Saturday, 9 September 2017

Natural Dyeing with a plant of your choice



This was the third of three workshops that I led at Designer Makers21 this summer. This workshops is really special to me as after it the dyers are well on their Dyeing journey.
In workshop one we had learned how to scour, mordant and dye with different concentrations of a powdered dye. Then this was followed by a workshop where we used the three core dyes that were so important, historically, to local dyeing- Madder, Weld and Woad - and then got their secondary dyes too. (See previous blogs for more details and images.)
For the third workshop each of the participants arrived with scoured and mordanted yarn the along with their soaked plant material. Our aim of this workshop was to get a set of six colours from the basic dyebath using additives and over dyeing so each member went home with their unique set. There was  a choice of 7 plus  treatments for each plant dyed skein so decisions had to be made.
There was much excitement and discussion about which plants had been chosen and which ones might be used at home after the  day. 
While the plants were cooking up and yielding their colour we looked at examples I had taken ' for ideas'  and more importantly learned how to make up the additive solutions, how to use them and how to store them safely at home. 
What a busy action packed day it was. Unfortunately I only took a few photos. 
This is a plant dyed skein, complete with additive and having been heated up. From memory (?!) I think the additive was copper. 



Everyone appeared to be very conscientious taking notes and had leaned from previous sessions that adding yarn  'labels'  was a big help in identification later. 
These are the colours a member obtained from eucalyptus leaves- fantastic. 


All the dyed sets were quite different and it was a real joy for me to see how far each person had got since the start of the workshops. We are keeping in touch and more is planned later - watch this space. You can never stop learning about natural dyeing! 



Saturday, 26 August 2017

Supporting Rare Breed Sheep



Knettishall Fair, in Suffolk,  was held recently. It is a day event held every other year and there are a number of 'country based' stalls and activities, the aim being to provide a nice day out for the visitors and raise awareness (and some money) for Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Knettishall Heath is interesting;  it is a really special area of open Heath in 'the Brecks' area of Suffolk just south east of Thetford ( 1) 
The Rare Breed Survival Trust had a largish marquee and were happy to house members of Diss Weavers, Spinners and Dyers along with their own activities. 
I volunteered to go along, I love the Heath and it is nice to give something back to organisations such as these and have a thoroughly great day interacting with the public I thought long and hard about the best use of my time on the day that would complement the Rare Breeds message. So I decided to take:
The Pansy  jacket - hand spun Jacob (2) fleece knitted  from Becky Whatley in Diss. The detail is yarn dyed with cochineal, the lighter pink being dyed with the exhaust of the first bath. The jacket, being knitted in an aran weight yarn took about the whole of a fleece. Visitors find this information both interesting and helpful to know. 
The general view of the Rare Breeds Marquee - taken before the visitors arrived- shows the Pansy Jacket on a mannequin at the front. 


The Skaw Hat - which was knitted in hand spun  Shetland (3) from Shetland! I then naturally dyed the yarn inspired by seaweed on Skaw beach, the most northern beach in Scotland. The pattern was designed by Hazel Tindall, a true knitting genius. The hat was knitted for Shetland Wool Week 2014. 

I love this hat and more details  of the dyeing can be found here in posts August and Sept 2014 if you are interested. Comments often include ' don't the colours go well together' - they do when they are naturally dyed. There is often surprise about the colours of the seaweed and also the colours of the hat. It is nice to show that natural dye colours need not be 'mud coloured'. 


Sample Bookmarks
As many of you know one of my passions is fine lace knitting. These bookmarks are all in Norfolk Horn (4) fleece- now my local fleece! The yarn diameter is 0.15mm- I know this as I have measured it with a stage micrometer on a microscope. 
The bookmarks show how changing the needle size has a dramatic effect on the overall look of the lace. 


SO, what did I do as an activity ( other than talking!) ? I spun quite finely Boreray Fleece on a top weighted drop spindle rolling it up my leg! This is the rarest of the rare breed fleece.(5) My aim is to knit a bookmark with this too. 


The sun shone, there was great camaraderie in the gazebo, visitors were interested and for many their awareness of different 'wool' (and just how fragile some of the breeds of sheep are ) was increased. All in all a thoroughly great day out. 


(1) it is an SSI site and gives one the feeling that you could have been there 4,000 years ago and the landscape could have been very similar ( except the parking places, loos, picnic tables etc.) It is said that the landscape was created in the Bronze Age and the area does have much geological and archeological interest too.  It feels a special place to me and I am fortunate that I am only half an hour away. 
(2) Jacob has progressed from being  on the RBST watchlist 
(3) Shetland has also progressed from being on the watchlist
(4) Norfolk Horn is in the minority (1500-3000 registered adult breeding females) 
(5) Boreray Is in the vulnerable category 

More about Suffolk Wildlife Trust http://www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org/
More about the Rare Breeds Survival Trust  https://www.rbst.org.uk/




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.