Friday 29 May 2009


I should already be in bed - have to get up at 4.45 to catch the ferry to Ireland- but didn't want to go without saying tara rwan!
I'll leave you with some photos of indigo dyeing I've been doing this week - I had a really good bath going and the colour is really rich!

On the far left is my Welsh sock wool, I've already hanked that into individual 50g's (it come in 500g hanks) then there's the embroidery wool - lovely and fine and finally some beautiful lace weight alpaca silk. I will have some of it at the Ravelry Day in Coventry next weekend.

Following on from an earlier post - having dyed the blues and then hanked up the Welsh I thought I'd better take a photo of my hand - just to see how much rub off there is - so here you are:
I can't say my hand is spotless, but I can say that the colour is ingrained, not just come off the hank! I always run the thread through my left hand whilst winding off - so that's 500g - there would be a stripe of blue across the fingers and palm if there had been any problems!
The method I use when dyeing indigotin blues is my own combination of various people's - principally J Liles and M Whipplinger, with a little help from Ethel Mairet. I make a concentrate and then make up the dyebath, I do lots of blue from 1 bath - keep it going all day and do blues first and then overdyeing afterwards (greens and purples). The main dyebath has probably been on the go for about 12 months and just gets topped up with concentrate as and when I feel it needs it. I can't bear to throw any away, so I even save drips and pour them back after I've finished for the day. I only ever use natural indigo - there is no synthetic in my house, I will sometimes make up a woad bath if there is a specific reason to do so, but generally I use indigo.
I'm now going to head for bed - I'll tell you what I think of cruising on the Shannon - Erne waterways when I get back!

Thursday 21 May 2009

Cellulose Mordanting

When I first started on my path as a natural dyer I wanted to work with silk. I was particularly interested in making embroidery silks that I could use for 17th century reenactment. Very soon after starting I came across references to using linen as the ground for the embroidery and wondered if I could dye the linen base.

The learning experience is unusual with natural dyes, you start off thinking "oh this is easy" then you progress to the " I know that already" stage, and then you begin to realize that the subject is so huge that you can only scratch the surface in a lifetime. I have been at that stage for quite a while, but I do feel that having concentrated on dyeing silk and linen I am pretty competent at getting a good colour on those particular fibres. I would never describe myself as an expert - ever- after all "an ex is a has been and a spurt is a drip under pressure" and who would want to be described thus? But I digress as usual.

The point behind this post is that I have been doing some experimenting with cellulose mordants, the results I have obtained so far (and I do accept that it is a very simplistic start) have made me realize that I need to do some serious study here and ultimately write an academic paper on it, so please excuse me, but I am going to put a copyright on this post, in preparation for that final paper!

Coming from an historical perspective I have always used the alum tannin mordant method for linen (and cotton). I use oak galls as my tannin source, rather than tannic acid, to appease the environmentalist in me, I may have to adjust proportions accordingly, but I follow given recipes. My first reference when I started on cellulose was Gill Dalby's book natural dyes for vegetable fibres. She was an amazing lady who did much to promote natural dyes - and worked with the environment in mind, it is from her book I get the 8% alum and 7% cream of tartar recipe for protein fibres. Jim Liles The art and craft of natural dyeing was my next book and I learned about using aluminium acetate as a mordant from him. (both are well stained as you can imagine!) When I started using the Earthues extracts I thought I'd try out the commercially produced aluminium acetate as Michelle Whipplinger is so pro using it, it's certainly quick and easy and is very good if you have a mixed fibre combination like hemp silk.

In my own sweet little world though I wasn't so sure, so I decided to do a simple experiment. I broke a 100g hank of cotton (my wonderful new organic cotton boucle, which will be available very soon!!!) into smaller hanks of even size. Wetted them out for a couple of days first and then scoured them with washing soda and detergent keeping them all together. I then put 2 into an aluminium acetate mordant and 2 went through the alum and tannin method of mordanting. After rinsing them well I dyed 1 of each in madder and 1 of each in cochineal extract. The only thing that was different about the preparation was the actual mordant. Now look at the results! The alum tannin has taken the dye much more intensely for both dyes. I have not cheated here, it was a straightforward simple experiment.

