More from the Ditchling Museum Dye Garden

During Covid19 the one-year course has been on hold but, with the help of Zoom and WhatsApp and by posting dyes and other materials to the students, we have been able to continue work our work and have managed to very nearly complete the programme.

With luck we hope to be able to meet again for at least one more session at the museum before the course finally finishes for this year.

As the summer turns to autumn, these photos are a reminder of how lovely the dye garden has been and how sad it is that my students and I haven’t been able to enjoy it. But Fiona Eastwood has been collecting seeds and drying dye plants, so at least we will have the potential for more plants and dyes in the future.

As soon as it is possible, I hope to run another one-year course at Ditchling Museum and it will be advertised here, with details of how to apply for a place. So keep your fingers crossed!

 

Ditchling Museum Dye Garden

Although the one-year natural dyeing course students are still not able to meet at the museum, the museum itself is now open again and the dye garden is flourishing, thanks to the hard work and vision of the head gardener, Liz Pope, and her assistants.

The following photos, taken by Fiona Eastwood, one of the gardeners who is also on the natural dyeing course, show some of the beauties of the garden.

Both of the above photos show dyer’s coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)

Tagetes tenuifolia

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius)

Rudbeckia

Dahlia

Dyeing with gorse

As the Ditchling course is on hold at the moment and the students are working at home, I have been suggesting plants they might find locally for the dye pot. Fiona Eastwood, one of the students on the course, has been experimenting with gorse Ulex europaeus, which is currently in glorious bloom all around us here in Sussex. The bright yellow flowers produce a delicious coconut aroma when used in the dye pot and they give a beautiful bright yellow. The flowers are best used at about 200% for really strong yellows and I prefer to use them on their own without any stalks or leaves. The plants are quite thorny, so it is advisable to wear gloves when collecting gorse flowers. For best results use an alum mordant.

This shows skeins dyed in gorse flowers at 200% flowers. The fibres are wool and silk. Alum mordant

The photo below shows fleece and wool dyed in gorse twigs and flowers at less than 200%. Alum mordant

Both photos by Fiona Eastwood

Ditchling course update

Sadly, because of the Coronavirus the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft is closed and the natural dyeing course is on hold until the situation improves. We had reached the halfway mark and we will continue the sessions as soon as we can.

In the meantime I have suggested some “homework” projects and I and all the students will keep in touch via social media and online meetings.

The samples from the last session are not yet available but below are some photos from an ongoing project, led by Fiona Eastwood, one of the course students who also volunteers in the museum dye garden. The photos show some of the dyed fabric for bunting, which will be made to decorate the garden on open days. Some of the pieces will be decorated too. The fabric used is wool from old woollen blankets, which take the dye beautifully and should be fairly robust. So each time we make a dye bath some pieces of fabric for bunting are added to the dye pot.

All the photos were taken by Fiona Eastwood.

Results from logwood and sappanwood

Results from sappanwood

Results from madder

Woad and weld with decorations

Woad and weld and weld overdyed with indigo for green.

More from the Ditchling Museum natural dyeing course

We have now reached the stage in the course when we start on the adjective dyes, for which a mordant is used. The mordant most commonly used is aluminium sulphate (for animal/protein fibres) or aluminium acetate (for vegetable/cellulose fibres). We also dyed some samples using as a mordant symplocos from the dried leaves of trees of the symplocos species. (Full information can be found here in the blog posts Symplocos leaves as a source of aluminium mordant and More about Symplocos leaves as a mordant.) Symplocos trees are aluminium accumulators and absorb aluminium from the ground in which they grow. This means that the dried leaves are a plant alternative to the manufactured aluminium mordants. Symplocos mordant is currently only available in the US (from Botanical Colors) and Canada (from Maiwa Handprints) although it has also been available in France in the past.

The animal fibres (wool and silk) were mordanted using 10% aluminium sulphate and we used 5% aluminium acetate as the mordant for the vegetable fibres (cotton and linen). We didn’t apply a tannin mordant before the aluminium acetate as, although the tannin step is necessary if using aluminium sulphate on vegetable fibres, aluminium acetate can be used without the tannin step.

