Monday, 13 July 2009

Our other kind of work

Last Saturday found us working in the middle of a field in Penryn, Cornwall, doing what seems to take up virtually every weekend from May through to certainly October, with some of November and December thrown in! We were doing period demonstrations - on this occasion early Medieval - but it can be anything from Roman through to the advent of chemical dyes (Victorian). We dress in the appropriate clothing and talk about whatever our subject may be for that day. Normally I get to be a dyer, although sometimes I am a spinner and occasionally I even get to be something totally different. John has far more variety, he is an apothecary, or a pin and needle maker, or a cartographer (his Saturday job!) or plague doctor, or jet worker, lots of varieties of John!
The top picture is our 2 awnings side by side, dyer on the left and cartographer on the right. We both had lots of interest over the day - it was so wet that anyone who actually turned out had to be interested! Really the residents of Penryn were fabulous and came out in quite large numbers!

This is John's table with beautifully made sun dials (but no sun, so we couldn't tell the time!) actually you can see three versions of sundials, the one hanging up is a shepherds dial and was carried round, the one flat on the table is a Capuchin dial and the one whose face you can see on the stand is an Equatorial dial. He has a selection of maps and devices for measuring distances and writing implements for doing his mapping.

I have a dyebath - well actually its a twin tub version I have the ability to have 2 colours on the go at any one time. Usually I do onions skins as they are really simple and woad as it is very complex (and magic!). There are a selection of hanks hanging up - they are hung out like this everytime and have been in use I would think for at least 8 years. The madder, weld and woad have not faded at all, the brazilwood on the left has faded quite dramatically - it was only an exhaust bath so was never particularly dark and paler colours are known to fade out first - the hank is almost white on the outside and very pink on the inside. The same applies to the turmeric hank at the other end, it is virtually white on the outside but very yellowy gold on the inside. The tops that are on the far right have been dyed in an exhaust onion skin bath, they are actually darker than they look here.

We are normally allowed to trade at these events so in the background you can see a small selection of stock as well. There is a tray of silks, some cloth hanging up, linens in their trays, wools in baskets and some of John's woodwork. At the front of the table is a box with some dyestuffs in and madder root, a woad ball and a pomegranate husk on top, then there is a medieval piss pot and a glass bottle with essence of John in it!
We have put a tremendous amount of time into researching what we do, so it's great that we get these opportunities to use our knowledge to educate people, especially children. I love watching their faces when I pull a piece of cloth out of the woad bath and ask them what colour it is - "yellowy or greeny" they say, "oh no!" I say "it's blue!"


Helen said...

It is fascinating to see what you do and how the different dyes have lasted. Love the sundials.

Debbie said...

Hmmm....isn't John supposed to be making a Polar Dial for you?!

Thanks - I find it interesting that the colours are still so strong on the madder, weld and woad! Natural dyes don't last you know!

Helen said...

Well yes he was and now we are having a summer house I think a sundial would be fabulous to put in front of it. Dhs birthday is October 15th any chance of it by then?

Anonymous said...

I have tried several times without success to leave comments on Blogspot blogs & it wasn't until Leena suggested signing in as anonymous that I realised how to do it! I have been wanting to express my admiration of your length of Turkey Red fabric. Quite an achievement!
Good wishes
Jenny (Dean)