Based on what I've seen so far, I think I will continue to use the older method for now - but as I get more into the research I'll keep you informed - and in the mean time I'll continue to stock aluminium acetate powder in my shop!!!
© Debbie Bamford, May 2009

Thursday 14 May 2009

Colours in nature

Colour is getting to me this Spring. I don't know why this year in particular, but I seem to be noticing the way colours are reflected off the landscape and wild flowers, my attention is constantly being diverted.

When we went to Llanberis I was really drawn to the scars in the rock face where they are quarrying the slate. The contrasts between the fawns and greens of the moorland and the grey slashes, then the bright yellow of the gorse, I'm finding really absorbing. It is making me want to go into the dyehouse and start trying to reproduce these colours and contrasts on my yarns.

Looking at this lump of slate (it was like a standing stone just outside the museum) the weathering has created so many different veins of colour from almost white to yellows and rusty browns as well as the many shades of grey!

Normally when working with the natural dyes I am producing replica colours for different periods of history - so modern fashion trends have never featured in my choice of colours. (I do wonder sometimes whether I should go and check out what the "next season's colours" will be from the fashion designers, but theirs and mine are never going to look the same - well not until I've got them all convinced that thay don't want to be using anything but my dyed cloth!! - so it becomes a bit irrelevant.) I guess I'm going to be going my own way as normal this year - but it all might be a bit different, I don't mean all dull and muted so much as different contrasts and unusual mixes!

My friend Helen produces the most fantastic felted pictures using naturally dyed fibres, my favorites are always her waterfalls - there is so much motion in them and definition, so here's a new idea! I'm calling it slatefall!

I love the stillness of the rock as opposed to the wild crashing of water, which is my usual choice, but there is still a movement there!

Sunday 10 May 2009

The Peris Boat

Yesterday our friends Russ and Liz came to visit. They inhabit the same historical world that we do and provide Viking boat demonstrations. Recently Russ added in a Tudor boat to his display and a few weeks ago we went along to visit him and help with his publicity photos - suitably attired! (I'm in the red gown with yellow underskirt and blue hat)We had a really fun day outside the old hall setting up the boat and playing around in front of such a wonderful backdrop. We developed quite an audience of locals in the end trying to work out what was going on (maybe they thought the ghosts had come alive!!!)

The reason for their visit yesterday was Russ had discovered by chance that there is an original Tudor boat in a museum in Llanberis - so off we went down to Snowdonia for the afternoon!
We started at the slate museum, thinking that would be a logical place - she was found at the lakeside just outside the museum building, however as with all these things, they're never where you expect and we had to go round to the Electric Mountain Visitor Centre! (This was actually to our advantage as we didn't have to pay anything to go in and see her, not that we would have begrudged paying, it would have been worth ever penny) She's just through the main entrance hall in a large exhibition room and is the only thing in there except for chairs and local artists' work on the walls, she is so accessible that you can wander all round, and even get "up close and personal" with a ruler to get all the dimensions! Sadly there was no archaeological report available, so further investigation is required on that front.

"Tudor boat" to me conjors up images of the Mary Rose and battleships and Francis Drake etc, but in reality the Peris boat is for working along the shores of the lake (similar boats would have plied the coast) going from each of the harbours selling fish or transporting animals and people to their next destination. The design is very similar to the period paintings of "Cock Boats" She would have been "powered" by 2 or 3 rowers and the rollock holes for the oars are very obvious in the wood of the inwales.

The amount of history in those few pieces of wood is fantastic - the method of construction is very clear - oak was very common in N Wales hundreds of years ago - the whole area was forested, "clinker built" means that the planks were split radially with a hammer and wedges and then these individual planks were fitted together by a method known as scarfing, that is tapering and joining of two opposing ends to make a strake. (image is of scarfing)

A strake was a continuous row of planks long enough to run from one end of the boat to the other. The strakes were overlapped at the edges and then joined (top edge to bottom edge of the next strake) to form a series of lands, they were fastened with wrought iron nails clenched over roves (washers) on the inside. The strakes were fastened to internal frames with treenails (large wooden pegs)
The boys obviously had to have every measurement of the boat to make sure that Russ's was the correct proportions (which it is!) John has the ruler in hand and Russ is pointing out a particular feature!