The fibres for some dyes were also mordanted with symplocos, so we would be able to compare the results from the two mordanting methods.

For all the tests described below we separated the animal and vegetable fibres, using a separate pot for each fibre category. The reasons for this are as follows: animal fibres tend to absorb dye more readily than vegetable fibres so, if both fibre types are in the same pot, the animal fibres may use up too much of the colour before the vegetable fibres have had a chance to absorb their share of the dye. Also, sometimes, depending on the dye, one fibre type may respond better at lower temperatures and using two pots means the heat level can be adjusted according to the needs of the fibre type.

At the first session we used 100% madder root (Rubia tinctorum), 100% weld (Reseda luteola) and 20% cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) in the form of dried beetles which were not ground into powder. (Incidentally, I never use dyes like madder and cochineal in powder form, unless they are powdered extracts which dissolve in water, as it can be very difficult to remove the tiny particles from the fibres. Also, most dyestuffs can be simmered a second time to extract more colour, but this is more difficult with powders.) All the dyes were put into cotton bags so there would be no need to strain off the dye bath, as the bag of dye could just be removed once the colour had been extracted. (To allow the dyestuff to give more colour to the dye bath, the bag of dye could also be left in the dye pot.)

Note: In workshop conditions, time doesn’t always allow for best practice and dyeing times may have to be shortened. However, it is important not to shorten the dyeing time too much, as this may also reduce the colour fastness. If the dyed colour appears deep enough after 5 to 10 minutes in the dye pot, remove the fibres, pour off most of the dye solution, fill the dye pot up with hot water and then return the dyed fibres. Simmer the fibres in this weakened dye solution for a further 20 to 25 minutes before removing them. For maximum colour fastness the fibres should remain in the dye bath for at least 30 minutes and ideally longer. It is also good practice to allow the fibres to cool in the dye bath and I often leave them to steep overnight. Finally, if the colour was deep enough after only 5 to 10 minutes in the dye bath, make a note to reduce the percentage of dyestuff used in future.

MADDER ROOT

There are several ways of using madder and I am still undecided as to which method gives the best results. In the past I washed the madder first then poured boiling water over it, left it to steep for about a minute, then poured this solution off. I repeated this once more, added the second pour-off to the first and left the solution on one side to make a dye bath later. I then simmered the same madder pieces for about 30 minutes to extract the colour for the dye bath. However, for the experiments described here the madder root was first rinsed well under the cold tap to remove some of the brown and yellow pigments, then it was simmered for about 30 minutes to extract the colour. We also added 2 teaspoons of chalk (calcium carbonate) to brighten the colour. We allowed the dye bath to cool slightly and then the fibres were added and left to steep for about 45 minutes. As madder tends to continue releasing colour over a period of time, we left the bag of madder dyestuff in the pot during dyeing.

In my experience, madder can safely be simmered to extract the colour but it may be advisable to keep the heat below a simmer during dyeing, especially when dyeing wool or silk on an alum mordant. Maintaining this lower temperature seems less important for vegetable fibres and I have sometimes found that even simmering wool and silk fibres can give good reds. I also add a couple of teaspoons of chalk (calcium carbonate) to brighten the colour and I have read that adding cream of tartar to madder dye baths when dyeing silk can make the colour redder and less orange. However, I have not yet tried the latter. Some dyers add bran to the dye bath and although I have done this on occasion, I am not entirely sure why this is done. If bran is added, it must be tied into a bag, as it can be extremely difficult to remove from the fibres. On the whole, much seems to depend on the quality of the madder root and I have generally found that the browner the colour of the root before use, the less red the dyed colour may be. However, having said that, browner madder root can sometimes give equally good reds, so much is probably also luck.

