Sunday 3 August 2014

Time to catch up!

Once again I seem to have been far too busy to post anything and I've been fiddling around with the layout of the blog. Still not got it right!

May was busy with lots of dyeing and the best way to show you is to post some photos. Who says natural dyes are boring?!

A spinner always needs fibres and I have my silkworms but now I have some sheep! Well, Nick Viney, at http// and I have some sheep! This year we introduced some coloured Wensleydales to the flock and they are delightful!

So what else have I been doing? Well the silkworm season is in full swing and I have caterpillars chomping away all day and all night. I have been asked to give a talk at the V&A in October, and hope I will have some live cats to take with me. The Eri moths are continuously brooded, so as long as they don't eat us out of privet, I might have some of those. The photo at the left shows a large tussah caterpillar and some baby eri caterpillars for size comparison - there is about 4 weeks age difference and the tussah will be spinning soon.
The other caterpillar is a calletta and you can just see a new, incomplete cocoon in the centre of the photo with the caterpillar still visible within it. Within a few hours the cocoon will harden and the cat will be out of sight until it emerges as a moth.

Not done a lot of spinning but I've been washing fleece, all summer it seems, though have speeded up considerably since I've been using the fermented suint method - soaking the fleece in rainwater in a warm spot until the natural cleansers in the fibres do the job for me. This is not the same as just soaking in cold water - it needs to be warm, a lid needs to be on the soaking vessel and the fleece needs to be quite greasy, at least to start the bath. The drawback is that taking the lid off to inspect the contents can be quite an unpleasant experience - if you don't like farmyard smells, I don't recommend it. Now the fibres are clean I can get on with my next excitement, using the knowledge I gained in the most fantastic week long course with the superb Michel Garcia. I am an unashamed Garcia Groupie!

Before I move on the dyeing, I am going to post some pictures of one of this year's courses at the Bovey Tracey Contemporary Craft Fair. I taught Katezome, or flower hammering, in the morning and indigo resist in the afternoon. I don't have any photos of the afternoon but the morning produced some fantastic results.

The results were impressive, although the colours will fade quickly unless they kept out of the light. For a special card for a birthday or Christmas card perhaps, they are lovely.

Last week was something very special! I spent it at Chateau Dumas, about an hour from Toulouse, in beautiful surroundings with superb food, excellent company and one of the best courses I can remember - and I've done a fair few, including one with Michel in 2011! Michel Garcia is a treasure and we should all be so grateful to him for the amazing amount of research he has done to enable us to dye easily and safely with natural dyes. The details are for another day but these photos might give you a flavour of what we experienced.

More in the next episode....

Friday 28 March 2014

I should have done it yesterday...

I am thinking of starting a new blog with the title of this post as its name! I seem to have been chasing deadlines for months now but have finally, I hope, got to a point where I can reach the next 4 - or is it  5 - with a degree of equinamity.

The dye plants are beginning to show their faces again, either the perennials popping up or the seeds germinating, including the cotton. Last year's flax awaits retting when the weather warms up a bit and the this year's seeds are on order. Traditionally they are supposed to be sown by Easter but I was much later than that last year and still had a good crop.

The photo below shows some of the colours from the solar dyed Wensleydale fibres using plants from the dye garden and indigo from the vat I made using Jim Liles Saxon vat: A dirty fleece is put into a container of water and left in the sun for 24 hours. The fleece is removed from the smelly, filthy water and well dissolved indigo, together will a little washing soda if the pH is a bit low, and left to reduce. In the meantime, the fleece is scoured. When the vat has reduced, the clean fleece is re-entered and dyed blue. It is such a satisfying process, to use nothing but water, fleece and dye, plus the heat of the sun, to achieve the chemistry necessary for the indigo process. It's not for the faint-hearted though, as I have to admit that I can see now why  Elizabeth I did not allow dye works within 5 miles of her residencies, the smell is dreadful! But it goes when the dyed fibres are washed.
The blue at the bottom of the basket is the indigo, the blue at the top of the basket is woad - another favourite of mine. We have walnut, red dahlia, madder, weld and marigold as well - the yellows from marigold and weld are rather washed out in the photo and are much stronger in reality
Photo: Fleece from our Wensleydale sheep dyed with plants from our own Dye garden here at Leewood, at the hands Jane Deane, South West Leading Textile Artist!

