Sunday 30 December 2012

Happy New Year!

The end of the year has arrived with speed! My good intentions of writing more on here have not come to pass as I had hoped - I guess I am still too much of a technophobe to work out how to deal with being away so

Resolution number 1 for 2013 is to get to grips with THE MACHINE!
Resolution number 2 is to get to grips with THE CAMERA!
Resolution number 3 is to put the 2 together!

I hope to meet you all back here in 2013 with lots of news, photos and an increased knowledge of how this all works!

Wishing you all a happy and prosperous New Year  looking forward to a year of research, learning and COLOUR from the natural world!

Monday 22 October 2012

More on Cream of Tartar

A quick update on Cream of Tartar - we have now heard back from Waitrose - their "Waitrose Cook's Ingredients" Cream of tartar is again Potassium Bitartrate.

I wonder where the "substitute" is going to eventually turn up! I also wonder WHAT it is, as I still haven't found anything!!

Saturday 13 October 2012

Cream of Tartar

So...........what does the name conjor up for you? For me it means the white powder that you buy in tubs from the bakery section of a Supermarket or Grocers store. I have no idea where the name "cream of tartar" comes from, but  historically, it was the "leys of wine" the powdery sediment found on the walls of wine cellar vats. Then it was given the name "Argol" and it could be red or white depending on the colour of the wine it came from!

 There appear to be many names for the chemical - the commonest I have found are Potassium Hydrogen Tartrate or Potassium Bitartrate, but you can also find monopotassium tartrate, potassium acid tartrate,
[R-(R*,R*)]-2,3 Dihydroxybutanedioic Acid Monopotassium Salt, Potassium (2R,3R)-3-carboxy-2,3-dihydroxypropanoate, and more.......!

The chemical formula can be written KC4H5O
or even
C4H4O4 (OH) (OK)
Its CAS  number is 868-14-4 (One of the commonest classifications to stop confusion between chemicals)
CB number -CB7854493
formula weight:188.18
E number - E-336(i)

  It is the mineral acid salt of Tartaric Acid and probably best known for its stabilizing properties when making meringues. It is a component in Baking Powder and also a chemical buffer.

So I can now see you wondering what this post is all about!

Many dye recipes both historical and modern recommend the use of Argol  or Cream of Tartar as an addition to alum in the mordanting process, it is there to assist the alum in mordanting wool with salts of Aluminium, Chromium, Iron, Copper and Tin. It is said to improve the permanence, fulness nad brilliance of the ultimate colour. For the chemists amongst you this is surmised to be due to the double decomposition of the tartrate and the mordanting salt, the mineral acid of the latter combining with the potassium of the tartrate and the metallic hydrate with tartaric acid, (it is also possible that a double salt is formed).

Given all the above information I am struggling to understand why several dye retailers in the UK make a claim that the Cream of Tartar sold for catering is a substitute chemical not suitable for use as the mordant assistant.

So what is this substitute? I cannot find it - is it the same product but using one of its other names?

For my own peace of mind I have comtacted Dr Oetker and Tesco both of whom are very clear that the product they sell under the name Cream of Tartar is CAS number 868-14-4 Potassium Hydrogen Tartrate (etc, etc) I have their replies in email format so if you wish to see them I am happy to forward on - or feel free to contact them yourself.

I feel so strongly that we should be able to buy the product we want under the name that it is known by that I would like to find out more on the subject of this "substitute" used for catering. Maybe if there is a substitute we should be considering approaching Trading Standards to get the name used as it should be and another name for the alternative!

Tuesday 25 September 2012

What can have coloured my silk?

I have just prepared a variety of silk fibres and yarns ready for dyeing. There are several winter markets coming up so I thought I ought to get started - but without the usual panic and rush!

Maybe this was a bad idea! ALL the fibres and yarns were Mulberry silk so white rather than cream or caramel coloured. I scoured them all first - but in separate pans as I didn't want the fibres attaching themselves to the yarns.

 I had already mordanted alpaca and romney so the mordant was an exhaust bath being re-used, it had had alum and cream of tartar in (hopefully taken up by the wooly yarns) so I added a different proportion of alum and cream of tartar for the silks. The liquid was CLEAR, absolutely no sign of any colour before I entered the silk. The silk was still white before being entered.

The liquid was heated to about 45 degrees and then left for a day - I like the mordant to have a good length of time with the fibres! When I took the lid off to srain out ready to use again I had something of a shock! 

All the fibres had changed colour to a lovely shade of peach! The liquid has remained colourless - hopefully you can see that from the yarn picture. The mordant bath is stainless steel and there is nothing unusual about the alpaca and romney that came out before. (The green you can see is the tags I use for labelling my yarns - and no, none of the ink has come off either!)) I am sure there is no iron contamination and although I do sometimes add in tannin when mordanting silk (correct historically) there was none present here.