Madder on cotton and linen fabrics

Madder on different types of paper

Madder samples dyed by Jacqui Symons From left to right: no modifier, +acid, +alkali, +copper, +iron

(Photos of full madder samples on four fibres available later)

WELD

The weld was simmered for about 30 minutes to extract the colour. Then the fibres were added and simmered gently for about 30 minutes. The temperature was kept a little below boiling point, as a slightly lower temperature often makes the colours from weld brighter and clearer.

  Left to right: no modifier, +acid, +alkali, +copper, +iron                                                                                                               Fabrics from left: linen, cotton, silk

Close-up of above image

COCHINEAL

The colour was extracted from the cochineal following the multiple extraction method. This means the cochineal was simmered three times and after each simmering the dye liquid was poured off into the dye pot. The three pour-offs formed the dye bath.The fibres were added and simmered for about 30 minutes.

Samples as above for weld (Fabrics from left: linen, cotton, silk)

  Samples as above for weld

 

Further samples were produced by individual students, some to be shared between all the students.

Ivy (Hedera helix) leaves (top) and ivy berries (below) Dyed by Lizzie Kimbley                                                                        Alum mordant and the usual modifiers in the usual (alphabetical) order

       

Fustic (Morus tinctoria), alum mordant  Samples (as for weld) Dyed for the group by Claire Bessel

Note: The results from the fustic were more mustard in tone than I had expected and Claire also asked about this, as she had followed the usual methods for dyeing. When I gave her the dyestuff I noticed it looked rather more brown than is usual with fustic and I think this probably influenced the colour. Also, we used 100% dyestuff and a lower percentage might have resulted in more yellow tones.

All photos by Zuzana Krskova

More from the natural dyeing course at Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft

This session was the last for substantive dyes and we used alkanet root, pomegranate peel and cutch (all without a mordant), with the usual four modifiers.

Although substantive dyes will fix without a mordant, the use of an aluminium mordant often gives different results because the alum attracts other pigments which may be present, particularly the flavonoids or yellow pigments. So cutch used with an alum mordant tends to give yellower shades than cutch used without a mordant and with an alum mordant walnut leaves often give yellows but they give tans and browns if used without a mordant. Be aware, too, that using an alum mordant will not necessarily improve fastness. In tests conducted by Gill Dalby, walnut leaves used on an alum mordant had lower fastness than walnut leaves used without a mordant.

This time I tried a different method with the alkanet root, which I soaked in vodka for 3 days before the workshop. This is because the red pigment in alkanet root is not soluble in water but should be soluble in neat alcohol. I have tried rubbing alcohol but I found that the slight improvement in colour in no way compensated for the unpleasant fumes of the dye bath. I had read that vodka might be a useful alternative, so I decided to try that.The vodka was then used as part of the dye bath, with water added. This might seem like a rather unsuitable use of vodka but it was the best alternative I could find.  In fact, I wouldn’t waste good vodka again, as the difference in colour, compared with the results without vodka, was negligible.

Alkanet root (Photo by Zuzana Krskova)

Fabrics from top: cotton, linen, silk Yarns from top: no modifier, +acid, +alkali, +copper, +iron

Pomegranate peel (Photo by Zuzana Krskova)

Details as above for alkanet

Cutch (Photo by Zuzana Krskova)

Details as above for alkanet

Alder cones and twigs dyed by Lizzie Kimbley  (Photo by Zuzana Krskova)

Details as above for alkanet

Some results laid out on the table  (Photo by Lizzie Kimbley)

Focus on Tannin

In the third session of the one-year course at Ditchling Museum we concentrated on tannin-rich materials and their use as dyes and mordants and to create black with iron.

The three tannin-rich dyes we chose were all barks: elm bark, birch bark and cherry bark. For the tannin mordant we used oak galls and we tried two methods of creating black with ferrous sulphate and tannin from plants. We also sampled oak galls as a dye.

A tannin mordant is most commonly used on vegetable fibres, either alone or as part of the alum mordanting process when using alum sulphate or aluminium from symplocos leaves. Tannin is also used as a component in a dyeing method for animal fibres with some dyes and this method will feature in a later session.

