Sunday, 20 August 2017

Dyeing 'the rainbow'



Last weekend saw the second in a series of three workshops I was leading, at DesignerMakers21 (1) in Diss. I was very much looking forward to it, especially as a new workshop space had been created and we we're going to be the first people to use it. 
As always the participants came well prepared having had 'prep' to do after the first session. 



The plan for this was to obtain yellow by dyeing with weld  and have the experience to work with plant material which would take time. Next we would dye with madder  to give us red. Using madder has some similarities to cochineal from last week. However, this red needs more care and skill particularly with a thermometer to get a rich red. Finally we would dye with  indigo to give us blue. (These three dyes are very much dyes of Norfolk's rich textile heritage and I have written more about them in the post of 
14 May 16).

Making good use of the walled  garden during the day



The result was the three primary colours and the secondaries between. A lot to take in, in one day. All members obtained such strong rich colours, the results were glorious. 

Final Colours - natural dyes! 



We ( Michael and I ) had a great time. Natural Dyeing with us is quite scientific in terms of procedures and we like to include theory ( e.g. of how indigo works) as we know this helps to get good results. Comments from the class indicated that they enjoyed the day too. It is such a joy to have a thoughtful, questioning and enthusiastic group. A participant had to pull out of these workshops  (breaking her arm badly ) but she popped in to see us at just the right time - some delightful indigo dyed silk as slight compensation ! 



So, workshop three to come in September - more choices and more glorious colours! 

(1) do visit DesignerMakers21 if you can. It is home to a number  permanent and very skilled  designers and makers covering a range of crafts- in the very best use of that much maligned word! www.designermakers21.co.uk 

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Indigo Dyeing in Carleton Rode


Undeterred by the weather forecast  a group of friends met in my garden to 'do indigo dyeing' last week. We had plan B and plan C in case the dire forecast was true! The order of play was for an explanation of how the indigo vat works then a demonstration of how to set it up. I firmly believe that if 'learners' understand the reason for each stage in the process, see it being done and then do it themselves they are far more likely to be motivated to do it beyond the workshop and have the confidence to do it too. 
Of course getting great results helps too. 
So this was plan A. The weather held just about and everyone got great colours from their first 50g of stuff in the bath. Needless to say all involved were well  prepared and had brought a variety of fibres, colours etc to try. 


How much equipment do dyers need? Just getting started.

Wonderful rich indigo dyed fibre and fabric started appearing, and kept appearing. Indigo appeals to the full age spectrum, the grandchildren were excited on Sunday and  us  ' more mature' types  were also excited today; but the difference was that everyone today had made their own vat. 


The washing line got filled ! Job done - more confident indigo dyers and what a lovely day it was too. Fine cake, happy and enthusiastic people, a variety of conversation topics and a fascinating activity providing lovely take home bags. What more could one want? The weather did not kill our day, despite the threats of the weather forecasters. Well done everyone!  
Weren't we lucky ! The next day was VERY wet, just the day for re skeining  and labelling the yarn. 
There's more about indigo, madder and weld- three traditional Norfolk Dyes on my blog post of 14 May 16. It includes historical details and brief details of the science of indigo dyeing. 

PS I rarely get a chance to 'do' the Dyeing when running a workshop but dipping needed demonstrating. You can't waste an indigo bath can you, so here is my variety of fibres from the day. 


 



Friday, 4 August 2017

Natural Dyeing in Diss,

What a great day was had last Saturday. I ran a 'learn basic natural dyeing' workshop at Designer Makers21  (1) in Diss - do look it up or better still visit it is a great craft place and by craft I mean REAL quality craft.
There were 5 attendees who had either dabbled in natural dyeing or never done it before and wanted to know how. 
The plan was to get 6 skeins from the day BUT more importantly I wanted them to really understand how to do get good colours. My approach to natural dyeing is to use my science background and to teach natural dyeing scientifically. After all until 1856 when the first synthetic dye was discovered all dyes had been naturally based. They were not all dull or patchy. Norwich, historically had the reputation  of being the place to get your dyeing  done so something to live up to! 


