Plant Dyeing in the Cotswolds
A while ago I travelled to the Cotswolds to learn to dye fabrics with plants!
Surrounded by the most stunning countryside and in the most wonderful warm weather I learnt the different techniques in achieving a whole rainbow of colours using only plants and an alum mordant.
Fabrics and wool waiting to be boiled in the Alum solution which will fix the colours. This is called the Mordant. In plant dying the mordanting is done BEFORE the pigment is applied
The fabric is weighed to ensure the correct amount of mordant is used. In this case the mordant consists of Alum and Bicarbonate of soda
Fabrics soaking in the Alum/Bicarb mordant. They will simmer for an hour
We love that they have an Aloe Vera plant for burns!
Meanwhile we set about picking Dyer's Camomile which is growing outside the dye-room
The first dye we used was Dyers Chamomile, using some which had been picked and dried earlier. We mixed it with Tumeric and it turned the fabric a wonderfully vibrant lemon yellow! This is a piece of Silk Chiffon
We hung the pieces to dry in the sun together with the Dyers Chamomile
Dyers Alkanet in the Plant dying book. We used Wild Color: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes, by Jenny Dean
Making notes of the correct rations for an Alum Mordant
The Alkanet was a bit disappointing. It was supposed to go pink or purple, but it went a light beige
Dying with Brazil Wood is the heartwood of an amazonian tree and. Since this trip, Brazil Wood has become a protected entity so we would never consider using it again
Brazil Wood and Turmeric on 100% Silk Jersey
Brazil Wood and Turmeric on 100% Silk Chiffon
From left to right: Brazil Wood and Turmeric on 100% Cotton, Brazil Wood on 100% Silk Chiffon, Onion Skins on 100% Silk Muslin, Onion Skins and Turmeric on 100% Silk Muslin, Brazil Wood on 100% Silk Muslin
Making samples and taking notes for future reference
Lunch break! This was the view
Milk fresh from the cows and the cow barn they shelter in although they spend most of the time in the field
The bull and a wind turbine. All the buildings had solar panels too
The shire horses which are used to pull the plough and mama piggy and her piglets chilling in their sty
The dye studio next to the cow barn. The place is part of the Ruskin Mill Trust Which is also a college providing BTEC courses for adults with learning needs. We were there during the holidays so it was deserted bar a few care-takers
After lunch we started on the Indigo dying. Although indigo is a plant dye the process is completely different. The pigment is already extracted from the leaves and to reactivate it, it gets mixed in a strong alkali solution and de-oxygenated using Spectralite. This solution was pre-mixed so we just had to add it to the dye bath
It smelled so bad we had to do it outside!
Normally, the longer you leave the fabric in the dye, the deeper the shade but Indigo needs to be oxidised to take so it needs to be exposed to the air. The fabric is subsubmerged in the solution and pulled out very gently so as not to introduce oxygen bubbles to the solution, this can be repeated until you achieve your desired shade
It is fascination watching the colour change from green to blue before your eyes
We also over-dyed some of the Alkanet with the indigo which worked much better
So after an incredible discovery filled day I left to go home with much to ponder
Many thanks to Ian, one of the teachers who came in, in his free time to show us the ropes and let us use the space