Black can be achieved by a combination of tannin and iron but over time this method can damage fibres, especially wool, as it requires 25% iron (ferrous sulphate). There are many sources of tannin that can be used with iron to create black and we used oak galls in one method and alder bark and twigs in the other. When dyeing black using the tannin/iron complex the fibres must be alternately dyed then aired, in order for the depth of colour to develop. Exposure to the air is an important part of the process.

As I had anticipated, the barks gave very little colour on the vegetable fibres. We might have achieved stronger colours on all the fibres if we had been able to test the barks over a longer period of time. However, as we decided to to complete the processes within the time available on the day of the session, we followed the usual method of simmering the barks to extract the colour. The only difference from the usual method was that we added the wetted fibres and the bark to the dye pot at the same time, rather than simmering the barks first to extract the colour. This meant that the fibres were in the dye pot for longer than is the case if the colour is extracted first.

My preferred method of dyeing with tree barks is as follows: pour very hot water over the bark pieces and leave to soak for at least 24 hours – the longer the soak, the better. Then start to apply heat and simmer the bark for about an hour. Leave to cool and soak for a further 12 to 24 hours, simmer again for about 30 minutes then strain off the dye solution and add the fibres. Simmer the fibres in the dye bath for about one hour then leave to cool. In the meantime, the bark can be simmered again to extract more dye colour, which can be added to the first dye bath or used to make a second dye bath.

Barks can also be used following the alkaline extraction method described in an earlier post: More experiments with the alkaline extraction method. 

Alder cones (top) and Knopper oak galls (Photo by Liz Miller)

Knopper galls develop as a chemically induced distortion of growing acorns on pedunculate oak trees (Quercus robur), caused by the Andricus quercuscalicis gall wasp, which lays eggs in buds. (The name Knopper comes from the German word Knoppe, which is the name of a kind of helmet, and indeed it is as though the acorn has had a kind of helmet put on it.) 

Airing the dyed fibres from the tannin/iron dye bath (Photo by Ali Rabjohns)

Tannin/iron complex on cotton fabric and yarn Left: oak galls+iron Right: alder bark & twigs+iron (Photo by Ali Rabjohns)

The lavender shade is oak galls+iron on cotton fabric. The black colour is from alder bark and twigs+iron on cotton.

Left: Alder bark & twigs+iron on wool Right: oak galls+iron on wool (Photo by Fiona Eastwood)

Note: further simmering and airing should eventually give blacks with these tannin/iron recipes. 

Bark dye samples in the modifier pots (Photo by Fiona Eastwood)

Birch bark samples – Left to right: no modifier, +acid, +alkali, +copper, +iron Fabrics from top: linen, cotton, silk + some modifiers (no mordant) Below: alum mordant (Photo by Zuzana Krskova)

Cherry bark samples – As above but without the sample +alkali (Photo by Zuzana Krskova)

Elm bark samples – Details as above for birch bark (Photo by Zuzana Krskova)

Alder bark and twigs +iron (Photo by Zuzana Krskova)

Oak galls +iron (Photo by Zuzana Krskova)

More from the one-year course at Ditchling Museum

As we are following a similar programme to last year, much of the information will be available in earlier posts. So I will just outline our activities and only give more details of anything that is different from last year.

In October we started with substantive dyes and used rhubarb root (Rheum spp.), buckthorn bark (Rhamnus spp.) and walnut hulls (Juglans spp.). These were used without a mordant and with all four colour modifiers: acid (clear vinegar), alkali (soda ash), copper (copper water), iron (iron water). We used home-made copper and iron waters as I had them conveniently to hand but we could have made solutions from copper sulphate and ferrous sulphate as alternatives.

We used dried walnut hulls rather than the fresh green ones and, as the dried hulls tend to give paler browns, we added clear vinegar to pH4.5 to the dye solution in order to achieve deeper shades of brown. This is something I learned from Helen Melvin of Fiery Felts and it certainly results in deeper browns, so many thanks to Helen for the tip.

We also removed some of the samples from the solar dye pots we had set up at the first session in September.

