Community sustainable textiles project

I recently completed a short project for Sustainable Harborough using natural dyes and local plants to create a textile wall hanging for the local library. They asked me to propose a workshop for a town centre activity day which local people could join in with and result in something attractive and informative for display at the end.

 

I devised a simple natural dye workshop using easy, non-toxic natural dyes and local plants to create eco-prints on reclaimed silk from an old wedding dress. Each person taking part chose their own flowers and leaves to create bundles with and then added their tied bundle to either turmeric or beetroot / tea dye pot. Participants came back an hour or more later to unwrap and reveal their bundles. We got some really stunning patterns and details in the prints, which amazed and fascinated everyone who took part – including my assistant Erica!

 

Above all, this simple project showed how easy it can be to engage all ages in sustainability issues through simple, creative activities. All ages took part in the workshop and all were equally fascinated to discover that you can create such wonderful colours using (mainly) what grows in your garden. A drop-in activity like this is an easy way to talk to people about the environmental issues around textiles and dyes and to encourage a closer appreciation and exploration of what is growing in our local parks, wastelands or gardens.

sustainble harborough sign

 

Find out more about commissioning a project or activity here. I love the challenge of creating events and activities tailored to specific venues, themes or projects.

 

 

 

Postcard from Chateau Dumas 1

I’m not long back from a glorious week teaching at Chateau Dumas. It is as wonderful as it looks. I’ve never had such a luxurious teaching experience!

The Art of Textiles course covered masses of creative techniques over the course of 6 days and we started with my experimental and freestyle approach to natural dyes. The students loved this! We made solar dye jars with onion skins, walnut leaves, red cabbage, alder cones and saffron and left them to cook for the week, adding some iron when they got exhausted (colour running out) to bring out darker shades.

 

 

We made simple dye pots of local plants including walnut (which grows everywhere in the area including in the chateau grounds), and a mysterious yellow plant, red grapes, tea, turmeric, red onion skins and much more. Rust dyeing was also popular, after we collected piles of rusty metal from the Sunday morning flea market. Lots of the students used their gorgeous vintage linens from the market too, as did I, but most of my samples are still winging their way back from France in a very heavy box. We also made dye bundles from flowers, fruit, dyestuffs (like saffron) and boiled them in plain water or dye. Later in the week we got a steamer working and then were able to make the stunning leaf prints shown above. We all spent the week with stained fingernails from poking around in walnut dye vats! But no one cared and everyone loved it, even those who said they weren’t interested in natural dye. I couldn’t ask for a better response!

My next dye workshop in the UK will be covering most of these techniques, at the Black Country Museum in October. We won’t, alas, be doing solar dyeing as I suspect there won’t be as much sun as in the South of France – although I will be grateful for the lack of mosquitos!

 

Natural Dye: local plant bundles

After a year or so of experimenting with natural dyes, I’ve had plenty of disappointments alongside a lot of happy accidents, although very few ‘turned out just how I planned’. I am not a precise, measuring, recording, repeating kind of dyer. I read a lot about dyes and then I experiment, break the rules, mess around…. I am the same with cooking; I love cookery books but I don’t follow recipes. In many ways I work similarly with textiles.  I don’t design on paper, I work straight into fabric, from an idea in my head, allowing things to grow, adapt and develop.

mixed dyes

Alice recently asked me what kind of dyeing I liked best; what was working for me. Without hesitation I replied that dye bundles are what I find the most exciting. Much as I love dyeing beautiful, simple colours with weld, walnut, avocado skins or tea, I have found that wrapping leaves, rusty metal, flowers or twigs up in fabric and leaving it to do magical things is by far my favourite way to colour cloth. It connects me to the plants in my garden, my local parks and the scrubby wasteland around my city-centre-edgelands home.

Weld

Fabrics dyed with locally-foraged weld

Hannah Lamb collects plants on walks to create cloth imbued with meaning and significance and I can’t think of a better way to mark the seasons and honour the land than to preserve tiny aspects of them in cloth. Hunting for dye plants has encouraged me to explore my local landscape in increasing depth. I have found weld growing in a local spot of city centre wasteland, due to be built on. I have discovered wild pear trees whilst looking for goldenrod in the park and found walnuts in a city centre church yard.  Dye foraging is a perfect partner to my established habits of fruit-foraging and tree-spotting. The wildflower identification book I’ve had since 1980 has new page markers for dye plants. Dyeing has brought me closer still to my local landscape and for that I am thankful and joyful.

