appears in the photo.

Skein dyed using mushrooms from our lawn

Skein dyed using mushrooms from our lawn

Exploring the local area

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

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

Dyeing at Stanmer Park, Brighton

Last week I led my first workshops in our new local area, working with dyers from several groups in Sussex for two days of plant dyeing.

The workshops took place in Stanmer Park, which is a beautiful location next to the University of Sussex, just outside Brighton. The venue for our workshops within the park was the Plumpton College potting shed, which had many stainless steel work tops, a couple of power points and a large ceramic sink, but rather limited space to move around. However, this did have the advantage of making it easy to communicate with everyone at close quarters. We used gas and electric heat sources and obtained a range of colours from madder, weld, rhubarb root, buckthorn bark, indigo and woad, plus one or two plants selected at random from the park.

Inside the potting shed

Inside the potting shed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Among the participants were experienced dyers and some relatively new to the craft. The opportunity to share and exchange skills and experiences was appreciated by all of us. One thing I learned is that storing fresh woad leaves in a fridge for over 24 hours may not be a good idea, as the vats made from fresh leaves that had been picked two days before they were to be used were not successful. The kind person who provided these leaves had kept them in the fridge for about 24 hours and I would not have expected this to have destroyed their blue dye potential, although I’ve never stored woad leaves in this way before. As we didn’t want to use them until the second day, we removed them from the fridge in the late afternoon of the first day, poured boiling water over them  and left them to steep overnight, ready to use the next morning. Unfortunately there was no way they could be persuaded to yield blues, although some generous participants declared themselves pleased with the yellowish colours achieved from the vat. However, the same leaves were then simmered to produce some pleasant pink-tan shades, so the experiment was not entirely without success.

The vat made using one woad ball was more successful. (See my earlier post for details of using woad balls.) 

One skein just removed from our small woad ball vat

One skein dyed in our small woad ball vat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another successful experiment was with powdered rhubarb root. I made a strong, hot solution of washing soda and water, added the rhubarb root and stirred very well. The solution gradually became a deep red colour and we added some alum-mordanted and unmordanted skeins and left them to steep without heating. (NB Never heat washing soda solutions when dyeing wool or other animal fibres, as this may destroy the fibres.) After several hours both the mordanted and unmordanted skeins had become a rich madder-type rusty red. I was surprised to achieve such a rich red shade, as my earlier experiments using this method of dyeing with rhubarb root had produced paler, pinker shades. (See my earlier posts on dyeing with rhubarb root.) I suspect the difference in colour depth was probably because this time I used a stronger concentration of rhubarb root and washing soda.

The madder dye bath was made with freshly-dug madder roots, which gave excellent colours. Before use, the root was washed well and we also rubbed off some of the outer bark-like layer. We then chopped it as small as possible and poured boiling water over it. We left the root to steep in the hot water for about 2 minutes, then poured off the liquid into a dye pot. Then we poured boiling water over the same root again and left it to steep as before. Then we again poured off the liquid into the dye pot. (Note: this process removes some of the yellow and brown pigments which can make the dyed colour too rust in tone, rather than red. The liquid from these “steepings” can then be used for a further dyebath to achieve coral/rust shades.)  This pot of dye solution was put to one side for later use and we returned to the madder root, which we simmered again in fresh water for about 30 minutes until we had a rich red liquid. This was strained off and became our first dyebath. We allowed the temperature to cool a little, (if the temperature is too high when the fibres are added, they may become too brown in tone), then added unmordanted and alum-mordanted skeins. These were left to soak in the dye liquid without any further heat, until they had achieved a suitable depth of colour. Some of the skeins were then treated in acid, alkaline, copper and iron modifiers, giving a wide range of red and coral shades. Then we used the combined liquids from the first two madder root “steepings” to make a further dyebath, from which we achieved orange/coral colours. The same madder root can also be re-simmered for another dyebath, which will produce paler shades of coral.

To show the participants what can be achieved without a mordant, we used weld (dried, rather than freshly harvested) on unmordanted skeins. The weld gave good colours and the skein modified in washing soda was almost as brilliant and deep in colour as skeins mordanted in alum would have been. (Note: when storing dried weld, it’s important to keep it away from the light, otherwise much colour potential may be lost. I usually store dried weld in brown paper sacks.)

The following photos show some of the colours we achieved.

Some of the madder, weld and rhubarb root results

Some of the madder, weld and rhubarb root results

Some more dyed skeins, including the blues

Dyed skeins, including the blues