We had a range of protein fibres in the group, including  some 2 sorts of fleece. 
The class were great and worked really hard and we got some stunning bright and bold colours from cochineal. Remember these are people who were not experienced natural dyers and we were doing it outside! 
We did an indigo dip to extend the range and Michael (DH) was in charge of that and the chemicals. Real chemistry for him again! 


These are a couple of shots of some of the skeins, exhaust from dye bath one has been taken home to extend the range. 


And fleece:



A great bunch, lots of really good questions and 'what if's'. This is what learning  is all about. Really looking forward to session two and three where we use important Norfolk 
Heritage plant dyes and then see the wonderful dyeing we can do with weeds! 

(1) more can be found about DesignerMakers21 at www.designermakers21.co.uk 

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Cochineal Dyeing in Norfolk and a colour conundrum

Last Sunday we ( Michael and I) had an interesting and enjoyable day. I had been invited to run a Natural Dyeing workshop for a group of the NSTG (Norfolk Small Holders Training Group) - see note 1. We used our local village hall for this. 
I had decided that by using cochineal I could teach the basics of preparation which the attendees could repeat  and we would still have enough time to dye several colours. I do like people to take home skeins of a decent amount from a dyeing day with me as well as the knowledge and understanding to proceed alone. I also love dyeing with cochineal! ( see my website and index on the left for more examples of my cochineal dyeing). 


I have dyed with cochineal many times and run successful workshops using it. However, being a teacher of many years, I know that you always have to check the experiments before the class. 

I had a mordanted a skein of yarn from 2011 and decided this would be fine to use. So I 'wetted it' and dyed with cochineal as I do normally and horror of horrors I did not get a beautiful cochineal red as I expected. I assumed the mordant  must have worn off ( intrigued how though) as I was getting an unmordanted yarn type colour. ( middle bottom of photo)

This is the image of my cochineal dyeing for the day



So clearly I had not to 'cut corners' and decided to do the whole procedure from scratch - scouring, mordanting and dyeing. This I duly did and got an even 'cooler' pink - left of photo. 
I decided to up the percentage of cochineal to 20% as the pinks were far too pale as well as too cool! 

But it was time to get to the science of this. I had used cold water from the house for my first attempt, a warm pink but pale skein - we have a water softener as the water is very hard in Norfolk, so this water had been softened to some extent. For the second skein ( cooler duller pink) I had dyed using the outside cold water tap - no water softener. So we decided I would do two more skeins. The outside cold water tap would give me the hard water and I would also use use rain water from the covered water butt. As soon as we dissolved the cochineal in the water butt water it went red, not some cool pink shade so this was promising. 
So it was time for the pH paper now. Our water is hard and alkaline whereas the rain butt water was decidedly acidic. 
Looking at the structure of  carminic  acid in cochineal beetles confirmed that the dye would be sensitive to pH changes. 
The colours this time are bottom right corner of the picture cochineal in water butt ( soft, acid )water which gave an expected cochineal colour and bottom left cool but deeper pink from the outside ( hard, alkaline ) water. 
We were getting somewhere. But I was not satisfied, by using 20% cochineal the colour was deeper than I had achieved before in Cheshire - which has soft water- and I thought it was a bit too deep! 

So another skein was dyed at 10% cochineal using water butt water and hurray, it was the same colour as that from Cheshire from the tap. ( top right in photo - scarlet colour). 

This is all very interesting and the research has not ended yet. I know that Norwich was  good for dyeing with madder to make Norwich Red as the water was hard and yet with cochineal to get a good red I need soft acid water. So it's time to get into the loft and get my organic chemistry text books out to look at the structure of the relevant molecules in more detail. 

The mauvy  blue skein in the centre top of the photo is obtained from dipping the pink ( centre bottom skein) in indigo, something we included in the workshop. 

Another interesting aspect of the day was that the attendees brought their own fleece or yarn to dye and thus we got even more variation in colours from the different breeds which was great. 