Bundle

Bundle

I like abstract patterned fabric, I like mottled, discoloured and stained effects. I like actual stains too. Bundling fabric produces some – many – truly stunning watercolour-esque swirls, pools, stains, splatters and spots of colour. Often subtle, sometimes anything but. The greatest joy is the unknown. Unwrapping a bundle is a moment of delight.

A couple of weeks ago, whilst holidaying on the Kennet & Avon canal, I took a (literal) leaf out of Hannah’s book and collected leaves, petals and rusty metal along the towpath and in canal-side parks to create boat bundles which record some of places and plants of my holiday. I made simple, unscientific dye pots using walnuts, marigolds, elderberries, tea and buddleia to dye the foraged bundles and created some magical colours and patterns on scraps of silk. Bundling with stranded embroidery cotton leaves me with masses of space-dyed threads too. My next challenge is to stop being so precious and actually start using my dyed fabrics.

I recently completed a small community commission using natural bundle dyes to create a small display – more on this soon. If you want to join me in this wonderful plant dye journey I have a couple of workshops coming up:

Wild Dyes at Ruth Singer Studio, Sat 20th September. 10am-4pm. £45. Including steamed bundles and other dye techniques

Wild Dyes at Black Country Living Museum Sat 18th October

Petal Dye

Dyeing fabric with petals (and some leaves) has to be one of the easiest and most satisfying way of putting natural colour onto cloth. It is ridiculously simple & effective, particularly on silk. I first tried it last year, after reading about it online, seeing what Hannah Lamb was doing with plant bundle  (and in India Flint’s Eco Colour) and fully intended to do more over the winter, with petals I collected & froze in the autumn. But then my freezer packed up and the bags of petals soon turned to mush so I’ve had to wait until summer for some new petals to try.

My first attempt was with giant African marigolds. I happened to be walking through the park at just the point that the municipal gardeners were pulling up beds and beds of bright gold marigolds, so I filled a huge carrier bag with the heads. Most of them went into a dye bath, which produced a glorious orange-gold on the silk test sample (I have yet to use the rest of it).

The rest of the petals were wrapped in a piece of silk and put into a steamer for an hour, along with other bundles of cloth with leaves, petals and bits and pieces. The marigold was the most successful. There are a few pink petals (geraniums I think) in there for good measure and the dark spots seem to be from the ends of the petals – I just pulled the flower heads apart, rather than cutting off the dark root area.

I steamed the bundles for an hour & then left them for a few days. I didn’t bother leaving the new batch as I am not sure it makes much difference.

The hydrangea one didn’t do very much so I re-used the cloth in some more leaf-based dye experiments later in the year.This year’s first experiments have been with mainly rose petals, again collected in Abbey Park, collected under the rose bushes just as they fell. I also added some apothecary’s rose petals from my garden, a few eucalyptus leaves, also from the park and oddments of other leaves and petals.

This time I soaked each piece of cloth in some pale Hypericum dye from last year, then scattered the leaves and petals around. I also added some splashes of iron mordant to the fabrics which you can see as brown or darker purple spots. The dark red rose petal colour seeped out onto everything, staining pink / purple. The yellow petals created some very subtle colours along with the reds. I was most impressed with the hemp fabric which took the purple dye really well. Folds, crumples and creases in the fabric act as a resist, as did some cherry leaves which imparted no colour but protected the cloth from the petal dye. Splotchy, patterned and irregular dye is exactly what I want. It couldn’t be more perfect for me.

Process:

Wet fabric (pre-mordanted if required, I did not) with water, tea, dye etc

Sprinkle or arranged petals as desired. You can place them carefully in patterns and fold the fabric over so you get symmetrical prints. I did this with one piece of silk, but it wasn’t particularly effective.

Drip or splash some iron mordant over the wet fabrics before or after adding petals

Roll up. Tie with thread (I used stranded cotton which took very little dye but I have nice subtle colours)

Place in steamer (I used an electric steamer bought from the car boot sale for £2) and cook for an hour

Leave overnight. Unwrap and compost the petals. Leave fabrics to dry in the shade. Iron (with an old iron as there is some plant residue stuck on) before washing.