The white tub shows the silk caps that have been taken out of the bath - they really are very pretty, but what can be the colour?

I haven't yet tried to dye any of the fibres - that will be the next interesting challenge,

Has anyone had a similar experience - or any suggestions? I'll let you know how I get on with the dyeing in due course!

Tuesday 18 September 2012


I really enjoy running workshops, I never thought I would, but it is so inspiring to see the emerging colours and delight on the faces of the attendees.

 Last Saturday I was with the Bedfordshire Guild of WSD, a lovely bunch of ladies who were enthusiastic from the minute they walked through the hall door!

It was not a quiet workshop, with deep concentration taking over - there were plenty of questions and discussion about what was going on! In the morning we covered the history of dyes working with plant stuff and even including an historical experiment - which gave a very distinct result! I'm not telling you what - you'll have to book on a workshop to find out!

In the afternoon we worked with the modern extract dyes, giving much more scope for design and artistry.  It always intrugues me how differently people work with the same products - all had exactly the same colours to play with - yet no two items were the same!

Everyone went home with something practical to use and a range of samples, lots of ideas in their heads and hopefully the wish to continue working with natural dyes! Thank you for inviting me round to play!

If anyone is interested in booking us for a workshop feel free to email for more details.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Ter Apel

 We are finally  home and unpacked after a really lovely weekend in the Groningen district of Holland.We were working in the grounds of the beautiful Klooster at Ter Apel . A lovely event with a relaxed atmosphere - but actually incredibly busy and popular!

The stall was out of course but also our dyeing demo which received much interest from visitors and reneactors. The water gave some lovely colours to our onion skins and madder, the woad we take along each time but was a good deep blue! Everyone is fascinated by the magic and all react well to "essence of John"" even when it's a different language being spoken.

The whole event was well devised and presented, there was a theme for everyone to work to - this year it was around health and health care - the standard of kit and demonstrations was as high as I have seen anywhere, really top class. The event has a team of volunteers who are looked after and fed (as we were!) by a team of cooks, breakfast, lunch and dinner for over a hundred all prepared over an open fire

Bedankt Hessel Westerbeek and Koen En Henny Meijer for inviting us along - we hope you'll invite us back next year!.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Harvesting Weld

In the UK weld is considered a weed that needs to be got rid of as quickly as possible - well so it seems whenever I find a stand of it flourishing.

A few weeks ago I spotted the most enormous stand of weld - but not ready to pick, so I patiently waited a few weeks and then went back, oh no, virtually all gone! I couldn't believe it, almost all of it had been strimmed away by the local council. Fortunately they didn't bother to go round the edges very well so we have manged to crop some for the coming year.

An hour spent going round the area yielded

This was tied up in bundles like this

These were tied onto a "sheila maid" under the dye house canopy

Then lifted up to spend a few weeks drying before we chop it up ready for use!

Wednesday 1 August 2012


My New Year's resolution this year was to get back into spinning, I used to spin all the time - it was my stress buster and my pleasure. Recently with all the travelling we do I seem to sit at the wheel less and less!

Just to prove that I'm keeping to my resolution, look what I just found on you tube!

Friday 27 July 2012


We've been her for over two years now and it's about time we started putting our mark on the place - well you'd think! I'm usually pretty good at killing off plants that I try to grow, so it's quite rare that I  put myself in charge of plants. Those that seed themselves - well that's another story!

So a while ago I found a little seeling growing as normal almost in a doorway. I left it alone and let it do it's own thing - now look at it! Just the one little floret found and away it goes!

It isn't quite ready to harvest yet - the seeds need to be formed properly. Many people think that this is when you get the best of colours but for me it needs to be when the plant has gone over to seed. I collected some weld once that was almost dead. The colours I obtained were the best ever!

So in the mean time I will plan what I can do with the first weld plant of the new home - it really has to be something special!

Monday 23 July 2012

How wet was it?

Just home from a gloriously sunny Azincourt - so totally, unbelievably different to last weekend in the UK!

It was one of those busy weekends where John goes to one event and I to another - John was working at Kelmarsh demonstrating paper making in the children's area and I was running the stall at Fibre East about 20 miles down the road.

Kelmarsh was the first to get to - we drove onto the field and parked up to wait and be told where to set up, it looked very soggy, but vans were able to drive across the grass at this point so we followed the quad bike to the tree where John was to set his awning up. Once everything that he needed (including the copper full of water) was ready and safely covered so that the weather couldn't get at it overninght we moved on to Thurleigh.