Modifier pots with samples (photo by Fiona Eastwood)

Making copper water by soaking copper pipe in vinegar and water (Photo by Ali Rabjohns)

Rhubarb root and buckthorn bark samples drying outside (Photo by Fiona Eastwood)

Walnut hull samples drying (Photo by Fiona Eastwood)

The dyed samples are ready for assembling Left to right: buckthorn bark, walnut hulls, rhubarb root

(Photo by Jacqui Symonds)

Samples on various fibres from a solar dye pot using Coreopsis tinctoria with alum mordant (Photo by Kendall Clarke)

 

Another one-year course starts at Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft

In late September the second one-year natural dyeing course started at Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft. This year I have two assistants, Ross Belton and Zuzana Krskovo, who were both students on the course last year, and I am very grateful for their assistance and support as, without them, I would not be physically able to lead the course.

I was thrilled to meet my new students and I am sure I will enjoy working with such a talented and enthusiastic group of people, who again represent a wide range of creative disciplines. The talent of these students became apparent as soon as they introduced themselves and showed examples of their work.

Although it was not the ideal way to start the course, the first session was devoted to dyeing with fresh woad leaves and fresh Japanese indigo leaves. I decided to start with these dyes, as the course will finish next year before the woad is ready to harvest for dyeing and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to use fresh leaves with the students. As there was enough Japanese indigo growing in the museum dye garden, it seemed sensible to use some of that too.

Although it seemed as if the rain had set in for the day, in the afternoon there was enough sunshine for us to be able to work outside and to have a look round the dye garden. We also harvested some flowers for solar dye pots.

We made a hydrosulphite vat with the fresh woad leaves and then used the same leaves for a simmered dye bath to achieve browns and pinks.

Harvested woad leaves (Photo by Kendall Clarke)

Blue froth formed after whisking the woad liquid to introduce oxygen (Photo by Kendall Clarke)

We used the Japanese indigo leaves following the vinegar method. (Recipes for these two methods are in my books and also in earlier blog posts.)

Usually I start my courses with a general introduction to natural dyeing and then we dye with three substantive dyes to illustrate the methods used. However, this year the full introduction will not come until the second session and I was very impressed with the way the students coped with so many new techniques with very little general background information.

This photo, taken by Zuzana Krskova, shows the woad and Japanese indigo results.

From left: woad leaves simmered, woad leaves hydrosulphite vat, Japanese indigo leaves vinegar method. For all samples the fabrics are from the top linen, cotton, silk and the fibres are from the left cotton, linen, silk, wool

The photo below, taken by Fiona Eastwood, shows the solar dye pots with some results. These will be shown more clearly in my next post, when the samples have been sorted properly.

From the left: yellow cosmos, French marigolds, dyer’s chamomile, dyer’s chamomile with rusty nails, rudbeckia. In the background dahlia flowers

The photo below shows student Fergus Drennan (Fergus the Forager) holding a bracket fungus found on his travels. It was identified as Phaeolus schweinitzii or dyer’s mazegill and will be used for dye colour in due course. (Photo by Kendall Clarke)

     

   

Close up view of the bracket fungus (Photo by Kendall Clarke)

Twenty years of “Wild Colour”

My book “Wild Colour” was first published in 1999, with a revised edition in 2010 so, to my amazement and delight, it has been around for 20 years. It therefore seemed a good time to write about the production of the book and some of the issues which arise when a book of this kind remains available for such a long period of time.

There are many factors which come into play when producing a book commissioned by a publisher, as “Wild Colour” was. I suspect most readers have little idea of what goes on behind the scenes during the production of such a book and some may assume that, as the author, I would have control over the content of the book. However, this is not necessarily the case, as publishers usually have a clear idea where they want a book to fit into the market and the author has to comply with their wishes in most instances. If one is lucky, it may be possible to make compromises but often the author is the one with the least control over what goes into the book. even over the title; in fact the title “Wild Colour” was selected before I was asked to write the book and I had no say in the matter. As it turned out, it has proved an excellent title choice, as it clearly distinguishes it from other natural dyeing books.