I've washed a huge amount of fleece that somehow seems to have appeared in the workroom but before I get too smug, I have to remember the sacks in the garage and the shed....Still, I started on one fleece, drum carding and spinning into a chunky single on the Ashford Country Spinner and the wheel is gobbling it up at the rate of knots!

Romney Marsh single, spun from a drum carded batt

I am dyeing some greens as a commission and have so far been using a variety of yellows; marigold, weld and pomegranate and modifying with iron but will be making an indigo vat for some brighter greens either on Sunday or next week - helps with indigo if the weather is a bit warmer than it currently is!

Tomorrow will be a good day, I think. At Peter Tavy Guild we are getting together as weavers and those of us who are a bit more experienced will be helping new people to get started. It's always exciting to introduce weaving to someone who hasn't done any before and see that amazing moment when the weft crosses the warp for the first time and instead of threads and air, there is suddenly fabric! Well, maybe it takes two or three weft picks, but you get the idea.

Spinning is starting again in earnest at Leewood on Thursdays from April 10th. lambing may have started again by then, or it may not, depending on how the sheep feel about it! I am keeping everything crossed for some black lambs - we had one last year but she sadly didn't make it past a few months - at least we know there are black genes in the flock, Wensleydales and one black mongrel ewe! She should throw a black lamb, we hope! Lots of lovely pix of the sheep on the Leewood website, plus dyed fibres and yarns.

The silkworm season has begun, or at least the cocoons are out of storage though none of them seem inclined to wake up just yet. This year, although I have several workshops for which the silkworms are an integral part, I am trying not to panic and buy in more. It usually results in both overwintered and new moths all emerging at the same time and then we spend our lives running up and down the hill to the oak trees as the eggs they lay hatch and we have hundreds of hungry little caterpillars to feed.

Friday 16 August 2013

It's been a busy few months, with a talk on silkworms for the London Guild, a Natural Dye Workshop for Tawe Guild and a week teaching Designer Spinning at the Association Summer School, held this year in Carmarthen.

 My students and I spent a wonderful week designing yarns from inspirational pictures that each one had brought with them and we also managed two group projects. Students chose either to select fibres that related to a blue picture, or fibres that related to an orange picture, made a giant batt of the fibre selections then divided the batt between them and spun the yarns.

The Blue Yarns

The Orange Yarns

In addition, the students all produced wonderful work from their own inspirational material and we explored many spinning techniques to produce the huge range of yarns produced. Among the techniques we tried were:
hand carding and long woollen draw refresher; core yarns; coil yarns; cable yarns; wraps; boucle; entrapment yarns using fibres and fabric; bead yarns; snarl yarns; blended  batts; Navajo ply; all sorts of insertions, including washers and press studs.......

I am extremely proud of Ineke, Jane W, Joanna, Carolyn, Sue, Jane S, Helen, Carol, Christine and Hilary and I hope they are proud of themselves!

Below are images of their work:


Saturday 15 June 2013

A Busy Week...

Last Friday I had the pleasure of teaching two workshops at the Contemporary Craft Fair at Bovey Tracey. They are only two hours so one can't expect to achieve a lot but what a wonderful set of students!
The first was 3D weaving - those amongst you who are weavers will understand that this is a concept that has limitless potential but I confined myself to two options.
The first was to use a cardboard tube (the inside of a tube of wrapping paper for straight sided pots and cardboard cones from weaving yarns for pots with narrower bottoms than tops) used to support the warp whilst the tapestry technique was employed to produce a weft faced fabric.
The second option was to use willow prunings to create areas of fabric in the spaces between the branches.
Willow branch in progress
Finished branch
Pot in progress

Finished pot, though the ends still need to be clipped

The afternoon session was the perennial favourite, indigo dyeing

We made a vat, stronger than I would normally make but in two hours there isn't much opportunity to hang around!
We clamped, stitched and tortured cloth in various ways, wetted the pieces out, then dipped them in the indigo. Then came that 'Ahh..' moment when the cloth started to turn blue, the stitching was removed and the white patterns on blue revealed.
Cloth emerging from vat and just beginning to turn blue as the oxygen returns to it
The star of the show! Anna, the felting tutor, had this example of nuno felting with devore to show her class. It was a pale orangey/yellow and she bravely put it in the indigo. It is just glorious!

