Category Archives: Dyeing

Lichen Dyeing Talk

On the morning before Cathy O’Brien from the Gwynedd Guild of WSD came to talk to us about lichen dyeing, there was some bantering about the pronunciation of the word: was it ‘litchen’ or ‘like-en’. No consensus was reached it has to be said, both sides stuck to their guns!

We had been looking forward to her visit and were not disappointed.

First we were given a brief historical perspective of dyeing including the Romans and the manufacturing of the very secretive Scottish ‘cudbear’, plus the term ‘crottle’ which is a Gaelic name for lichens. Here is a link if you wish for more info about cudbear.

She led us through her own journey in researching lichens and dyeing after a visit to Tenerife  where she learned of the role of that island in exporting lichens for use in dyeing. One of the ones that grows there like a weed is roccella . Unfortunately for us it doesn’t grow here in the UK (unless you know better!)

Lots of examples were on display, both fresh and dried and Cathy  talked us through recognition, collecting and drying before explaining the different methods of extracting the dye: boiling method, ammonia method, together with photo-oxidising dyes. This was accompanied by photos, notes and examples of yarn she had dyed.

Cathy is still on her journey experimenting with lichen dyeing but was happy to let us join in and share her knowledge. If anyone decides  to have a go at this a reference book and magnifying glass are recommended as some lichens look very much alike and others are protected.

You can find out more here

Pamphlet guide info here and here 


Thanks to Cathy for an inspiring talk!

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Dyeing the rainbow

Our annual dyeing picnic this year featured rainbow dyeing:

and was brilliantly organised (as usual). Some of the dye materials were rather appetising, like these blackberries

some less so – these are oak galls:

As always, the results were fascinating in the way different skeins, different fleeces took up the dyes, and in the different results everyone produced.

Below is a gallery of the day’s work; as normal just click on an image for a slideshow. Huge thanks to Jean for running the day, to Ann for the hospitality and to Susan for taking the pictures. There are some more which she put up on our Facebook page, too.

Dyeing with leaves (and all sorts of weather)

The dyeing picnic this year was – um – let’s just say that we had every sort of weather possible except snow and thunderstorms. It really didn’t look promising at the start,


as a few intrepid dyers gathered under the gazebo (the slightly less intrepid sheltered in the house for a bit). Our theme this year was dyeing with leaves, and there was a selection of leaves and a few prepared extracts for us to play with:

dye materials

Many had to be chopped, and soon we were all busy either chopping

chop chop

or attempting to shelter the stoves from the wind, which was blowing a hooley and seemed determined to blow out the gas burners. It did not win!

Yarn was soaking and soon the first dyepots were on: gorse with a copper solution, tansy with no mordant (and no picture, either) and fuchsia with vinegar as a modifier:

They were followed by privet with copper, blackberry leaves with alum, dock with copper, birch with alum, birch with copper, and finally, comfrey with copper and iron, from solution. We also had some crack willow in solution.

There were signs that the weather was improving and, dyebaths bubbling nicely, we broke for lunch. Lunch and the meringues from heaven:


They’re traditional, honestly. You can’t dye anything at all without meringues. Really.

So what did we get, apart from sticky hands? The weather had indeed improved enormously; the sun came out, waterproofs could be dscarded, and though the wind hadn’t dropped, it did perform one very useful function: drying our skeins really quickly!

a few skeins

The pink, incidentally, is the fuchsia, and those are handspun skeins. Below are some commercially spun ones, which took the dyes differently (more thoroughly, generally, which is probably down to commercial scouring – but fuchsia here turned out khaki).


It was a lovely day, weather or no weather. Here are some more images.

Thanks to Ann for her hospitality, and to Jean for the workshop, for all the hard work and the inspiration.

Yellow and blue make a whole range of greens

Our July meeting is always notable – it’s the dyeing picnic, when we get together with a whole load of pots and pans and buckets and plastic bags full of dyestuff and skeins and – well, that’s the general picture. And it’s fun. Huge amounts of fun.

This year the theme was ‘yellow and blue make green’. There were various things which would produce yellows – tansy, onion skins, gorse flowers,

gorse flowersmeadowsweet, willow leaves, heather tips, carrot tops, St John’s Wort and even some begonia flowers – and the aim was to dye our skeins in those and then, after lunch, overdye them in an indigo bath.

We mordanted our skeins first, and soon we were producing a good selection of yellows. Some people decided to do space dyeing, putting only parts of their skeins into the dyebath,  while others opted for dyeing the whole skein.

IMG_3112The skeins were rinsed off, and here you can see a good range of yellows:

yellowsand then we broke for lunch.

I know it’s not strictly dyeing as such, but the plate lunch is such an enjoyable part of the dyeing picnic, that we have to have a full-size pic:

puddings!And when we’d recovered from that lot, we went back outside for part 2.

The indigo bath.

skeins going into indigo

It’s quite fiddly, using an indigo bath when there are so many people involved. But we all understand the need not to disturb the water and thus oxidise the dyebath. In the words of Jenny Dean in Wild Colour, ‘It is crucial not to stir or agitate the vat, or to allow the fibres to drip into the vat. Oxygen will be introduced in this way, and the effectiveness of the vat will be reduced, eventually becoming useless’. We became much more hushed and noticeably calm and gentle around the indigo vat.

