Sunday 29 December 2013

Crochet scarf

Many years ago I crocheted a scarf out of our naturally dyed linen. I wanted to show how lovely it is when worked, well I want to do the same for all our yarns but I'm not a designer, it therefore takes ages for me to produce items. I crochet cos I can do that without thinking but I rarely write anything down - I don't know how!! Certainly don't know how to make it a legible pattern! Many people have asked for a pattern but I just tell them what I did and let them go and play...

The scarf has always been on display with the linens at all the events we go to however the last time it was seen is Yarndale last September - we have not seen it since and don't appear to have put it in a strange place, I've looked everywhere!

So my Christmas project is to re do said scarf! The colour will obviously be different and I guess the pattern will differ as I have no reference to go back to, but I am going to write it all down! I think a chart may be the way forward so I'll get to work in excel!!

Here's the scarf so far-

Monday 25 November 2013

Catching Up!

Goodness I've not done very well this year at writing this blog. My apologies, I shall try to do better!

As so much has happened through the year I thought I'd start with a bit of a retrospective, so the first few blog posts will be "things wot we have done this year"

In March we went to the Historical Markets in Piacenza Italy and then the following weekend Orange in the Vaucluse. This gave us an opportunity to have a few days break and investigate the area around Avignon.

One of the rivers flowing through this area is called the Sorgue and many of the towns and villages along the river have waterwheels - which historically used to run factories. We went into various villages and Tourist Information Offices to ask about the water wheels, no one seemed to know what these factories did! As luck would have it the last village we tried the lady in the TI said - oh they used to grind garance here so that's what the water wheel was doing!

(picture is the source of the river at Fontaine de Vaucluse)

I'm sure you could imagine how our ears pricked up at this - Garance is the French name for Madder.

 According to Dominique Cardon "Provence one of the main regions of production, 50 water mills along the small river flowing from the Fontaine de Vaucluse were turning day and night for 8 months of the year, grinding 40 million kilos of roots brought from all over France and Italy and producing 33 million kilos of powdered madder"


As we stood on the bridge photographing the water wheel someone came out through a french window in the mill on the opposite bank. (We later discovered that the water wheel has been moved and was actually once the working wheel to this mill) "Here duckie, duckies" was definitely not French!! We obviously started a conversation and got to learn a little more about the mill and then were told that as the plaster was being pulled off the walls inside (it was being converted into a lovely home for the couple who had recently purchased it) madder powder was falling out from the gaps left.........oh my!!! We spent a very happy time talking to the couple and admiring the mill and all the work they were doing there and I'm pleased to say came away with a little pot of madder to play with!

At Summer School in August I gave some to my students to sample - the result I think you will agree is a beautiful colour

. For a powder that has been sealed up in a wall for over 100 years I think it deserves to be admired!

Friday 19 April 2013

A treat from Pontoise

This weekend has been the Marche Medieval in Pontoise an event we have been doing for quite a few years now. I'd like to thank Christophe and his team from Histoire Vivante for all their hard work organising such a successful event.
On the Saturday a young lady called Marie-Alix came to the stall with some hanks of wool in her hand which were clearly not ours. She said that she wanted to show me her spinning as I had sold her a spindle and given her a lesson and so inspired her that she had gone away and started practising. She is now a very proficient spinner and has started playing with natural dyes too. She had come to the stall specifically to thank me and tell me how much I had inspired her. She gave me one of the hanks of wool as a present - dyed with blackberries.
It's lovely, thank YOU Marie-Alix for both coming to see us and for the wool. I have been walking on air since you came!
I have started to crochet with the wool - it really needs to be made into something special, come back next time and I'll show YOU what you have inspired ME to do!

Wednesday 10 April 2013


For a long time packaging for my natural dyes has caused me headaches! I have used, as do most sellers, the ubiquitous polythene bags, bacause they are simple to get, reasonably priced and do a job. Sadly I find they do not do it well enough, but it seems to be what people expect. One of the issues is that people seem to like to see what they are buying - the plant matter, chopped up and shredded as it is, it's what they like to see, some because they can recognise what they are looking at and others because they want to KNOW what they are looking at.

I had a small flurry with the corn starch packaging - the enivironmental issue of polythene does bother me, sadly the corn starch is just not up to the job. Some of the chopped plant matter was OK, but lots of it found that the corn starch seemed to have an osmotic effect and water was actively encouraged into the packet from the atmosphere - not good!

