Summer dyeing

Our annual dyeing picnic always seems to mean the beginning of summer proper, though the weather sometimes fails to realise this. Last week, though, we had an exception: a dyeing picnic in lovely weather, though – and this seems astonishing in view of the recent heatwave – the wind got distinctly chilly towards the end of the day. Whatever the weather, and wherever we are, the scenery is always stunning, mind:


Once we’d finished admiring the view from Rachel’s cottage, we got stuck in – and massive thanks to Rachel for stepping in with such a good alternative venue at such short notice. We missed Ann and our usual seaside location, but Rachel’s made a fantastic last-minute substitute. Rachel – happily – also has a great conservatory where we were able to sit out of the wind while we prepared the two fresh dyestuffs (ivy and privet leaves),

supervisor sheep

under watchful wooly supervision, of course!

This year the theme was dyestuffs from trees and shrubs, mostly garnered from our gardens and woods, but with some from elsewhere: logwood – wood chips and prepared dye – and ‘persian berries’, actually a type of Turkish blackthorn. Most of the dyes had been, er, maturing in various sheds and outbuildings – probably just as well they hadn’t been indoors, as some had acquired a distinct personality in the process.

walnut simmer

Probably the worst in terms of smell once we began tipping dyestuff into pots was the walnut (the hulls had been steeping for two months and it was bad enough even before it was heated up), but the worst looking was undoubtedly the eucalyptus.

stew or chocolate?

This is the exhaust, by the way – the one in the pan. One of our members said it reminded her of Irish stew at which point you could see people mentally declining supper invitations, though somebody else did say it looked like chocolate which was possibly even more worrying.


But it dyed beautifully, so who cares?

hubble bubble

We alum-mordanted directly into most of the dyepots, and an iron modifier was added to a few (from a jar containing rusty nails in water).

So what did we have to play with? Well, there were fresh willow leaves and old willow bark strippings, blackthorn twigs, walnut hulls, eucalyptus, logwood chippings and logwood powder,


sumach bark, the ivy and privet leaves, yew, persian berries, and some sloes which we didn’t quite get round to using. Many, like the walnut husks, had been in preparation for months: the willow strippings, for instance. The willows had been coppiced last autumn, and the coppiced twigs had lain under a hedge for ages.

It was impressive drying weather, and our first skeins and hanks of fibre were ready very quickly. Soon the airer was loaded with wool,


and, as usual, the variety was staggering; we had three new or newish members, and they were particularly impressed with the sheer range of colours. So much depends on the materials, and not just on the fibre – the test skeins, prepared much lower down the hills, were one colour and the ones from up at Rachel’s were utterly different, something in all likelihood down to the different water (that from higher up being quite heavily chlorinated). Some commercial yarn, a 4-ply specifically supplied for dyeing, gave some of the brightest results,


but everything was delicious, especially some of the fibre. And lunch – thank you, everyone.

And a huge, huge thank you to Rachel and her husband for inviting us to invade them for the day (and very best wishes to all those who, for whatever reason, were unable to make it; and another hello to our new members)!


6 thoughts on “Summer dyeing

  1. Nicole Le Maire

    Dw i’n cytuno Emsyl – great blog and a reminder of a beautiful day. We thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks for having us and sharing your expertise, good company and delicious food!

  2. Linda

    My first experience of dyeing – I’m now hooked. A wonderful day. Thank you to everyone for the food and hospitality.


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