The magic of the colour as you gently slide a skein out and see the it change is always enthralling.

Coming out of the vatIt goes blue as the oxygen hits it…

skeins dryingand because our skeins were yellow and being overdyed, we got some fabulous greens:

greensQuite magical.

Here’s a gallery of the day; just click on an image for a slideshow as usual. You’ll notice that some people chose not to overdye all of their skeins, and that others had multi-coloured skeins or, in one case, some fabric samples. Typical of the variety we get at the dyeing picnic. Such a shame that it’s a whole year until the next one!

(The burnt orange of some of those skeins on the drying rack was from some astonishingly effective onion skins. Amazing!)


A day to dye for (sorry)…

Thursday saw our annual dyeing picnic at a cottage belonging to one of our members, and it also saw one of the hottest days of the year. It’s always a day to look forward to, and the weather just made it even more enjoyable – in fact, if anything it was too hot (shush). But we were there to do some serious dyeing, not sunbathe:

what to do

This year we were space dyeing, and it was all planned out – as you can see, all natural dyes. Having the list was wonderful; every so often, when we lost track of where we were or wondered how we had produced a particular combination, we only had to look up.

For those of us who hadn’t tried space dyeing before, or who had only done half-and-half dips, first came a very clear explanation of how to dip in thirds – which most of us would have got wrong had we done it instinctively. Then we wetted the skeins we had brought with us and the dyeing began.

One of the first pots ready was the weld, which rapidly began to produce a rather startling yellow (and an even more startling smell),

weldIt’s always good to start with a really impressive colour change, and soon the other dyepots were bubbling away.

We were also trying different modifiers, like washing soda

washing sodaand a copper and ammonia mixture in old sweet jars, which looked rather like Cousin It from The Addams Family once all our skeins were dangling in the even more vile-smelling liquid:

Cu ammoniaOne of the more unusual dyebaths was the lichen in ammonia. The winter’s storms, which were so bad around us – hurricane force winds on more than one day – had an unexpected benefit, in that a lot of the trees which came down had abundant lichens, and some could be harvested legitimately as a result.

lichen dyebathThese skeins have (mostly) been in the madder + iron dye, and then in the corn marigold bath.

All our skeins were gradually finished and hung up to dry off, which they did very quickly indeed in the warmth and sun; there was even a helpful breeze. Perfect weather for dyeing.

We don’t all dye; quite a few of our members bring their knitting and come for the enjoyment of the day. Everyone gathered round, however, to see the finished skeins spread out (the pink, by the way, is cochineal – with an alum mordant you get lilac, but without one, it’s pretty pink):

skeinsHuge thanks to our two members who starred on the day – one for lending us the space, and one for lending us her experience and leading us through the processes.

There is always so much to take in, and we don’t always get a good luck at other people’s work. So here’s a quick gallery / slideshow – just (as usual) click on an image to access the slideshow.


Showing and telling

Our Thursday meeting recently was a show and tell session – we had one a while ago when a speaker couldn’t attend and it was a huge success, so we thought we’d have another. The first ‘show and tell’ was actually more of a problem-solving exercise following a natural dyeing disaster, but we soon settled into looking at people’s work. First up was this tea cosy,


knitted in the early days of this branch of the Guild, when we had a cold room and a giant teapot. The panels cover all the stages from a sheep to a dye plant to a dye pot to a peg loom – and eventually back to a spinning wheel. It’s topped by a Dorset button, which gave us the idea for a workshop…

Then Mary showed us some adult slippers she had felted, following on from suggestions made at her very successful felted baby bootees workshop,


There are some refinements she wants to make, but they are already lovely.

We had weaving – from a floor rug and a peg-loom rug made from handspun local fleece,

peg loom

to a couple of fine scarves, one turquoise –


and one a deeper blue. The weaver was marooned in her remote old family cottage, and without a car or most of her equipment for five days. She’d put a warp on her loom and wove the turquoise scarf in a day – but then what? She’d no warping frame, nothing she needed, but she did have a little four-shaft table loom. So she searched about and found some wool and used a big stool, turned upside down, to do the warp. She cut it up, laboriously threaded the loom and wove another scarf. As she said later, ‘the fun I had doing it!’ – sometimes improvising can be just as enjoyable.

Next came an impressive Nuno-felted long jacket in shades of red,

jacket detail

and it had also been adapted and altered to make it work, though this time the improvising wasn’t down to a lack of resources but a ‘pattern’ which didn’t work that well in practice. It certainly does now.

There were a couple of knitted sweaters, both so beautifully spun that they looked like commercial yarn – except they had mcuh more life in them, of course. And one member brought a couple of gorgeous knitted shawls, one in plain undyed handspun Shetland (from her own sheep) and one


in some dye sample colours, bought from a supplier at the All Wales GWSD Event a couple of years ago. On the subject of which, the All Wales Event is coming round again – on October 5.

green manWe’ve been making a autumnal green man for the inter-guild competition, and now he’s assembled he is really impressive.

Here he is – let’s keep him nice and small in case of idea thieves – and most of us have added something. There are crocheted flowers in hand-dyed handspun, needle-felted leaves, knitted brambles, little acorns, a scatter of tatted leaves – even some fruit made out of small balls of handspun yarn. Details?

detailed man

That doesn’t give too much away!

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)!