Tag Archives: natural dyes

Mapuche Weaving


A couple of weeks ago we saw Liz Beasley of Ananuca visiting us at the Guild to show us how to do Mapuche weaving. Quite a few of us do weave but this was something quite different.


She started by giving us a brief background to her involvement with it and the people of S. Chile


Some of you might have seen them in action last year at Wonderwool:


I particularly like the handmade looms- they just pop into the forest and cut down suitable branches! Spindles are handmade often with clay, potatoes as the weight as strong yarn is needed for weaving their blankets, rugs and ponchos. They spin sheep’s wool and use plant dyes.



We first warped up our looms- an old picture frame-


Plastic tubing-


Another picture frame-


Two small willow wands were cut to divide the shed-


String heddles were made-



Then the weaving began-




Those of us used to working on rigid heddle looms found that with Mapuche, the weft needed to be pulled tight across the warp in order to create a good pattern. Some of us rigid heddlers started a new weave to achieve a better pattern.  Mapuche weaving patterns are warp based. Most of us worked on a simple pattern like the last photo. Some were more adventurous like the first few. Liz showed us some source books with the most intricate designs and like a lot of indigenous peoples, many communities have their own designs. They often tell a story and spiders (natural spinners and weavers!) feature strongly.

Liz gave us a comprehensive set of notes on  all the processes of mapuche weaving she had covered in this workshop- warping up,dividing sheds, creating string heddles, preparing the weft, creating a shuttle, weaving using the sheds, creating a fringe and for those who might be more adventurous, How to Build a Mapuche Loom!

Below are just a few pics of Liz’s weaving.


We want to thank Liz for a great session and would recommend anyone to take one of her workshops.


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!)


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)!

It’s summer (really), so it must be the dyeing picnic…

Our dyeing picnic is a lovely day, spent in an ideal setting – the garden of a cottage on the north side of the Llyn, overlooking the sea. And it really doesn’t matter one iota when the mist rolls in, because we all have so much fun. We also have a gazebo, a cottage to disappear into, and waterproofs if we need them.

This year’s day was roughly based around natural dyes from the kitchen, and many people brought along materials,

ranging from a large carrier bag full of nettles to a small jar of turmeric.

Our dyers inevitably end up with an abundance of small skeins, and several people had also brought along finished work to show what could be done with bits and bobs. This is a shawl, worked on a knitting frame

and here is a detail of a jacket:

It’s wonderful how well the natural dyes generally work together; clashes are comparatively rare.

There’s inevitably a bit of preparation involved. We have to differentiate our skeins; some people use torn up sheeting strips with their names written in indelible ink, some go for distinctive yarns or buttons, and one person labelled her skeins – appropriately – with discarded sheep ear tags:

The dyestuffs need preparation too, and this year we had a bay-leaf disintegration team at work:

Soon the dyepots were hubble-bubbling away, the first three being substantive dyes (so the skeins did not require a mordant). They were turmeric, tea and bilberry. While they bubbled, the remaining skeins were getting the alum treatment ready for the rest of the dyes.

Here is a turmeric-dyed skein, drying on the fuchsia (we had to move some of the skeins to the shelter of the bushes while we had lunch, as a little too much sea mist came rolling in). Summer…

but what a wonderfully sunny colour.

These rather more subtle ones were dyed with tea.

The next batch of dyepots went on the heat,

containing nettles – in the wonderful iron pot in the foreground, deliberately used for the modifying effect of the iron  – and saffron, and at the back, onion skins and coffee. We also had plum, elderberry, blue corn,

fruit teas (an experiment) and the chopped bay leaves.

And what did we get? Well, some wonderful things:

And how about this combination?

Or these, twisted together ready for their journey home?

There are a lot more photographs on a Flickr page, so do have a look!