This lack of author involvement also applied to the selection of the North American consultant, who was appointed even before I was approached to write the book. The UK publishers made it a condition of publishing the book that a North American edition should be published at the same time as the UK edition. So a consultant was required to supply a name that would be recognised in North America and lend validity to the contents of the book. Without this consultant, “Wild Colour” would probably never have been published, so I am grateful to Karen Casselman for allowing her name to be associated with the book. However, the book is entirely my own work and Karen cannot be held responsible for any of the contents. 

Another area where the author may have little influence is over the design of the book’s cover, although I was shown the cover design for the first edition for my approval and was quite happy with it. For the recent re-issue of “Wild Colour”, I was sent several suggested cover lay-outs, some showing fabrics clearly not dyed with natural dyes, some showing a variety of tie-dyed garments and some showing random plants or flowers, such as rose petals, that bore no relation to the plants featured in the book. I sent the design team some images showing suggested lay-outs but they insisted on producing the cover image themselves. In the end, to avoid wasting more time on explaining why what they had selected just would not do, I posted a box of dyed materials and dried dyestuffs to the design office and they commissioned a photographer to use these to produce a cover. Even then the odd plant part crept in that I am unable to identify!

The commissioning editors of “Wild Colour” knew very little about natural dyeing (indeed, why should they?) and were rather surprised when I informed them about mordants and the difference between true dye plants and any old plant one might come across in the garden or the wild. They seemed to have the idea that they could select some pretty plants at random, preferably familiar ones with flowers that would photograph well, and whatever they chose would produce a dye colour and probably one close to the colour of the flower itself. If only!

Firstly, I selected the traditional dye plants that I felt had to be included and added some more fairly common plants that could give reasonably reliable colours but I kept being asked for more familiar plants that could be grown in the garden or gathered from the wild. In addition, as many plants as possible, preferably all, had to be available or capable of being grown in North America. Also, if one of the editors had read somewhere that a popular and attractive garden plant could give colour, they wanted that plant to be in the book, even if it was not really a useful dye plant. So I had to fight a few battles to maintain some kind of control over what got into the book and, with one exception (see below), I tested every plant for its colour potential.  However, I had to compromise and agree to include some plants that I would personally not use for dyeing.

The majority of plants tend to give yellows but, although yellow is the simplest colour to achieve, it is also a colour that fades quickly unless one chooses the reliable sources of yellow, such as weld, dyer’s broom and buckthorn (Persian) berries.  I rarely use any other sources of yellow, except sometimes dyer’s chamomile or goldenrod, if I have these in abundance in my garden, and then not usually for items that might be offered for sale.

In order to have some colour samples that were not some variation of yellow, I was urged to include colours from berries such as elderberries and blackberries, both of which I would personally never use, and in the text of the book I made sure to mention the unreliable nature of dyes from most red, purple or black berries, especially elderberries, and the tendency of colours from blackberries to fade was also mentioned. Unfortunately, some readers look at the book but don’t study the text closely and assume that, because a particular plant is included, it must therefore be a useful dye plant. Of course, if one is dyeing for one’s own pleasure and not with the aim of producing items for sale or display, colour fastness is less of an issue but an understanding of the variation in degrees of fastness remains crucial.

To limit the expense of photography, the publishers decided on colour swatches rather than photos of the dyed samples, so each of my dyed samples had to be carefully matched against a Pantone chart and given the appropriate number. My heart sank when I received the first colour print-out of the plant pages, as many of the colours didn’t look much like the colours I had selected. I asked for these colour samples to be changed but because of the cost I was only allowed to change colours that were impossible, not those that were not “quite right”, so some of the colour swatches don’t really match my dyed samples, although they are colours that could be achieved from the plant in question.

