Revised editions of “Wild Colour”









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more reliable to find suppliers that way, as over the years of a book’s life most lists of suppliers tend to become out of date.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

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

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.


Our new garden

One of the first things I have done in this new garden has been to look around to see whether there are any plants here suitable for the dyepot and I’ve already found several potentially useful plants.









The first plant I noticed was this rather pretty eucalyptus tree in our front garden. It’s much smaller than the one in our previous garden but it’s a lovely shape. I’m planning to try – yet again – to get a really deep red from eucalyptus and perhaps this time I may be lucky.








This attractive small shrub is a species of barberry, Berberis thunbergii “Harlequin”. Barberry bark is a traditional source of yellow dye and while the best dye comes from Berberis vulgaris, the more decorative varieties can also be used as a source of dye colour.









This small sprawling shrub, rather overshadowed by the Choisya bush next to it, is a Smoke Tree, Cotinus coggygria, also known as Venetian Sumac. When fully grown, these shrubs can be very beautiful and also have an interesting history. Venetian Sumac was a valued source of yellow dye in Europe in the Middle Ages and was known as Young Fustic. When fustic from the Americas was introduced into 16th century Europe, it was known as Old Fustic because its dye properties were recognised as similar to those of Young Fustic. Venetian Sumac is also rich in tannin and can be used in combination with iron to create black.









This is a small Morello Cherry tree, which has been almost stripped of cherries by the birds. (Fortunately we managed to harvest a few cherries, which we have frozen to make into jam later in the year.) The leaves and bark of cherry trees can make useful dye material, so I’ll be able to experiment with the prunings in due course.

I have decided to make two small herb beds just below the terrace area in the back garden, one on each side of the steps down onto the grass. As my definition of a herb is “a useful plant”, I intend to grow dye plants in these beds, as well as culinary and medicinal herbs.

I also plan to grow some dye plants in the raised bed next to the area where I have my indigo dye pot. At the moment this bed contains the madder and woad plants I brought with me from our old garden and some summer bedding plants for colour. Next year I’ll probably grow some more woad here, plus some more decorative dye plants, such as dyer’s chamomile.

Settling into our new home

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!

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

















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”)

Summer is coming

I couldn’t resist taking a few photos to remind me of the delights of this garden in late Spring and early Summer, when everything looks lush and green and the roses fill the air with their wonderful fragrance.


































Some Useful Garden Trees

As the time for our move to Sussex draws closer and we shall have to leave this house and my dye garden, I thought I would write a little about some of the trees in this garden that have been useful sources of dye colour.



WALNUT (Juglans spp.) 






This is a very small walnut tree, I know, but I have cherished it, as I’ve already tried unsuccessfully several times to persuade a walnut tree to establish itself in our garden. This one was given to me as a seedling and, although I have already managed to harvest leaves for dyeing as they fall in Autumn, it will be many years before I can harvest walnuts.

The walnut is rich in tannin and all parts of the tree can be used in dyeing, including the leaves, bark, heartwood and the outer green cases of the nuts. Walnut doesn’t need a mordant – in fact walnut leaves have a higher fastness rating when used on unmordanted wool than if used on alum-mordanted wool. (Ref: Fast or Fugitive by Gill Dalby). Although dried walnut leaves tend to give colours in the yellow to tan range, sometimes fresh leaves harvested in early summer can give deep browns. Different depths of brown can be achieved from all parts of the walnut tree and colour modifiers can be used to vary the shades. Darker shades of brown can often be achieved by using a rhubarb leaf mordant or base and by using an iron modifier. For maximum colour potential, walnut hulls should be soaked in water for at least several weeks before being simmered to make a dyebath and I often leave them soaking for a year or two. As tannin is astringent they don’t seem to develop an unpleasant odour, as long as they are completely covered by the water, but it’s a good idea to check the liquid level every few months, in case some evaporates. It can sometimes be difficult to get really rich browns from walnut hulls and I have found that adding some oak gall solution to the dyebath often results in deeper shades. To apply the dye, I simmer the fibres in the dyebath, then leave them to cool and repeat the process several times until a reasonable depth of brown is achieved.


BIRCH (Betula spp.)






Birches make lovely garden trees, with their leaves trembling gently in the breeze and their attractive bark, and I shall really miss this beautiful tree when we move. Birches are among the most ancient of trees and birch leaves and bark have been used for centuries as dye sources. The leaves give clear yellows and the bark gives shades of tan, brown and sometimes pink. Birch leaves are best used with an alum mordant. The bark can be used without a mordant but an alum mordant will intensify the colours. Birch bark has several layers and the inner layers will often give pretty shades of pink. Like most barks, birch bark benefits from lengthy processing and I usually soak it in water for several weeks before simmering it gently for about an hour to extract the maximum amount of colour. The fibres can be added at any stage, if you intend to leave the bark in the dyebath. However, as small pieces of bark can sometimes be difficult to remove from fibres, I tend to strain off the extracted dye liquid and then I add the fibres, bring the solution to simmering point and then keep the temperature just below a simmer for as long as seems necessary. This is because I have sometimes found that, if a bark dyebath is allowed to boil too much, the tannin in the bark can dull the colours. I then leave the fibres to soak in the dyebath overnight before rinsing them.


STAGHORN SUMAC (Rhus typhina)






 The staghorn sumac tree is particularly rich in tannin and the leaves can be used as a tannin mordant for silk and vegetable fibres. The leaves also give a soft yellow dye and the inner bark of the tree can give attractive shades of rust. Apart from its usefulness to dyers, staghorn sumac is an attractive garden shrub, particularly in the Autumn when the  leaves turn beautiful red and orange colours. Its branches are covered in fine brown downy hairs and, when the leaves have fallen, in silhouette they look like antlers, which is why the tree is called staghorn sumac. Some species of sumac have poisonous berries (usually white) but the berries of staghorn sumac are red and harmless and, when ripe, they form candle-like clusters at the tips of the branches. Although the colours from sumac are not remarkable, they can provide useful contrasts to stronger colours.

I shall certainly miss my garden and all the plants and trees that have provided me with such a variety of dye sources over the last 33 years.

My Garden in Spring

This garden is lovely in Spring and we shall be so sad to leave it. Here are some photos I’ve taken recently.