Tuesday 31 March 2009

Have missed a couple of days - I was supposed to be slaving away in the dyehouse on Sunday, but it was so gorgeous we decided to go out for a drive again! Well you've got to take advantage of the weather! We met up with some friends for lunch at the http://www.myttonandmermaid.co.uk/ The food is fantastic, have so far had 3 meals there and enjoyed every one of them so much we're recommending it to anyone we can!!! Not to mention the beautiful setting! The church just behind the hotel is full of characteer with a stained glass window from the 16th century, when it's fine you can sit out in the garden by the banks of the Severn and look at the old bridge, with the swans floating away down the river it's so peaceful the tranquility takes you over!

However that was then and now we're back to work! Yesterday I prepared my cochineal and sticklac for the workshop - today I'm doing the dyeing, normally I would do all this preparation way in advance, but I want to do the workshop with everyone, so everything is fresh to answer the questions.

The sticklac was very gloopy - but lots of red colour came out - in fact more than I expected from the books I've been reading! This was right at the start - a very rich colour is developing, I'm using 50g sticklac and will attempt to dye 50g fibres with it. I had to add boiling water many times to get to a point where it appeared no more colour was coming out of the gloop! It all went into a pan ready to add water and proceed with the dyeing - which is happening at the moment! I'll add some more pictures later - I'd better go and check what's happening down there!

Friday 27 March 2009

Health and Fitness

I have always thought of myself as a very healthy person - and reasonably fit, although recently I have gained some of the "middle aged spread" and definitely feel my age after a day in the dyehouse carrying heavy pans and buckets of liquid around. I decided in February that I really need to do something about it - I don't feel right! Not that long ago I would have gone for a walk round the "big block" ie 5 miles, without batting an eyelid, now the "little block" of 2 miles can seem daunting (well OK the winter weather hasn't helped.... but you get the picture!) So I decided to join the gym in Denbigh. Great, but then you have to fit it into the day - if I go at 7.30 in the morning it's reasonable, if I go at 2.30 in the afternoon it's reasonable at any other time I've tried it's hectic!!! 7.30 doesn't allow me to go to the Post Office and do other jobs, so 2.30 makes more sense, but on a dyeing day you can't just walk away from the pots!!! What this means is I'm not getting into a routine and I really want to!

I had news recently of a fellow natural dyer who is seriously ill with bladder cancer - the prognosis does not sound good at all, I am truly sorry to hear that and wish her all the best, but it's made me realize that we are not immune to what we do and I need to keep myself healthy and take precautions with all the different chemicals that "natural dyes" require! There is some speculation I understand as to whether what she has done as an occupation may have been a cause. That is a very scary thought!

One thing I am careful about is using rubber gloves, but sometimes putting the dust mask on can seem un-necessary and I'll skip it - then when my nose starts running I regret it. From now on I'm not going to do any "skipping" with health and safety!

When I write dyeing instructions I always start with the "Serious bit" it is something I am aware of and try to emphasise, but I think what has struck me most is that these things creep up on you - I would have pooh-poohed someone telling me I'd think twice about walking the "big block", but I can talk myself out of it very easily now! I hope that anyone taking up natural dyeing as a hobby will always bear in mind that these products are not play things - even though they come from natural sources. Chemicals are chemicals whatever their source, some are more harmful than others, but all should be treated with respect.

This seems quite a heavy post - for that I'm sorry, but the news was not nice.............

Wednesday 25 March 2009


Next month (April) I am running a workshop for the Online Guild of spinners weavers and dyers - on the red dyes. I called my workshop Roots, Woods and Bugs because I'm going to cover dyeing with Brazilwood, Madder and Cochineal, with some Lac thrown in! Consequently I've had all my old text books out reading back over long forgotten things - I feel it's so important to go back and check out what you do as second nature in your own dyehouse, it may work for you because you've developed your own technique, but it's still important to go back to basics as it were.

I'm probably going to start with the bugs bit - well that's what I've been working on today! Sticklac as the basic dyestuff I've never tried to use, so I'm getting myself organised to start with that one - I have it in all it's forms, sticklac, shellac, lac powder and lac extract, reading all the different recipes has been really fascinating, on Friday I'll actually try and get some results!

The first thing I have to do with this lot is to grind it up in boiling water with a pestle and mortar - this will soften the resin (shellac) and allow the red colour to dissolve. I may well cheat and just use the lac powder I've got - it saves on all the grinding! No I won't really, if a jobs worth doing, it's worth doing properly!

It's interesting stuff isn't it - you can see the twigs that the bugs have settled on and then the gloup that they've covered themselves in for protection. It wasn't understood in the past whether the secretion came from the bugs or the tree - a sap like gloup that was given off because of the bugs biting into it. It would appear the secretion comes from the bugs after they have bitten into the tree and ingested the sap. Isn't nature amazing!

Tuesday 24 March 2009

A new Dyehouse!

The big news today is - my new dyehouse arrived!!!

This was the lorry just backing in!! I am so excited! Problem is I don't know when I'll have it erected - or where! As you can see it's a flatpack dyehouse, when we started unloading we realized not only is it flatpack it's a jigsaw puzzle as well - there are no instructions!

There are now piles of wood all over the yard waiting to be moved under cover - and of course the weather has changed tonight and it's raining outside! John was looking on the internet a few weeks ago and spotted these wonderful wooden buildings, as we need to be able to dye cloth using the historical methods we've developed here, it was decided that one of these would be perfect to help us in our house hunting!

It is being stored under the hay bay for now......................

Maybe I should explain a little! We have reached the point where we realize that N Wales is a long way from anywhere, added to that we rent our property so can't make it "ours" which affects lots of aspects of what we do. We have actually been house hunting for about 12 months and driving our friends mad with indecision, but we know that we now have to do something positive!

Of course we haven't yet reached a decision, because we have to agree on where we want to live and what type of property we want and it has to fit into our price bracket and ......... no wonder everyone is frustrated with us!!!

For now I'll just dream of when I can start my dyeing in my own place and tomorrow I'll go back into the dyehouse I have and start preparing for the month long workshop I'm doing in April!

Monday 9 March 2009

I can tell this is going to be hard for me to keep up with - but I really want to make it work, so bear with me!!!

We went to the Kent Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers for the weekend of the month change - it was a lovely weekend, and we were made so welcome! I dressed in Medieval kit on the Saturday and did a talk on the life oand clothes of the Medieval Dyer, then on the Sunday we went modern an ran a workshop on dyeing with extract dyes. Everyone went home with lots of colour samples and very happy! I wish I had time to take photos when doing workshops - it's so great to see what everyone produces, especially when working with the same basic material - everyone is different!!

Last week was a whirl of getting stock dyed for the big market coming up this weekend and getting ready for working in Castleford. I was doing calligraphy for the first time as a demonstration so had to do some research and get things ready! It all went well thank goodness - again no pictures, maybe I'll be able to find some on the Wakefield website at some point!

Now it's seriously getting into the market time - have dyed lots and lots of linen yarn and beautiful embroidery wools, I'm really pleased with the mix of colours I've achieved. I have some particularly good greens, a relief as it's such a popular colour! I must go and take some photos! Helen wants some photos of greens as well, so I have to!