One of the first things I wanted when I moved here was a dye store. I now have one! It is completely self contained, dry and cool. I can keep all my dye containers in one place and it is set up so that I can do all the bagging in there. I have professional scales, I have some laboratory standard calibration weights to ensure that my scales stay accurate, it is all important. BUT the most important thing really is THE DYESTUFF!

Over the years I have developed relationships with suppliers that I know will supply me with a quality product. I work with these dyes on a regular basis, so I know what I expect of them. If I expect the best - surely my customers do too?

Sooooo I have been looking for packaging that will work. Not everyone can do the dyeing immediately, so they need to know that the packet they have bought will look after what is inside until such time as they are able to use it. Dyestuff as with herbs should be kept in the dark and cool and dry to help it keep its qualities.

The new packets are brown paper, they have a polyfoil lining, they are still grip seal, but are also heat sealed, so until you open the packet there is a double protection there stopping the air get into the pack. The brown paper ensures the light isn't getting in and the polyfoil lining stops any exterior reactions from happening and NO atmospheric water should get in there at all.

Labelling has also been an issue. Working as I do across Europe it is difficult to label to keep everyone happy. So the labels now use the Latin name of the dyeplant as the main name. Everyone that uses natural dyes should be able to recognise the names and newcomers have a choice of English, German, Franch and Italian common names to look at to find the name they recognise. Oh and they haven't affected the price, that is dictated by the cost of the dyestuff to me!

I hope this meets with the approval of my customers, but I do feel so much happier about it and more content about my product!

Sunday 24 February 2013

Adding to the woodpile

On Monday it felt too cold to go into the workshops so we decided we'd better get a bit extra for the woodpile. It is running low and this cold weather is obviously going to last longer. So off we went to a "meneuserie" that we've discovered near to Arras. No, we didn't want to get a "stare" of chopped logs, we like the recycled woods that are stacked into cubic metres at this particular place.

 As you can see we get a really random selection - it can be anything, but within this hotch potch of wood is some beautiful hardwood that can be used to make textile tools!

Once we get the wool home we play the game of "one for you, one for me" as John enjoys himself picking over all the wood and choosing the pieces that he wants. He will hold a piece up and say "what's this then?" as if I can recognise what the different woods are (I am beginning to get better, but) The he'll tell me and say "that will be perfect for tablets" or "that's beautiful mahogany, be great for braiding disks"
As his pile grows I start thinking - are we going to have any wood to burn? There is lots of unuseable wood there - it has too many nails in it, or it's wormy or it's rotten, no problem on the fire, but it is so much nicer to give old floorboards and door frames etc a new lease of life as beautiful textile tools that someone will treasure and enjoy using.

Saint Johns Wood produces the most accurate historical hand carders with leather carding cloth for mediaeval through to the 17th century (carefully researched and lovingly made!) Mediaeval Tablet looms and tablets, Inkle looms, shuttles, braiding disks and squisks with stands, weights, bobbins, Marudai and mirrors, nostepinnes, lucettes, spindles, distaffs. All the items produced have been researched and an explanation of the appropriate date of use can be given if requested. ALL of course are lovely for modern use!!!

John has also created an improvement for the inkle loom - his own invention, with a patent applied for! It's called the Moving Heddle Inkle Loom and is something so new he is running a course this summer at the Association of Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers Summer School in Carmarthen, Pembrokeshire.

 If you would like more information on the loom then do please email him.

Sunday 20 January 2013


We have snow! I know that many parts of  UK are suffering from snow at the moment, but I just thought I'd say that we have some too!

It's stopping me from getting into the dyehouse at the moment, which I am not happy about as I have work to do and experiments to play with! The dyehouse is the big building with the garage door - that's the yarn house and next door hidden by the van is the cloth house, however the water has had to be turned off as it's freezing in there and we can't afford to deal with burst pipes! temperatures have been down to -10 at night and not above freezing during the day. I guess you could say that winter has finally arrived!

Yesterday you could see our road - the view is across the front of our house looking towards open fields, we have shelter around our corner and then it's just open plateau with the wind blowing the snow in drifts across the fields.

This morning we woke up to even more snow - it had been falling all night and is still falling now, in fact the forecasts say that we can expect it until Tuesday at least with the temperatures not coming above freezing til Thursday or Friday, and then only during the day!  (this view of the road is looking the other way into the village, you can barely make the road out now and the snow plough has been down once this morning!)

On a positive side I am sitting here on my computer working! Apart from writing this post I am designing new labels for all my dyes and learning lots of things - I know I need to, but this is making me get on and do it!

HURRAH for the snow, maybe I'll get to sort out an online shop eventually!!!