Some of our results

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Anne Field

Like the rest of the spinning and weaving world, I am so sorry to hear of the death of Anne Field. She was an inspirational teacher, a wonderful craftswoman and a lovely person. I saw her last about 14 months ago in Christchurch when she took me on a tour of that devastated city, taking care to show me the positive things that were emerging from the chaos. She was cheerful and looking forward to her teaching trips overseas. Sadly, this wasn't to be and the cancer she had fought for so long returned with a vengence. I will miss her and treasure the memories of that last visit to Christchurch. The textile community has lost one our heroines

Monday 27 May 2013

Happy New Year!

I realise of course that the end of the May is hardly an appropriate time to wish people a HNY, but it seems that for some reason I haven't posted here this year!

I have been busy with lots of things, including working at the wonderful Leewood, , teaching spinning, weaving and dyeing. The course dates are on the website under Textile Diary, but do check with me about the costs....

My first batch of silkworms are hatching, though they have slowed down now the weather has turned wintery again and I wonder how my dye garden at Leewood is faring. We are growing woad, weld, tansy, saw-wort, soapwort, Japanese indigo, madder, golden rod, achillea, dark red dahlias and more.
Pictures sooner rather than later, I hope!

On the weaving front, I am working my way through the samples that I started with Ann Richards last year and learning a lot, even that Ashenhurst doesn't necessarily have to make your brain hurt!
I have just designed a yarn for Yarnmaker but you'll have to wait for the issue to be published to find out about that.

Next on my list is the work I need to do for the course I am teaching at the Association of GWSD Summer School, in Wales in August.

Highlights since I last blogged have been the Spring Course in The Netherlands, at and the birth of a little black Wensleydale at Leewood - I bagged the fleece within minutes of her birth!

Sunday 23 September 2012

I have surpassed my personal best this time with a four month absence from the blog. This not because life has been boring - far from it!

I have taken a workshop with the wonderful Jette Vandermaiden in tied weaves at Devon Weavers Workshop, delivered successful indigo workshops for Oxford Guild WSD, and for South Hams Spinners, taken a 3 end block weave course with Jason Collingwood in Cornwall, done 9 days of Drawn to the Valley Open Studios at lovely, lovely Leewood, ( and been helping with the organization for the  textile programme for next year. I've written articles for future editions of The Journal ( and Workbox Magazine and watched the rain and cold put paid to the birth of the Leewood Dye garden - for this year, anyway.

There is a small Wensleydale flock enjoying the 30 acres and I am enjoying the fleece! It is beautiful - long, lustrous and curly and dyes beautifully. It justifies its existence simply by being gorgeous to look at, as far as I am concerned.

My latest involvement has taken me right out of my comfort zone. I am one of a group of craftspeople who have been working with Royal Opera House choreographer, Freddie Opoku-Addaie as he creates a piece for the Compass Project. Bespoke will tour Devon in October/November 2012 and will unite the art of dance with sculpture, weaving, environmental art and silk spinning. The initial workshop was a unique and profoundly challenging experience. The result will be, in my case, an interpretation and fusion of the movements of a handspinner with those of a dancer - it will be a relief to those of you who know me in the flesh to hear that I will be spinning during the performance, not dancing!

This has not been a good summer for my silkworms - I hatched some of last year's moths and enjoyed their short lifespan, and have observed mating. The eggs went in the fridge for next year as the weather has been dreadful, cooler than normal, less sunlight than normal and the impact of foodplants unpredictable. I decided not to try and hatch caterpillars I might not be able to feed, so nstead of lots and lots of different species, I have raised one batch of Japanese Oak cats, and have saved the cocoons for next year, along with last year's Giant Atlas, whose eggs are now in the fridge.

Now to finish my Jason Colllingwood warp.....