This is not one of my best photos but this shows some of the Dyeing produced during the day. 



Natural Dyeing gives such rich colours and keeps the 'chemistry' brain alive! I have found this lovely quote from Ethel Mariet 'Natural dyes are alive and varied holding the light as no chemical colour can hold it, and they are beautiful from their birth to old age when they mellow one with the other into a blend of richness that has never yet been got by the chemical dyer.'(1872-1952) See note 

If you've managed to read this far, I think you deserve a stiff drink! 

Notes : 
1. Norfolk Smallholders Training group have their own website - www.nstg.org.uk 
2. For 'chemical' perhaps 'synthetic' might be a better term. 

Monday, 19 June 2017

The Meadowsweet Cushion


This is cushion 2 in the series - being a collection of cushions, all with a story,  to sit on our library 'under stairs' daybed which we have have commissioned by our local brilliant  carpenter known to us as 'Chris the carpenter'.
The post here describes 'the  meadowsweet  cushion'. 
Once I had decided that I would make a variety of cushions I decided that I would do one in hand embroidery. It is years since I did anything like this from scratch but have continued to do bits such as 'mend/ replace' the embroidery on a bag I made from one of my aunt's cushion covers - more about that here. 
This was in another league  as I was not just embroidering over a transfer pattern, I was going to make the design from a photo of meadowsweet in our lane. So there were issues about the size of the design and placement on the cushion. I did not wish to draw a design in pen / pencil that I then stitched over. 
I decided to: 
1. Mark out the 4 quarters of the cushion in tacking stitch and also give an outline frame  so as not to be tempted to take the design too close to the seam  with the back of the cushion. I had already neatened the raw edges of the back and front of the shrunk fabric of the  cushion with the overlocker - this had been preshrunk by washing and ironing damp to avoid creases forming.
2. Sketch the design onto a full size sheet of plain paper and use this to mark the main features on the cushion cover by tacking stitches. 

 
Part of my wish with choosing the meadowsweet was to be able to do lots of French knots to represent the frothiness of the flower heads. My other self imposed 'rule' was that the colours should be the colours of the room, mainly greys and tealish/ light royal  blue but with cream and taupe of the sofa. 

I planned this design for the right of the cushion and with a selected set of embroidery threads I took this little kit with us on our holiday to Teesdale and Cumbria earlier in the year. ( Postcript : the weather was so brilliant that I did much less embroidery that I intended! But who's not to get out and enjoy lovely scenery in lovely weather? ) 

 
So when we were back and  had recovered from the break, I took up the embroidery with increased vigour and used it to keep me awake in the evenings while 'watching' the TV. I was really pleased with how the  meadowsweet flower heads were coming out and I allowed myself to digress from my strict colour scheme to add some olive green for a leaf. This was rather an afterthought. 

One morning - in my quality thinking time in the shower - I had a thought that I could add some of my meadowsweet dyed yarns to the left and the choice of embroidery thread in the dark olive would help to tie the two sides of the cushion together. 

 
I am pleased with the cushion which evolved during the embroidery process and is also another item in my meadowsweet series  from last year's wool week yoked jumper set. 



Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Future of Wool Week And Promote Shetland

This is an unusual posting from me! 
Shetland Council have not renewed the grant to Promote Shetland. There are 3 important people in this team, that in my opinion have done a great job in doing just that 'Promoting Shetland'. 
This is the letter I have written to the council, hoping that with enough 'encouragement' they will think again about this decision. 


14th June 2017

 

An open letter to Shetland Islands Council

 

Dear Sir/Madam,

I note the decision not to renew The Promote Shetland contract from 30th June 2017. Please reconsider this decision. 

I note that you wish to move from ' much less about heritage tourism' rather about attracting people, particularly young people, to live, work and study and invest in Shetland'. This seems a strange decision to me when you already have in Promote Shetland what I consider an incredible group of people working at promoting Shetland. They are building on the past but looking to the future. Surely to build on those industries that are well established and expanding is valuable and to suggest not using expertise of 3 of the team seems to be very short sighted. 