 

I’ll be teaching natural dye techniques at the following events:

I Love Market Harborough event, Sat 19th July (drop-in event where you can see some basic dyes in action)

Wild Dyes at Ruth Singer Studio, Sat 20th September. 10am-4pm. £45. Including steamed bundles and other dye techniques

Wild Dyes at Black Country Living Museum Sat 18th October (not yet on their website).

Natural Dye : Hypericum / St John’s Wort

One of the holy grail natural dyes seems to be St John’s Wort, capable of producing reds, pinks, yellows and greens from the same flowers. Investigating this, I deduce that this ideal plant is Hypericum Perforatum, which is a small plant, quite distinct from the hypericum shrubs that appear to be beloved of municipal planting schemes, at least in Leicester.  Before I worked this out, I picked 5 flowers of the ordinary kind from a park shrub and brewed them up in a tiny bit of water, following (ish) India Flint’s multiple extraction process to see if I could get different colours. The first was golden yellow but the second and third brews didn’t produce much. As it cooled, the dye started to turn pinky-orange and after an hour or so, was rich madder pink! Is this some kind of oxidisation? I’ve no idea.

I soaked a few pieces of unmordanted silk in the tiny dyebath and produced a lovely peachy pink, not dissimilar to avocado but with a more orangey tint. Gorgeous!

Hypericum

A couple of weeks ago I found another patch of the shrubs still in flower and picked a huge bag full.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I tried the same dye extraction method but this time it took many, many repeated boilings. I got a lot of very pale yellow dye which didn’t turn pink-red so I kept going. Eventually the orangey-pink colour started to come out so I strained off into a different dye bath and after 20 or so repeated extractions, the orange kept coming but I gave up, exhausted with it!

The colour changed dramatically again; yellow is the first series of extractions, then the lighter orange was where I stopped. After a couple of hours it changed to the darker colour.  I’ve not dyed with this vat yet.

Hypericum dye samples

left; first extraction of dye, top; after it started turning orange, right; after cooling an hour or so

Yesterday I spent a wonderful day on Clarabella’s A Muted Palette natural dye workshop, experimenting with subtle colours, modified with iron, called saddening. I learned a huge amount and am now very keen to experiment more to create the kind of muted and mottled fabrics and threads that I love to use. I’ll add photos of them soon.

2014 textiles workshops

Just a brief outline of the new workshops to come in 2014, full details soon!

Workshops 2014
All workshops are 10am-4pm on Saturdays at Ruth Singer Studio, Leicester. £55 each or book 3 for £150

Miniature Art Quilts. 25th January
Criminal Quilts 2

Shadow Embroidery. 23rd February

Criminal Quilts 2

Cut-surface quilting. 22nd March

'Squares'  hanging, 2013. More details here

‘Squares’ hanging, 2013. More details here

Family Stories. 26th April

Whiting Laundry

Handmade fabrics. 31st May

Suffolk puff cushion

Smocking, Shirring & Gathering. 28th June  Rescheduled for 21st June

English smocking

Found objects and amulets . 19th July

Metamorphosis detailPhotos on Fabric. 30th August

Monumental Folly pincushion  25x15cm More  details here

Monumental Folly pincushion 25x15cm More
details here

Wild Dyes. 28th September Rescheduled for 20th September

mixed dyes

Trapunto Quilting. 1st November

Trapunto quilting

Transparency. 6th December. Rescheduled for 13th December

shadowwork detail

Natural Dye :: Buddleia

I’m delighted by this one. Buddleia or Butterfly bush, grows pretty much all over the place here. Living in a city, there’s lots of wasteland around, particularly on my walk into town, where this stuff loves to grow. All over the canal tow path, around the parks and in scraps of land. I personally love it, but there are plenty that hate it. It may not be native, but how can you not love something that is covered in purple flowers for months of the year and is covered in butterflies, even in the heart of the city.

Some small bushes at the side of the ring road had been hacked down, taking down the still-flowering and dead heads. I picked up a few handfuls – about 10 heads, mostly dead ones. They went in the slow cooker overnight and created the most amazing honey-scent, just like the flowers were still in full bloom.  After 10-11 hours, the dye was golden yellow and I thought I might have overcooked it. After straining the dye, I put some unmordanted fabrics in – within 20 minutes the silk became a wonderful primrose yellow, so I took them straight out. Other fabrics were not so good – cottons (unsurprisingly) didn’t take too well, although the cotton lace did. Hemp silk looked stunning and golden after a day sitting in the warm dye. It had no effect on pale indigo on cotton though. Some of the fabrics dried with brown patches, which I almost like, but I will probably overdye them.

