News from Uganda

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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”)

Moving house

I’m afraid my posts will probably be very infrequent during the coming weeks, as we are planning to move from Bedfordshire to West Sussex to be nearer our granddaughter and our daughter and her partner.

When we put our house on the market in the new year, we expected it would take many months before we found a buyer and also a property to move to. However, things have proceeded rather faster than we had anticipated and we now face the daunting task of clearing and sorting nearly 34 years of family life in this house. There is just so much to do that we hardly know where to begin. And we shall be moving to a much smaller garden, which means that many of my large plant pots will have to stay here, plus all the treasured plants from so many years of happy gardening. And my dye garden, too, will be a thing of the past – at least until I try to establish a much smaller one in our new garden. The outbuildings will also have to be cleared – something I can’t even bear to think about because they are so full of “stuff”.

The prospect of moving away from what has been the home where we raised our children brings so many mixed emotions. The house is full of memories of happy family times (and a few not-so-happy ones, too, of course) and our children are also feeling sad that the home to which they have returned for so many years will no longer be theirs to come back to. Roger and I feel similar regrets but we are also looking forward to starting a new phase of our lives in fresh surroundings, with the challenge of making another home and garden. It will be lovely to be close enough to be able to play a more active part in our granddaughter’s life, although we are sorry that this move will take us further away from our son, who is based in Cambridge. However, as he has pointed out, he will be able to combine visiting his sister with visiting his parents, instead of having to make two separate trips, so there are positive aspects, too.

However, as we haven’t yet exchanged contracts, I suppose events may slow down again if any problems arise. We are keeping our fingers crossed that all will go smoothly, whilst also remaining aware that there are still several bridges to be crossed before the sale of this house and the purchase of our new one are completed.

I will certainly update my blog with any further developments.

A New Book

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The gloom of this dull, damp, miserable winter was relieved this week when I received an unexpected gift through the post – a recently-published  book on natural dyeing, co-authored by Eva Lambert and Tracy Kendall.

I have known Eva for many years and visited her several times in her studio and dye-workshop on the Isle of Skye. She has a wealth of practical experience to share, as she has been running her own business, Shilasdair, for many years, selling her naturally-dyed yarns and beautiful garments made from them. Tracy Kendall, whom I met several years ago when we were both demonstrating dyeing at a conference on Mediaeval Dyes, is a lecturer at Central Saint Martins College in London and she also has her own design studio producing hand silk-screened wallpapers.

The book, “The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing – Techniques and recipes for dyeing fabrics, yarns and fibres at home”, is a lavishly illustrated, full colour paperback, published by Search Press and selling at £12.99. It covers the basics of mordanting and dyeing, and the yarn section, written by Eva Lambert, also includes top-dyeing, tie-dyeing and random dyeing. The fabric section, written by Tracy Kendall, covers several fabric-patterning techniques, including various resist-dyeing methods, such as folding, clamping and batik.

The dyeing sections cover collecting and preparing dyestuffs and give recipes for using a wide range of dyes, including classic dyes, such as madder, cochineal, weld and logwood, plus a section on indigo dyeing.

As a dyer, I am always interested in the methods and techniques used by other dyers. Some of the recipes in this book, especially those for mordanting fibres, differ from those I use  myself and I found the sections on colour and patterns interesting. All in all, this book is a delight, full of useful techniques and recipes, with luscious colour on every page.

Thank you, Leena

As a Christmas gift to myself, I was unable to resist buying some of Leena Riihela’s naturally-dyed skeins of wool. (Click on the link to her website for more details of what Leena has to offer.)

My daughter had asked me to knit a jumper for Milly, my granddaughter, and she wanted something that could be worn outside as an alternative to a coat. The advantage of a jumper is that it has no front-fastening buttons to come undone and I also knew that I’d need to knit something warm enough for outdoor wear and loose enough to enable Milly to wear a T-shirt underneath.

So this is the jumper I knitted. The pattern I made up is so simple, as it consists mainly of rectangles and the sleeves are knitted by picking up stitches around the armholes and working down towards the cuff. The shoulder-opening makes it easy to put on too and I hope my daughter and granddaughter will be pleased.

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The wool was dyed mainly in cochineal, with some indigo, and the shades blend in together beautifully. So many thanks to Leena for producing such lovely colours.

More About the Uganda Project

A little while ago, I wrote about a group of basket makers in Uganda, who weave beautiful baskets from naturally-dyed raffia. (See post “A Natural Dyeing Project in Uganda”)      

One aim of this project was to produce blues from the leaves of Indigofera arrecta, an indigo-bearing plant which grows wild in the area around Rubona, where the project is based. For some time I have been in correspondence with the project leader, Rupert Kampmueller, offering advice to help him achieve this aim, and I was convinced that the methods used to extract indigo from fresh woad leaves could be adapted for use with this local source of indigo.

This week I was very pleased to hear from Rupert that, after much trial and error, he has at last been successful in his attempts to produce deep blues from locally-harvested indigo leaves. Based on the methods I use for dyeing with fresh woad leaves, Rupert has developed suitable extraction and dyeing methods to enable the ladies in the Rubona group to produce a range of blues on raffia, using the leaves of locally-growing Indigofera arrecta. The next stage will be to see whether the method I use for storing woad solutions can also be used successfully with indigo solutions made from the leaves of these Ugandan plants.

The following photos, supplied by Rupert, show some of the stages of production.

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 This photo shows Indigofera arrecta growing wild near Rubona.

Following processes similar to those used with fresh woad leaves, leaves from these indigo-bearing plants are harvested and first steeped in very hot water. After an hour or so, the leaves are removed and soda ash is added to the liquid. Oxygen is then incorporated into the solution to precipitate the indigo particles.