I write as someone who first visited Shetland in 2000, for the birds and the knitting. We couldn't believe how well promoted everything was and it made our journey there painless and stress free. Whilst I was there I was taught to spin by the very talented Elizabeth Johnson. This is something that for nearly20 years has changed my life.  We returned in 2012 (poor health keeping us away in between) and determined to visit as soon as we could to Wool Week. I go to numerous ' wool related events' but nothing is even remotely in the same league as wool week. I have now been twice and returning again this year. I have told many people about it anothers that I know are now going to Shetland for wool week. If you multiply this by the number of people who attend Wool Week each year you will see how successful just this event is in promoting people to visit. By looking at the programme you will also see that it is now including other ‘businesses’ not just wool. These are how successful ventures evolve. Once people see what Shetland is like some will move and they are likely to have a plan of how they make a go of it. This must be true of the other 'tourist activities' that are so well promoted and run. Of course this is saying nothing about those friends that now buy wool related supplies from Shetland who would not have thought of it in the past. I am so impressed by the organisation of Wool Week that I have spoken about it to others running different events who can learn lessons from 'how it is done' in Shetland. 

 

I must mention things like my sheer enjoyment and pride in learning from and calling as 'friends' experts in the knitting field. My friends, back in Norfolk and beyond now ask about when books etc by these people are being published, how they can get them etc. 

 

I hope you get the message, to ' not help' wool week to succeed seems to me, and I suspect any far sighted personasa poor and wrong decision. To have a goldmine like this needs to be seized and encouraged not put in jeopardy. 

 

I do hope you will reconsider this decision.

 


 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Medieval Spinning



I feel very lucky to have acquired 3 medieval lead whorls from the vicinity of my village so that I can see how they spin. I am very grateful to the member of the History Group for this opportunity. I have put two whorls in store and am trying with one of them. 
It looks like this : 

 

Weight is 31.4g total diameter is 2.1. cm, height 1 cm and the diameter of the hole is 8 mm. I first tried to spin by putting a bamboo chopstick through the centre- the elastic band is a purely a safety measure on my part!  The whorl appears to have been used like this:
 

I did manage to spin some local Norfolk Horn fleece and as you can see it is giving  a fine thread. However, the whorl does not spin for long and I couldn't believe it was used for lots of spinning like this. 

So having spent some time, looking at medieval photos and researching further it became obvious that I needed a different shaped spindle. It is likely that a distaff - in medieval times - was held in the left  hand and the spindle was twisted / flicked by the right hand - in a continuous movement. (1) I also obtained advice on the shape of the cop needed, double ended with a swollen centre as this will put less pressure on the whorl which is just pushed up the spindle. 

I knew just the man to help me with my search for a spindle - David Whatley- a very skilled artist and craftsman. So Bank Holiday Monday saw us at his studio in Diss(2)  while I explained what I thought I needed. David had sourced some local spindle wood and sized up the whorl, discussed size with me etc and set about making a spindle. It was fantastic to see the small branch turn into the beautiful spindle. I am in awe of the skill and understanding shown. 
j 

This is the whorl on the spindle and you can see that I have managed to spin quite finely. By increasing the diameter of the yarn produced slightly ( to about 2 diameters of sewing thread) I could get a good result. The pointed top end is a joy to use as very little hand movement is needed to get a rotation. ( I am using it as a more usual drop spindle with a half hitch at the moment). We have talked about a further refinement later for when I use it with the distaff. 

Having completed the spindle wood spindle, David made spindle two out of oak. This has a less fine grain than the spindle wood but came up a beautiful colour with oil. 
 
 

I was VERY pleased with these. 

So now I have local fleece, a local whorl and local wood made into spindles and know the story behind each. This is all very special. 

I am in the early stages of preparing some posts about spinning in the past in my local area, so keep watching! 

(2) David is a member of Designermakers 21 in Diss, a very special place housing 12 professional craftspeople. You can visit Thursday - Saturday 10- 5.
www.designermakers21.co.uk