Now I have a confession to make. One plant the publishers finally insisted should be included in the book was hollyhock, which I had never tried for dyeing. However, by the time that had been decided, it was not possible to find hollyhocks in flower anywhere, so I could not produce any dyed samples and had to rely on information from reliable dyers elsewhere. The information I found, including in Dominique Cardon’s wonderful, comprehensive book “Natural Dyes” and in Rita Buchanan’s book “A Dyer’s Garden”, indicated that deep red hollyhock flower petals could give purple and blue-pink shades, so I matched the colour swatches for the hollyhock section from photos of dyed fibres in Rita Buchanan’s book.  After the publication of “Wild Colour” I managed to grow hollyhocks with deep red flowers in my own garden and conducted some experiments. However, despite many attempts, I have never personally succeeded in obtaining pinks and purples from hollyhock flowers, only greens. So I hope other dyers have had greater success and have managed to achieve the promised shades of purple and pink. I offer my sincere apologies to those dyers whose hollyhock dye baths have, like mine, resulted only in greens.

Where I was truly fortunate was in the publisher’s choice of designer for the book. Colin Walton did a superb job and I am sure the success of the book owes a great deal to his design talents. He was meticulous over every detail and his photography is wonderful. He was a delight to work with and nothing was ever too much trouble for him. We have remained in touch and he also manages my blog for me. My only slight niggle would be over the placing of the code for the dye pot symbols that accompany the swatches on the plant pages, as this tends to be discovered only by people who bother to read the whole book and I am regularly contacted by people grumbling that they can’t find out what the dye pots mean. The information is on page 21, by the way, and I suspect this was the only place where there was a gap in the text that could accommodate it.

In the twenty years since the first publication of “Wild Colour” my own dyeing practices have developed and one or two have changed, so some of what appears in “Wild Colour” does not entirely represent my current practices. These are best described in my most recent book, which is the second revised edition of “Colours from Nature” and which I publish myself, thereby retaining complete control over what is included. My blog also contains my latest experiments and is a way of bringing people up-to-date with my practices. However, the information in “Wild Colour” remains accurate to the best of my knowledge and ability. Even though I may not personally use every method described in the book, these methods all remain in practice among experienced dyers and readers can select the methods and recipes most suitable for their own needs and purposes.  For example, I now no longer use alum with cream of tartar when mordanting animal fibres and prefer to mordant using 10% to 15% alum alone. I also personally rarely use rhubarb leaves as an alternative “mordant” or base for other colours, except for about 5 recipes which appear in “Colours from Nature” and which give certain colours on a rhubarb leaf base. Indeed, I doubt if it is really accurate to refer to rhubarb leaf solution as a “mordant” and I prefer to call it a base for other colours.

Although I mordant vegetable fibres with aluminium acetate without first using tannin, I notice that some other dyers seem to use a tannin mordant first, as one would with alum sulphate on vegetable fibres. I have conducted tests using aluminium acetate both with and without a tannin pre-treatment and I can’t honestly say I notice any difference in the quality of the results. To me, the main reason for using aluminium acetate, rather than aluminium sulphate, to mordant vegetable fibres is the fact that it removes the need for tannin first and I am still not convinced that the tannin step is necessary when using aluminium acetate. “Dunging” or using a calcium carbonate after-bath following an aluminium acetate mordant, is also not a practice I follow and perhaps this is something I need to experiment with. I tend to feel that if my methods give good results, and they are also recommended by other experienced dyers, there may be no need to change them but I am always ready to experiment with new ideas or methods and to adjust my methods if necessary.

My knowledge of chemistry is limited and I learn by experience and experimentation, rather than by applying scientific knowledge. I imagine this is how the dyers of the distant past would also have worked, drawing conclusions from their results to help them improve their skills. I often wish I had a deeper understanding of chemistry and I try to learn when possible.

I hope all this helps people to understand a little of what goes on behind the scenes in the production of a book like “Wild Colour”. Although I may have sounded critical in some of my comments, I am very grateful to my publishers, Mitchell Beazley and Octopus Books, for listening to most of my requests and for enabling me to write a book that has proved so successful over such a relatively long period for a book of its type. Above all, I am truly grateful for the wonderful design skills of Colin Walton, whose talent played such a large part in the success of the book.