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!"

Monday 6 July 2009

Weld or Dyers Rocket

Not long ago I posted a picture of the Weld plant that had seeded itself just outside John's workshop. You can see it's barely half way up the gas bottle it's growing next to, really doesn't look to have the space to do anything much!

The area that it has decided to grow in is really quite rough - the black bag contains sawdust and scraps of wood from John's workshop (we use them to soak up the mud that we get when it rains here, it can get like a swimming pool in our back yard!)

This is of course the preferred environment for the Weld plant, the scrubbier the better almost, we used to go to Tesco to collect it - there was a new car park and the ground was turned over and left - it was a fabulous crop for a couple of years - but sadly it's been cultivated now!

It now appears that I have a Weld tree! It is in flower and looking magnificent, it reminds me of a Christmas tree with candles attached to the ends of the branches all lit up! it is higher than the doorway into John's workshop and takes up so much space that you can barely get past it! I am not going to cut it down yet - it's not quite ready, but it shouldn't be long! Actually I feel quite guilty about cutting such a fantastic plant down I wish they went on and on!

There has been lots of debate about when the best time for cutting is, I am no expert and seem to have cut weld at all stages of flowering and even almost dead over the years, and had colour from all of them, hard to actually say which I found the best. Sadly I have been very remiss about keeping records of cropping times. One day I would like to have enough weld growing to do an experiment and start cropping from when first in flower right through to when almost dying off. What I can say is that the Weld I have collected from the East of the country (York area and Norfolk/Suffolk) has yielded a much better colour than that grown here in the West (Oswestry, Mold, Whitchurch).

There has been a project in Italy looking at yields from various varieties of weld with a view to turning it into an agricultural crop. Its title is Agronomic potential of Reseda luteola L. as new crop for natural dyes in textile production by Luciana Angelini, Alessandra Bertoli, Sabina Rolandelli and Luisa Pistelli. from the abstract:
Six weld genotypes were evaluated for their agronomic characteristics in a 4 year field study carried out under rainfed conditions in Central Italy in order to point out productive potential and the best harvest time to maximise yield of dye.......the harvest of plants during flowering or during beginning of fruit ripening did not affect overall dry yield. The luteolin amount was affected by climatic conditions as experienced in two different growing seasons and by the plant phenological stages at harvest being luteolin most abundant in the driest year and in plants harvested during flowering. Genetic variablility existed for the luteolin content in leaves plus reproductive structures (inflorescences and fruits) that varied from 13.6 to 28.7 mg g-1 dry weight in the six accessions tested. Separated weld organs showed different dyeing capacities being the leaves, inflorescences and fruits the most effective ones..............
Their results seem inconclusive due to the effects of rainfall but they consider the best time for harvesting is when flowering as that is the highest luteolin content. They don't use the stems of the plants - they consider there is no colouring matter there.
There is so much to learn..........!

Saturday 4 July 2009

A return to the subject of Washfastness

Before Woolfest I was doing some washfastness testing of my yarns, I do these tests at random times and on random yarns so I get an idea of how good (or bad) the dyes I'm using are, and my standards of mordanting and dyeing of course.

My method is following the recommendations in Gill Dalby's book Natural dyes fast or fugitive (a very good book and one that I think doesn't get enough praise, it's small and reasonably priced and chock full of really sound information!) The tests are not totally scientific of course - I don't have access to full laboratories and testing equipment, but I make the best use of what I have.

The yarns are stitched into mordanted cotton parcels (I reckon that if there is colour leaching then the mordanted cotton will take up the dye and show staining more clearly than unmordanted) I use my washing machine on the whites wash cycle and a temperature of 60 degrees (not very environmentally friendly, but it is for a specific purpose and only at random times not every week or day) full spin and Bob's your uncle! The detergent I used for these samples was Amway SA8 colour, a powder detergent that I have used for many years, originally I bought it because it was great for septic tanks, it isn't actually organically certified, but is certainly more environment concious that most. I also have Ecover non Bio in the laundry room. I don't add fabric softeners in the laundry but I do always give my wools a final rinse of Eucalan when I've finished dyeing - it's a fabric conditioner and moth repellant and I like it lots!

This sample is wool, it's not the clearest of images and you can tell that the wool hasn't liked the boil wash but there is no transfer of colour at all onto the cotton, the threads on the right are originals and the felted blobs are the ones that have been washed. There is barely any difference in the colours between the originals and the blobs.
The dyes used here were indigo, persian berry and persian berry overdyed with indigo for the green, the yarn is my Welsh wool, it's a 2 ply yarn but knits up as a four ply and is fab for socks because it's so hardwearing (felts well too!!!)

The next samples were some linen yarns. The colour that you can see on the cotton is actually fibres that have rubbed off the linen, not colour transfer, not sure whether the photo is clear enough for you to make that out - but "in the flesh" it is obvious! Here the dyes used were madder, cochineal and logwood, again there is virtually no difference between the original colour and the washed. There are different thicknesses of thread some 8/2, 16/2 and 28/2. It's the 8/2 dyed with cochineal that has "rubbed" off onto the cotton, the others have a much higher twist to them, so I guess that's what's helped there.
I've given information about the detergents I use because it's another thing that can affect the dye colours - if I used one that was more alkaline I could find that the colours actually changed in the wash, the cochineals would go more purple for example, yet another thing to watch out for!

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Back to the dyehouse!

This time of year is always manic - so keeping up with the blog is going to be quite difficult, I will try and give regular updates - as much to keep my head above water as anything!

First point - I forgot my camera, how I managed to do so I don't know - but I got to St Andrews and had to go and buy a disposable, (when I finally get them developed in the old fashioned way I will see if any are suitable for showing off!) talk about feeling stupid!!!

The ceremony was very intriguing, the graduates walk to the middle of the stage, kneel in front of the Principal, are hit on the head with what is said to be a piece of John Knox's breeches made into a cap, have their cape flung over ther heads and then sedately walk the rest of the way across the stage to collect their certificates! They each did it in turn, no one tripped up or had any catastrophe and I was a very proud Mum! Then there was the garden party with everyone very well turned out and we had champagne and afternoon tea. The weather was fine, but not scorching (although I did wear my sunhat!) and it was all very social!

Peterborough through the Ages over the weekend was also very successful - the weather was not the usual for an event like this, (I packed away a very dry tent!) and when the Archbishop of Canterbury walked past my tent he smiled at me as though I was a friend! Lots of people came to see what we were doing and were genuinely interested in all the activities and periods. (still no camera though!)

Yesterday I had to take the Mauvein back to Bradford, I was attending a meeting to discuss the future of the Colour Experience (was the Colour Museum) and how to spread the word about it's educational activities. They cover national curriculum key stages and teach colour and colour perception. The headquarters of the Society of Colourists and Dyers is in the same building and are the funding body. It was really good to meet people I have spoken to by email and on the phone and get to see the exhibits. I'm now trying to help promote them!!!
Here it is all safe and sound back in its cabinet - you wouldn't believe it had been out for a jolly to Wales and Shropshire would you?!
I have a work placement student with me this week, so am having to try and work in some sort of sensible manner, I'm not sure I'm succeeding as yet, she came to Bradford with me yesterday and has been preparing her own hank of wool for dyeing today! We have lots of cloth to be getting on with this week, so my bit was to start scouring 4m wool cloth ready to mordant tomorrow. The actual dyeing will probably be over the weekend, but we might get some done, before she goes on Friday!