Monday 28 September 2009

Failed Experiment?

Isn't it amazing how the mind can play tricks on you?
Between my back door and the dyehouse door there is an elder tree, at the moment it is overloaded with berries and taunts me everytime I walk out of the back door!
In the back of my mind I was convinced that I had read in Ethel Mairet's book (Natural Dyes) that if you dye linen with elderberries then it is a permanent dye, so I thought I would do an experiment!
The first thing was to find the book - this was a success!!! I found the relevant page and read under
"Elder Sambucus nigra Berries"
then a little further down
"Sloe* Prunus communis. Fruit"
"*on boiling sloes, their juice becomes red, and the red dye which imparts to linen changes, when washed with soap, into a bluish colour, which is permanent"
Aha - I had read it, but got my berries muddled! So off I went to the sloes at the end of the field. This photo looks like a damson but I can assure you the thorns got us when collecting the fruit! (I fancy having a pick at the lichen, but I'm a good girl and I won't touch it!!!) from the bush we got about 750g of fruit. Into the pan it went and was boiled for about 3/4 hour. I then left it overnight and maybe this is where things went wrong!
The colour of the fruit when boiling was much darker than this pinky colour I have here - this was taken after straining out the mush, it's frothy cos it's just been strained into a jug and then poured back into the pan.
I had a piece of linen cloth and a piece of wool cloth which together weighed about 150g, so I thought that was a very generous ratio of dyestuff to fibre and immersed them and heated them back to boiling and kept there for about another 3/4 hour.
The colour was a pretty wishy washy pink as far as I can see! The linen is on the left and the wool on the right.
So the instructions say wash in soap and the colour should change - out came the soap flakes - hmmm neutral, olive oil soap? Still no colour change, in the end I decided that all my detergents are neutral and tried adding washing soda to the washing water!!! I have to be honest and say I can't see much happening in the water, but I left everything soaking overnight again in the vague hope that some miracle would happen. !
I guess the answer has to be - NO!
The wool (on the left) has actually changed more than the linen (which looks exactly the same to me!)
I will do a lightfastness test on them in my South facing window and see what happens, but I don't think that this has done what Ethel suggested!
I have also now found a reference in Dominique Cardon (Natural Dyes) to dyeing with Elder - so maybe I will collect the fruit and try it. Bilberry seems to be the best of the fruits with quite a few finds showing evidence of being dyed with them, however my absolute FAVORITE pie is bilberry, (or whimberry if you're a Lancashire lass like me) so if I pick any I know where they'll be going and it won't be a dyepot!

Thursday 24 September 2009

Flags for the Battle of Flodden

Earlier this year I received a commission to produce 3 flags for the Battle of Flodden site at Etal Castle (English Heritage)

The first thing to be established was - which 3? I enlisted the help of a friend who studied heraldry to help with this one - we came up with a list of 12 flags known to be used at the battle and EH chose Argyll, Huntley and St Cuthbert.

The flags were to be naturally dyed and handstitched, approximately 3 ft square and on 8ft poles with finials.

The images above are what I had to work from with information on which colour was to be used where. The biggest challenge was finding a good linen to make them up. I tried all my favorite suppliers and Goodmans Linens found a lovely sateen linen with a very close weave, suited the purpose admirably! For the boars heads and crosses in gold I used a hemp silk - it had more stability than a plain silk and the lions were to be in the undyed linen.

After working out how much of each material was to be dyed in each colour I set to work scouring, mordanting and finally dyeing.

The linen was mordanted in alum and washing soda and the hemp silk in aluminium acetate, all the cloth was also mordanted in tannin. The black was iron over the tannin and then into indigotin.
The gold was produced with Persian Berries. Although I know they were used historically I am quite late in coming to love this dyestuff. I have only really used them if specifically requested to , I tend to prefer weld or dyers broom - but on this occasion I knew I'd get a better colour tone with the berries! The blue is indigotin - obviously! I had blue nails for a couple of weeks after this dyeing - to get the cloth even I had to move the fabric under the surface almost continuously and I couldn't use rubber gloves! I had tried to get the blue darker, but after 4 dips I really didn't think my hands could take anymore!
So there we are our base is ready to go! John was given the job of working out the Argyll flag - triangles of the correct size were beyond my brain power, but I set to work on the other two.

Working on the Huntley first (the boars heads seemed an easier option than the lions to break myself in!!) I've enlarged the boars head to a useable size and I needed 6, 3 each side . The paper was used as a template to cut round for the cloth and then I blanket stitched all round the edges before attaching them to the background pieces. The two sides were joined together and the hanging loops put in.
Here's the finished article! (On pole with finial!)

As I said it was John who did all the work on the Argyll flag - just to prove he can do the handstitching as well as the cutting out here he is!

The finished flag - I folded it back so it's obvious that there are two sides the same.

The last flag to be completed was the St Cuthbert, this is known to have been carried by the English Army, although I don't actually know the relevance! It required 2 crosses and 8 lions, the crosses were relatively easy, they were just blanket stitched onto the background.

The lions were first blanket stitched onto the background and then the details added in to give them definition

The finished flag looked like this!
So now you know why I've been so quiet recently, in between going away - I've been sewing round lions and crosses and boars heads and wish I could work with a thimble on, there is a very definite hole in my middle finger!

Tuesday 8 September 2009


I am so shattered at the moment that even when I think I will come up to the computer and do an update I go to bed instead!!! I think it stems from being away every weekend (which takes out Fridays and Mondays with packing travelling, unpacking, washing and getting things ready to go again.) Then Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are re-stocking and sorting orders days! Life is a bit of a blur to say the least - at least there is a break after this weekend until the first weekend of October!

Having said all that I have just spent a fabulous weekend working at Mellor Open Weekend. The site is amazing and our hosts Ann and John Hearle were lovely, made us very welcome and clearly are totally devoted to their project! So with that in mind I am going to tell you about it all!

John has owned the Old Vicarage for over 40 years and has a history in textiles - being a professor (retired) from Manchester University. (He's quite happy to talk to little me about cotton too!) Ann is totally involved in the organisation of the Heritage Trust and the open weekend. Their garden is gorgeous but currently dug into trenches for the archaeologists to have a good rootle in!

We first found out about the site last year when we were contacted by Stockport Museums to go and spin and dye for the dvd being produced for the iron age site. I understand that this will be available from December this year.

We set ourselves up by the round house, the ground was incredibly soggy but there was plenty of straw to put down, the marquee next to us had weaving and pottery demonstrations, there was metal detecting for the children and Ancient Crafts had a display of tools and a lathe for working stone. There were lots and lots of visitors - it was an incredibly popular venue, guided tours were given of the digs and there was a display in the village hall of all the finds. The main feature was the amber necklace , but there were so many finds that it filled 2 rooms of the village hall!

I'm really sorry I have no photos with this post - I took some pics on my phone, but when I try to email them they won't go - the technophobe strikes again. If they ever work I'll update this entry!