As the dye had plenty of life left in it, I put more fabrics in and left a bucketful to sit for 3 days. The colours were paler but still very pretty, although the silk organza came out after a couple of hours, as it had turned light olive, not the primrose yellow of the other silks, just to be confusing. I treated a snippet of it with vinegar to see what happened; it became slightly paler but not much.

I’ve now got some cotton mordanted so I can try again with the buddleia dye, either with what is left of the current vat, or some more another time.  Next to come in dye series: Hypericum & Marigold which I have tried and are lovely, plus goldenrod of which I have made the dye but not even tried a test sample. I’ve done a few leaf / petal bundles too, but I have a lot to learn about them. One had come out brilliantly, one is ok & one is strange indeed! There are 3 more sitting in plastic bags to be opened in a few more weeks.  I’ve also got walnut brewing and have got MASSES of random vegetation waiting for me to have time to play.  I was lucky at the car boot sale and bought a huge stainless steel bucket, so I can dye larger things, or at least mordant larger amounts of fabric. I’ve had a big sort out to organize all my white fabric, so expect more! I’m also going up to Yorkshire in a few weeks to learn from Clarabella, the expert, in her Muted Palette workshop, something I’ve wanted to do for ages and things finally fell into place. I can’t wait!

Natural Dye :: Comfrey

On holiday I picked masses of comfrey, growing abundantly on the canal bank in Staffordshire. I brewed it up in the enamel pan again and the initial colour looked very promising. I left a scrap of silk organza in the dye pot while it was brewing and it came out a bright, olive green – far right in picture.

mixed dyes

The other colours in this photo are: top left, tea on habotai, blue silk ribbon overdyed with comfrey, pinks are avocado, silk thread is comfrey, tatting on silk is avocado exhaust, purple / green mottled is red cabbage and the lower piece is comfrey

I then soaked the fabrics in the dye for about 12 hours, but they didn’t come out the same kind of vibrant green.  The silks mostly came out pale khaki or greeny-beige, and most of the cellulose fibres did nothing much at all – except, strangely, the overdyed Liberty lawn (pink flowers). This has never been washed so I assume there is a fabric treatment on it which has caused the reaction. Mid green-brown from a light cream fabric. Overall these are not the most exciting colours but they are exactly the kind of colours I like and use a lot, so I am very happy with them.

comfrey copy

Top left: silk habotai, filament silk thread, Liberty lawn with flowers, silk / viscose velvet beneath nicely splotchy, just how I like it, as is the linen on far right. Silk chiffon, the crinkly one at the bottom, silk ribbon and hemp silk bottom left. Silk thread, at the top, just peeking into the photo came out the same kind of greenish beige.

None of the fabrics was mordanted this time, so my next comfrey experiment will be.

Natural Dye : Avocado

After about 15 years break, I’ve come back to experimenting with natural dyes.  I am not sure what took me so long. I suppose my old studio wasn’t set up for wet work, and for many years I lived with other people who would not appreciate messy dyestuff in their kitchens. For the last few years, since I’ve had my own house, I’ve wanted to set up a dye playground but I’ve simply not got round to it, although I’ve been collecting materials and information for at least 3 years.

I’ve got a stash of onion skins in the kitchen cupboard, I’ve had elderberries in the freezer since last autumn and I did have a stash of avocado skins and stones lying around too. I had got stuck on the idea that I needed a huge pan and had failed to find one at a car boot sale. Reason prevailed… I use pretty tiny bits of fabric in my work these days. There’s no real need for huge pans.

A couple of weeks ago, I was working on my new collection, Criminal Quilts 2, and wanted a soft pink silk organza to overlay on this piece.

