Monday 8 March 2010

The complete guide to natural dyeing, by Eva Lambert and Tracy Kendall

Having read Jenny Dean's recommendation on her blog I ordered "The complete Guide to Natural Dyeing. Techniques and recipes for dyeing fabrics, yarns and fibres at home" by Eva Lambert and Tracy Kendall

Although I have never met Eva Lambert I know her work as we both were involved in the "Great Bed of Ware" project part of the V & A Millenium Exhibition back in 2000 (along with Simon Chadwick from Styal Mill - Eva dyed all the madder yarn for the hangings, Simon the yellows, my role was all the blackwork silks for the pillowcases and the green silk for the quilt. I also made all the tassels.) Tracy Kendall I don't remember meeting - although I did attend the MEDATs conference in Reading where Jenny says they met.

The book is very bright and the pages are very inspirational with all the colours and sections. Images are very clear, particularly when part of the instructions.

As with cooks, experienced dyers will develop their own prefered methods, be it for mordanting or dyeing, this can be because of the type of water they have or their most commonly used dyestuff and their own affinity to it, so as Jenny herself says the mordanting methods described are different to my own, but in some cases I will give them a try and see if they make a difference, it is after all how we learn! I would describe some of her mordants as modifiers as they are for altering the colour rather than fixing it, but that is terminology.

I laughed when I read some of the problems that you come across when dyeing fabric as opposed to yarn - they are so true, but the description of how to deal with them was a little confusing For example "fabrics in water are much more inclined to trap air in some areas ........can also be inclined to fold and bunch up when under the water, making it harder to mordant them fully and evenly" I totally agree! The fabric as it goes into the bath will automatically stick to itself (particularly silk, but all of them do it) and the folds will then hold air, the solution is "stir the fabrics frequently when they are being treated" if I did this with 6 metres of cloth 60" wide surely the folds and bunching would increase with frequent stirring?

A good test of somone's understanding of the chemistry of dyeing is to read the indigo/woad instructions. The opening paragraph of this section begins differently to most "there are at least 40 different varieties of indigo plants in the pea family that contain the chemical 'indican', which is what colours the fibres. Woad, although of the cabbage family, has indican - but the resulting blues are not as intense as those from indigo" Firstly I suggest they read the web page of Chris Cooksey which is simple but shows the chemicals that pre cursor "indigotin" in indigo plants and woad plants. Indigotin by the way is the chemical that colours things blue, not indican which is the precursor. As far as I can see understanding the chemistry of what is going on in the "indigotin" dyebath influences whether you get a good colour and fix or not. The best practical book that I know gives a true understanding and really good recipes is The colour of Sea and Sky The art of Indigo Dyeing by Helen Melvin. I think I'm going to have to lay my own neck on the line very soon and do my version of the chemistry - then everyone can slate me if they don't think it's correct!

I would recommend this book although I think the title is a little misleading too - as a complete guide it doesn't come anywhere near Dominique Cardon's Natural Dyes! My first "how to" book was Jenny Dean's The Craft of Natural Dyeing, and I've never looked back - if newcomers can say the same about this book in the future then it will have done its job!

Monday 1 March 2010

A new dyehouse

Well we've moved in - we are in utter chaos in the house and outside, but at least we are getting started! A friend of ours came over for a week to help John with his workshop, but what they actually did was lots of creating - I got some extra kitchen cabinets, so there is now space for crockery etc. John got his workbenches made and all the heavy equipment in place and I got the beginnings of my dyehouse!

This is what they started with! A good space full of my belongings - but a big mess! Haydn has the pallet truck in hand (below) - an incredibly useful tool (not that we have pallets) but it carries large things round very happily!!

By lunchtime things were progressing nicely - I had a bench down one side of the room for all my smaller dyebaths to go on - it's quite low so I can reach into the top of the bath to get at the yarns, then there's storage space underneath, perfect for plastic boxes of stored dyes and yarns.

It's great fun having a blank canvas to design your workspace - but it's also quite challenging, what do you want in there? What would you do differently to last time? What is vital and what can go elsewhere?

By the end of the day there had been great progress - cupboards up at the back, a worktop for the microwaves, kettle, scales etc. I have 2 tables to work on and lots of dyebaths around. There is a washing machine to go in there and a fridge.

Sady it is still going to be a few weeks before I can get started - there is no water available yet, and as for the electrics - we were warned when buying the property that the electrics needed looking at - so we were forewarned, but I wouldn't like to try and run my boilers off the one socket in the building! There are lots of plans afoot for water, the mains water is very hard, which will be a BIG shock to my system, I'm used to lovely soft water from the Welsh hills, I'm litterally going to have to learn my colours all over again!

But maybe I'll be able to get madder red?!