What a find! and so real - much more so than when I saw the Mary Rose hull.
Photos copyright Russell Scott and Debbie Bamford

Tuesday 5 May 2009


Whatever happened to standards of workmanship? It is something that has been bothering me for quite a while and it seems to be getting worse - last year I went shopping for some new trousers. I discovered that most pairs made from dark materials carried a label saying "do not sit on light coloured sofas in this garment" That surely is not acceptable to the general public - well it must be I guess. The number of items that are bought that have really bright colours until their first wash is incredible, we should expect better!

I have a google search set to find blogs talking about natural dyes and yesterday there was a link to a blog describing how this lady had been knitting with yarn she had purchased, dyed with indigo (It is described as natural and a mid - blue colour) There was a photo of her fingers showing the staining she was getting as she was knitting up the yarn. It wasn't a complaint - it was almost as though this was the norm and accepted.

It made me think!

As far as I can see either the dyeing wasn't done properly - indigo even when you think you know how it works will come back and bite you, rub off can easily happen if the dyebath wasn't correctly prepared. Or it could be that the yarns weren't rinsed at all after the dyeing - this seems to be common practice now! I would be absolutely devastated to see that about my yarns on the net (and yes the lady named the yarn)

I am obviously getting on my high horse here, but someone has to start making a stand. Standards in the industry just don't seem to exist and if shoppers just buy the products and accept the poor quality it surely must be up to those of us with standards to prove you can get better?

When I dyed the silk for the blackwork for the V & A embroidery the first thing that Wendy did with the yarn was wash it in "hot soapy water" - to check that there was no bleeding of colour - there wasn't, she phoned me to tell me how impressed she was! I took it as a compliment at the time but looking back I see it as a sad indictment that she should expect there should be!

On the other hand how would you know in advance if something was going to bleed or not - do we go round all the yarn suppliers and rub the yarns in our hands to see if colour comes off, do we carry a little bag of soapy water to test out with? As far as I am aware there isn't a British Standard that you can comply with, and if it expected and accepted is it worth putting all the extra effort in?

Maybe I'm the oddity for expecting things to be done properly - I could probably save hours of work if I lower my standards - but I'm sorry I won't!!!

Saturday 2 May 2009

Spring in the valley

We decided to take advantage of the sunshine today and went for a walk. We went up Lady Bagot's Drive, so called (by repute) because it is the back road up to Pool Park the N Wales home of Lord Bagot. It is said that Lady Bagot used to come down here to meet her lover........

How it actually got it's name is irrelevant really, but it is fab for a good walk. If you do the whole thing it is probably 6 or 7 miles, but you can change direction in various places so we took a slightly shorter route and probably did about 5 miles.

The start of the drive, off the main A525 is over the "Bridge over the river of blood" so named because a man died in the river during the Civil War. The walk takes us along the river Clewedog following it back upstream.

The water is really clear at the moment, there has been rain recently (so the track we walked on was quite muddy) but the river looked gorgeous! In fact it was so inviting that David decided to try it out!

When we first moved here the boys (Huh?!) and I used to come up the drive most days - sometimes with the ponies but frequently with a picnic and towels and they would have a play and splash in the river. There is a part that is channeled off and the water is deeper and still by the side of that channel - almost like a mini swimming pool, as we are all quite strong swimmers, it was never a problem, they never went without me though!

The wild flowers alongside the track were beautiful. I remember at school in the summer term we used to have a "wild flower" competition and had to collect and name as many as we could - stars being awarded for various numbers (I have a vague idea it being something like 25, 75, 125) I can still name a few, but most have slipped from the memory - I will dig out my book and look them up. The colours are so fantastic I've been inspired to do some reproduction work in the dyehouse! Perhaps I should name a colour collection after the flowers - I obviously won't use the flowers themselves to dye, it wouldn't get me very far, but the names, well they're romantic aren't they - and have an historic slant! A friend is often asking me to dye "Columbine" colour!

Talking of flowers my dye garden is coming along well! Here they are - my 2 Weld plants. Self seeded of course and could they have chosen a better place? I guess not! Have to be careful when we move the gas bottle now! Maybe it won't move for quite a while! This is just outside the dyehouse door, and I've no idea what is in the black rubbish bag - probably sawdust as it is also just outside John's workshop too! There is also masses of nettles and Lady's Bedstraw not far from here - but cultivated plants, not a chance!