I remembered the avocado skins. Finally everything fitted together. I simply repurposed a huge enamel roasting tin that I am never likely to use. I used 2 skins and stones that I had washed and dried a few months ago. I have some more in the freezer, before I worked out that they would dry fine. I don’t often buy imported fruit, but had bought a huge bowl of bruised avocados from Leicester market for a birthday guacamole, for a whole £1. Many of them went straight in the compost, but the stones were saved.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I chopped the two stones & skins up and put them in the pan with tap water, simmered it for an hour or so, then strained off the bits. The dye water started off looking quite pink, then went more brown, and I really wasn’t sure it would work. In a very unscientific manner, I threw in various bits of fabric, unwashed (unless vintage) and unmordanted.  I simmered them for an hour or so again and then left them to soak overnight in the bath, although I fished out some of the silk almost immediately, after 5 minutes or so, as I wanted a very pale pink on the organza for the piece above.

I also took out some of the dye and put it in a separate bowl with a splash of white vinegar to see what that did. It mainly washed out the pink and created a pleasant but unexciting cream.

I rinsed the fabrics the following morning and dried them on the washing line.  As I was going on holiday for a week, I left the slightly exhausted dye pot with more fabrics in for the rest of the week, rather expecting it to grow mould. It didn’t, but instead produced some lovely, pale fabrics.

First batch:

avocado

The strongest colours are on silk / viscose velvet (centre) which is a rich pink. Wool felt (centre below velvet) also took the dye well and created a softer, creamier pink. The thread on top of this is a natural silk yarn that was quite beige to start with and didn’t change much.

Centre left is silk habotai which worked beautifully. Right of the velvet is the short-dip silk organza. Above that is silk chiffon which took a really strong salmon pink. The paler velvet at the front left came out of the vinegar dyepot and went into the main dyepot, so only had part of the soaking time. The lavender piece at the front is cotton lawn, as are some of the paler pieces in the back of the picture.

The week-long soaked exhausted bath produced some lovely pale versions of the original dyebath.

avocado2

The silk thread came out pinky-brown and the chiffon (beneath) is a lovely soft brown with a hint of pink. The colour barely took on the vintage cotton doilies though the lace in the foreground worked quite well. The scrap of silk selvedge at the front worked beautifully, as silk usually does.  Just visible in the foreground is some more vintage lace, which I used in the quilt shown above.

In all, I am delighted with the colours – they fit perfectly with my palette at the moment, and with the ease of the dye. I also tried wrapping the exhausted stones & skins in fabric and leaving them for a week, but the fabric dried out before anything happened. I’ll try it again next time, perhaps putting them into the exhausted dye bath too. Lots more experimenting to do and there will be more blog posts to come.

Log cabin quilt

Just occasionally I get to do a bit of fun sewing. Not often enough. I had a bit of time off over Christmas & had a lovely few hours making a quilt from my friend’s baby, Tillie, who was born in early January. 

Quilt for Tillie

Quilt for Tillie

The bugs fabric is by Paula Ozier, there’s quite a bit of Cloud 9 in there too, as well as some Liberty, Kaffe Fasset & Amy Butler, and some plain organic cottons and the yellow border fabric (and backing) fabric is an old curtain. The blue with black sprigs is a V&A heritage print. 

Quilt for Tillie

It is quite unusual for me to use so many shop-bought fabrics but mostly they were scraps left over from other projects or samples I bought to find out what the quality was like. Or just because I loved the idea of fabric with bugs on it for a baby quilt. 

Quilt for Tillie

I am pretty obsessed with irregular, improvised log cabin patchwork at the moment; I’ve got a massive quilt on the go but can’t work on it until I have moved into the new studio where I’ll have space to spread it out!

Quilt for Tillie


I’m sharing the love with a workshop on this very technique in April.

Log Cabin Patchwork Cushion
Sunday 28th April
10am-4pm
Discover the delights of this traditional patchwork technique with a contemporary twist. You will learn how to create irregular, freestyle log cabin patchwork, incorporating beautiful vintage and upcycled fabrics, and make the finished piece into a cushion cover. This is patchwork for those that enjoy improvised designs, exciing colour combinations and hate fussy measuring and cutting.
£55 including materials
Intermediate (suitable for those who have used a sewing machine before)
 
Quilt for Tillie

My inexpert quilting efforts are very much inspired by the amazing Lucie Summers. I adore her colour combinations and designs. If you can get there, I strongly suggest you try and make a trip to the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham in August. Inspiration, fabric and lovely people. What more could you ask? (oh, and I will be teaching there too!)

I’ve also just booked a teaching slot at Fat Quarterly Retreat too, so I hope I can learn a bit more while I am there!