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.....

Sunday 6 May 2012

Silkworms, bananas and excitement!

It seems that though my intention is always to update the blog at least once a week, that my default setting is once a month!

Since my last post I have taught a workshop and rashly decided to put my faith in the Garcia vats - not taking with me a failsafe traditional Spectralite vat (when people are paying, they want a successful indigo vat!) and I am delighted to report that both the henna vat and the fructose vat worked splendidly. This success was repeated yesterday at Peter Tavy Guild of WS&D when I made a vat with a banana (it was a small vat!) and got some gorgeous blues. I will be working out how to lower the pH slightly to make the vat more appropriate for wool, so watch this space.

The silkworm season is upon us again and my first batch of Japanese Oak Silkmoth caterpillars are hatching. The first emerged on May 1st, appropriately enough and today the first few have changed from yellow skins to the green that they will keep until they cocoon. There are lots of pix of these on the blog already so I don't feel that you need to see more of the same!

The excitement part comes from two aspects - one is the fact that Nick Viney's new studio space is underway at and we will be starting to run courses there in the not to distant future. We have started a dye garden - it's a bit bare at the moment and though it is fairly goat-proof (a relative position, as anyone who has kept goats will know) we are wondering how the rabbits will take to the prospect of new diet possiblities. We shall see.....

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Quick organic indigo vats

Well, the banana vat pictures are finally downloaded, along with the henna vat that I made this afternoon. After blogging, I shall go and make the iron vat and hope to spend some merry hours doing some printing with it tomorrow.

These are the mashed bananas with one of the skins to show how black they had become - I was surprised the bananas were still edible! They'd been in the kitchen for at least 8 weeks....though as we were away, the heating was off, there was no cooking or washing being done, so in Feb/March the room must have been like a fridge.

The vat, containing indigo, calcium hydroxide (slaked lime) and mashed bananas - I forgot to weigh the bananas before I mashed them, and then couldn't be bothered, so the
quantities are possibly not as well matched as they should be (1-2-3, indigo, lime, fruit), but Michel says that fruit is not going to be as measurable for fructose content as fructose powder is, so one has to use one's judgement. Obviously that is what I must have done!

The first dip in the vat, 10 minutes after it was made (these vats reduce instantly), and the second and third dips after about 30 minutes. The second dip was followed with the material being plunged into a bowl of clean water till the green changed to blue, then straight back into the vat again for a minute.

The henna vat is made with 10g indigo powder, really well wetted out, 20g calcium hydroxide and 30g henna powder - I bought mine from an organic beauty shop and it is intended for hair colouration.
I added the indigo to 2 l of boiling water, then the henna and finally the lime, gave all a gentle stir and in less than a minute, the blue froth and metallic flower had appeared on the surface.

The cloth dipped in this vat, though it is still damp and difficult to be sure, looks a deeper blue than the previous vats. This is  my recollection of what happened at Michel's workshop.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Another New Year Resolution gone down the Swanee!

Well, I was determined to keep up-to-date with the blog in 2012 but life has a way of throwing curve balls....

My studio was in a building called Duchy Square Centre for Creative Arts. Sadly, the operators of the building have gone into voluntary liquidation so I am currently working from home, and am blessed that my good friend Nick Viney has at last got planning permission to convert her stable block into a teaching space, so by the end of May, courses should be back on the agenda.
My house is not quite big enough to contain all the stuff that was in it before the studio equipment moved back, so we are living in a permanent obstacle course...

Had a fabulous trip to Australia and New Zealand to visit various family members. I had the great fun of meeting up with Anne Field and attending a Christchurch Spinners' meeting, plus all the family stuff, though getting an email from the liquidators telling me to render them an account of money I might be owed, during our first week away wasn't the best way to begin a holiday. Wish I hadn't taken the laptop!

I am overwhelmed with new design ideas, some of which may appear on the blog during the next few months, relating to landscape and fauna. I had an encounter with a deadly poisonous spider, a funnel-web, and a non-venomous but still scary python. Spiders don't bother me in the slightest, even poisonous ones but snakes are vile! For me, it is 8 legs good, no legs bad.
I was privileged to meet a tuatara, a prehistoric lizard-like creature that takes 90 years (they think) to become old enough to breed and may live for 200 years. The one we saw was a mere 25, so a baby.

Back home, having sorted out all the post-liquidation crisis and having had a trip to The Netherlands to teach silk spinning and Whacky Fibres, I came home to find some truly black bananas. As no-one wished to eat them, I decided to make an indigo vat using Michel Garcia's banana recipe (you can substitute other sweet fruits if you prefer to make banana cake!) and to my surprise and delight, it worked! And the conservatory smells delicious. Pix to follow.

Time, too, to inspect the oak for leaf development. I have cocoons in the fridge and they will need to come out fairly soon as we get back on the silk rearing conveyor belt again. Time to plant the Japanese indigo, check the woad, inspect the weld....then it will be shearing again and why haven't I finished last year's fleeces yet? Life is never dull!