Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Vat Revisited

I forgot to say that the jar in which the vat was made holds approx 2 litres and I filled it to about 75% of its capacity. I apologise for the two photos being marked 'Left' and 'Right' being on top of one another instead of side by side, but however often I move them back to where they should be, save them, blogspot moves them back again........

This morning the vat is cold but still at pH 11, so I will try again but it won't be till this evening. In our south west facing, double glazed conservatory, it may well warm up by itself during the course of the day.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Michel Garcia vat

This vat has been a puzzle since La Rochelle but I have clarified the oyster shell component with Michel, who explained that in order to use the shells, they need to be heated to 1,000deg C. He has a pottery kiln, so this is not a problem for him. He suggested I use calcium hydroxide
This afternoon I made the vat according to Garcia (his proportions, my quantities):

1 teaspoon of indigo - I used Pure Tinctoria powdered extract

2 teaspooons of calcium hydroxide

3 teaspoons of fructose

The teaspoons were level and the vat is a large Kilner Jar.

The pH was 11, as recommended by Garcia

Within 10 minutes the vat had gone from grey through green to yellow

By 25 minutes, there was blue foam forming on the top and a coppery scum developing - much like my rising levels of excitement!

After 30 minutes the foam had turned dark blue

Left: Vat at 25 mins, Right at 45 mins containing cotton
At 45 minutes, the vat should be ready, according to the instructions. The pH was still 11 and remained at that level throughout the dye session.
I put in a cotton wool ball and a piece of cotton in the vat which now had the sherry colour that one expects from woad

The first dip, airing

The second dip for cotton (large piece) and first for linen

Third dip for cotton and second for linen

All in all, very successful and the vat is by no means exhausted, so I will go on until one of us gives up! What I'm not sure about is how to revive such a vat - there's no problem with reviving more usual vats. I warm them up, correct the alkalinity and put some reducing agent in and they come round. This will need some experimentation, I think

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Things are hotting up!

I've got two huge dyepots on the go, one full of mares-tail that I am hoping will give me some green though so far there is no indication it is going to give me anything, and one full of walnut leaves that are bound to give a nice brown. Some walnut leaves, rescued from a branch that needed to come out, are being boiled up as one might with any fresh dyeplant, some are soaking to see if the colour is stronger for soaking. Research seems to indicate that it will be, but time will tell.

I have moved one lot of moths from the breeding cage - they have all sacrificed their lives for the future generation as is the way with moths - and put the eggs in a quiet place to hatch. I will have to transfer a bumper population of a.pyrni into the mating cage, though some are already enthusiastically creating the next lot of babies! It never ceases to amaze me how powerful the mating urge is but I suppose if you only metamorphasise in order to produce fertile eggs, it wouldn't be much use to spend your short life with a headache...As the photo shows, the male is in great demand! Not sure if you can see from the photo but he has three ladies in the queue!

Friday, 20 May 2011


Not a spelling error - a group of us went to Maristow today to begin clearing the dye garden. I suggested to Jenny, whose gardens they are, that she should apply to hold the national collection of perennial and annual weeds! Nevertheless, a stout hearted gang of us: Philippa, Janet, Sue, Paddy, Jill and I, spent the day pulling out bindweed, bramble, giant hogweed, groundsel, nettles, docks and other sundry unwanted plants. I know that nettles are good for dye, but there are plenty in other places in the gardens. We cleared about a third of the ground and were joined by my husband, Mike, for the afternoon.

We moved a smoke bush, cotinus, from its rather unhappy position outside the walls and into our dye patch, marked out two beds and sowed safflower, coreopsis tinctoria and woad. We planted hollyhocks and edged one of the beds with Lady's Mantle. There is a small elder already in situ, and when we have cleared some more space, we will move two small New Zealand flax plants into the dye garden in order to give us some fibre!

Though we may be rather late in sowing, we hope that we will get something to use this year to show for all our hard work, and we have made a start - probably the single most important thing.

The photo shows the progress we have made - the whole bed looked the area you can see behind us. Sadly, I forgot to take one as we finished for the day, so you can't see the beginnings of the beds!

Saturday, 7 May 2011


My brain is still overloaded with all the information that bombarded us in La Rochelle but I am still experiencing the warm glow of hope offered by the Symposium - a machine developed in Taiwan that can dye fabric in natural colours in industrially sensible quantities; the high quality extracts being produced in Europe as well as Asia; the coming together of all manner of people from 80 countries in pursuit of the goal of making natural dyeing culturally and commercially viable and forging new relationships. If you want the ultimate networking format, ISEND is it!

Delegates ranged from university professors to practioners, via dye producers to retailers, fashion designers, textile students, chemists, anthropologists, historians, botanists and individuals who like to 'play.' Friendships were forged - and a sense of community created, particularly necessary for those of us who sometimes feel we are a lone, eccentric voice preaching to the uninterested.

And there is more moth mating today - so if only the weather would improve so the dye plants can go out, all would absolutely perfect. The rain is much needed, though the bees aren't terribly keen and I am going to Maristow Gardens tomorrow to help Jenny Tunley Price start the dye garden - sh e has been using a digger this weekend, so I hope we are not going to be drowned in mud! If you don't know about Maristow, look at www.maristowwalledgardens.co.uk

I am off to my land guild, Peter Tavy, to talk about Isend with my travelling companion, Paddy Younge, then this afternoon I must start potting on the Japanese indigo before they all expire from overcrowding.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

ISEND, or Dyed and Gone to Heaven

Well, not sure where to start really when reporting back on the International Symposium and Exhibition of Natural Dyes! It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my textile life and I came away feeling much more hopeful for the future of this vital way of creating colour from the resources provided by nature. The photo above shows me on the left and Alison Daykin, under the huge sign that advertises what is happening inside Espace Encon.

450 people attended, from 60 different countries, all bringing their expertise and enthusiasm for natural dyes and with a willingness to share what they knew. We understand that this knowledge, some of which is still confined to very small populations in remote areas of the world, must be preserved before it is too late.

There is so much to say that I think it will gradually emerge over the next few postings, but I had the opportunity to meet two of my dye extract suppliers, Andi from Renaissence Dyes and Patrick from Coleurs de Plantes, and even better, to go to Coleurs de Plantes premises and see for myself the care that is taken in producing these extracts - no synthetics used, just plant material and drying techniques. I watched Yoshika Wada make resist paste from rice bran, tried to see Michel Garcia's indigo vat but the crowd was too deep (got the recipe, though!), have a tiny piece of silk dyed with shellfish purple extract during a demonstration with Dr Takako Terada from Kwassui Women's University in Japan, made a piece of marbled indigo on silk...some much to do and so nice to meet up with friends old and new, and put faces to people only known up to now online.

La Rochelle, the venue, is a beautiful old town and I have taken dozens of photos of the buildings - just my style, late medieval and early modern. Wish I'd popped across when doing my degree as my essays would have been far more interesting! Eating fresh strawberries from Provence, bought in the market, in the gardens of the Natural History Museum, in the sun - April doesn't get much better than that!

Then to get home and find moths emerging and mating taking place made the perfect end to the perfect week. More soon...