This field looked practically dry in comparison as we had managed to drive the van over the ground at Kelmarsh, it gave us high hopes for Fibre East! Tent was put up and we started setting the stall out to look like a shop. At about 8pm we decided to go for a walk round the marquees to see who was there - lots of the traders had already set up and covered their stalls, so we didn't get to see many people, but stopped to chat to Debbie and Peter T in marquee 3. The heavens opened - with a vengeance. We thought about running back to our tent but decided to wait and see if the rain passed over. It didn't! Then we saw the water level on the ground start to rise. We wernt back to Debbie and suggested she lift everything up that was on the ground and we started going round the stalls in the marquee. Several has baskets and boxes  that could be damaged and the water level was getting higher so we started lifting things was scarily wet!

When the rain eased a little we ran back to our tent to see what was happening there, luckily the lowest part was where my bed was going to be - I would have a "water bed" but nothing was getting damaged, the tent was doing its job! As John was staying for the first night I could sleep in the van thank goodness!

The rain continued overnight. By the next morning there was a very soggy field with several "ponds" around -so sad to see! John made a phone call early in the morning to be told that Kelmarsh was cancelled for Saturday and decided to stay with me for the day (he was later told that the event was cancelled for the weekend). If you would like to see the reason for cancelling the event take a look here and here !

At Fibre East  the attitude was really upbeat - that was going ahead, the farm team were really helpful and positive, the FE team themselveds were positive and the traders sorted themselves out and got ready for opening!

The people came, lots of them. It was wonderful to see and the atmosphere at the event was great - we had a ball!  Interesting footwear was noted  - from fancy wellies to bare feet - and commented upon! We put a groundsheet down in our tent so we didn't churn up like the marqees, in fact we were a little haven of non squelching mud! (although I did try to get everyone singing......"Squelch, squelch, squelch, squelch. Squelch, squelch, squelch, squelch.....")

Many thanks to all the team at Fibre East you did a great job in unkind conditions it was a pleasure to be there!

Sunday 8 April 2012

Charity - a decision!

Many thanks to those who made charity suggestions here or on Ravelry! We did think of going with Water Aid - as Mary said it is very relevant to our work, we get through quite a bit of it!!

However we have decided to go with the Exeter Hospice for this year. Cancer affects many of us and I have lost several family members to the big C not to mention friends who have fought off various forms of cancer over recent years.

A very dear friend is currently being helped with paliative care by the hospice - so we feel it more appropriate for now. We hope you understand our choice! Any charges we have to make for bags, any loose change given in fact any "odds" will go into a collecting pot and the total given over at the end of the year!

thanking you in advance for your support!

Monday 5 March 2012

Giving to charity

So when we do Wonderwool this year we HAVE to charge for paper bags/ poly bags etc. The suggestion is 5p per bag. There may be "bag police" attending the event to make sure that we do not contravene the law in Wales!!

Sooo, we have decided that we will donate the 5p that we have to charge to charity, plus if someone says they don't want the pennies and 5pences change (which happens as you're going along). This will all go into a charity box on the stall.

At the end of the year we are going to count up and then we will match what is in the box and donate........but TO WHOM?

There are so many deserving charities these days, we chose the Pink Ribbon Foundation a couple of years ago, cancer is such an issue, but who else, Medcins sans Frontiers? Who do YOU recommend? If you know of someone or something that would appreciate a donation (it won't be massive, but still worthwhile!) then please put your recommendations forward. We'll put the names into a hat and pick one out just before we go to TORM on the 15th March!

Sunday 26 February 2012

I love my New Skein Winder

Hello everyone, Happy New Year! Yes I know I'm slow but I'm getting there! I would really like to get back into blogging, so I'll try and get back here much more often from now on!

I have a large swift/yarn winder  for knitting yarns, which is electrified thank goodness, but have always wound my embroidery silks and wools by hand on a niddy noddy. Age catching up on me, I am finding that my shoulder can't cope with winding as well as it used to and I've been chuntering for a while that it would be good to have an attachment to a spinning wheel. Louet used to do one I am sure for their wheels and some antique wheels actually come with them, but when I started searching for one I drew a blank! There is also the problem of the size of skein - they had to remain the size they are now when using my niddy noddy, the display stand is already designed for them!
So John has taken my Louet S15 wheel and created a skein winder attachment that is the size I need for my embroidery threads. It slots into place instead of the flyer, the drive band is the same and to help me there is a yarn counter arm that feeds from the swift holding the hank into the skein winder.


It is designed to fit my wheel, and would probably fit several other Louet wheels because they are so similar.

If I decide I want to do some spinning I simply remove the winder and put the flyer back in place. The counter part is totally separate, in fact it doesn't necessarily need to be there at all!

All I have to do now is sit down comfortably and gently treadle (even whilst watching TV!) to produce far more saleable skeins than I ever could before!

He's so pleased with his design he'll make them as an attachment kit if anyone is interested.

Thank you John!