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This shows the strained-off indigo solution being poured from one bucket to another to incorporate oxygen.

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This shows the froth containing the precipitated indigo pigment.

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 This shows the raffia dyed in the indigo vat made from the leaves of Indigofera arrecta.

This successful use of local indigo plants is of great significance for the weavers of Rubona, as it means they now have a readily available source of blue and no longer need to rely on imported indigo.

Sincere thanks again

Once again, I send my most sincere thanks for all the kind messages I’ve received, following the announcement that “Wild Colour” will be revised and reprinted later this year.

I really appreciate all the encouragement and support I’ve been given.

Good News!

I am delighted to be able to tell you that the publishers have agreed to reprint “Wild Colour” and revised editions will be published in both the UK and the US in September/October 2010.

I shall be making changes to the text of some sections of the book but its appearance will be basically the same.

I would like to thank most sincerely everyone who supported my efforts to secure this reprint and most particularly Mary Walker, who organised the Facebook page and kept the US publishers informed of the degree of interest in the book. Without Mary’s efforts, together with her encouragement and the support of so many people, I am sure this reprint would not be happening, so I am truly grateful to you all. Many, many thanks.

Beginning the New Year

All our Christmas decorations have been returned to their storage boxes and my thoughts now turn to the year that lies ahead.

We have decided to start the year by “de-cluttering”. For us this is a truly daunting prospect, as we’ve lived in this house for over 32 years and have filled every available space, both inside the house and outside in the outbuildings, with “stuff”. This photo should give some idea of what I mean.

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I’m ashamed to say that this shows part of the inside of my workshop before I started to sort and clear out the boxes, shelves and tables. Originally this outbuilding was intended as my dyeing room, with a writing and reading area, but gradually every available surface became covered with items deposited “for the time being” until I got round to sorting them out and tidying them away. Needless to say, once I had established another dyeing area in our conservatory, this tidying up process somehow never happened – until I embarked on it this week, that is.

Sometimes sorting through the evidence of a lifetime of hoarding can be a refreshing and revitalising process. It certainly does feel good to bring some order into the chaos within drawers and cupboards, especially when one finds unexpected treasures that bring back happy memories. At the same time, I am amazed at my apparent inability to throw away such things as bent paper clips, dried-out pens, screwed-up paper bags or even the smallest piece of string. Gradually I am learning to separate the rubbish from the genuine treasures and I’m re-organising and labelling my storage spaces in the hope that I shall be able to find things more easily in future. Of course I am resolving never again to let things get so disorganised and untidy but I suspect I may all too quickly revert to my bad, old ways. However, with each bag of rubbish consigned to the council tip, I feel a lifting of the spirits, as if I am casting off aspects of the past that have been weighing me down. So I hope I shall be able to face 2010 with an increased sense of optimism and a readiness to embrace new experiences.

If you are feeling somewhat jaded and lacking in enthusiasm at the start of another year, I can recommend the therapeutic value of a little sorting and tidying. However, whatever you are feeling, I wish you all the very best of health and happiness for 2010.

Thanks and Good Wishes

As these photos show, here in the south of England we have had heavy falls of snow and the garden looks so lovely in the wintry light that I couldn’t resist venturing outside with my camera. In the second photo, the very last roses are flowering bravely amidst a blanket of snow.

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As the year starts to draw towards its close, I’ve been looking back over the months since my website was set up just over a year ago and reflecting with pleasure on the added dimension it has brought to my life. I have been both surprised and delighted to make contact with so many fellow dyers all over the world and I’d like to thank you for following my blog and sharing your experiences with me. I really value your comments and the links to other websites and blogs, some of which have opened up new areas of interest and experimentation for me. I would also like to thank those of you who have supported my efforts to persuade the publishers to reprint “Wild Colour”. I am still waiting to hear whether we have been successful and I will let you know of any developments in the New Year.

As I write this we are preparing for the arrival of various family members, including our dear granddaughter, now 18 months old, who will be spending the holiday period here with us. So this will probably be my last post until January and I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and all the very best for 2010.

A Natural Dyeing Project in Uganda

During the past few weeks I have been in correspondence with an Austrian, Rupert Kampmueller, who is working with a group of basketmakers in Rubona, Uganda. The ladies in Rupert’s group make beautifully patterned raffia baskets and also some other items, all dyed with natural dyes. Rupert’s main query concerned possible ways to use the fresh leaves of Indigofera arrecta, which grows wild in the area of Uganda where he is working. I am hoping that the methods for using fresh woad leaves can be adapted for obtaining blues from Indigofera arrecta and I look forward to hearing whether he has been successful. If anyone else has any further suggestions for obtaining blues from fresh Indigofera arrecta leaves, I’d be delighted to pass the advice on to Rupert.

In addition to using some local dyes, the ladies also use madder and weld to dye the raffia and I suggested that they might try using local sorghum leaves, which are used to produce reds in many parts of Africa and for which I have sent Rupert some dyeing tips. The designs on the baskets are traditional ones and Rupert and his dyers have created a wide range of strong natural colours to dye the raffia used by the weavers. For more details of the basketmakers and the organisation supporting them, look at the website www.fullcircletrade.com/producers and click on the link to Rubona Weavers.  

The following photos, sent to me by Rupert, show some of the baskets and their makers and also some of the dyed raffia.

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DSC00075                                                                                                                                                                                           The raffia in the centre was dyed with fresh woad leaves and the black colour on either side was achieved using the tannin/iron complex. These colours were the result of some test dyeing done by Rupert, while he was at home in Austria before returning to Uganda.

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These hanks of raffia show some of the naturally-dyed colours achieved using local plants and also weld and madder.

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