Dyeing with Plants

081 (3) produce of the dye vats

There was much excitement in Newbiggin on Saturday as novice dyers retrieved their colourful skeins of yarn from simmering pans of vegetation. The occasion was Eden Valley Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers’ annual Garden Party, kindly hosted again by Hazel and Robin Stansfield.  While most Guild members brought their spinning wheels and knitting needles, a small group chose to join an introductory natural dyeing workshop lead by Glenis Price.  Glenis has recently spent a year investigating the dye colours that can be obtained from the plants growing in the gardens of Acorn Bank, Culgaith and an exhibition of her results, “A Year in Colour”, is now on show in The Dovecot.

Glenis started off by explaining the importance of weighing materials first so that recipes could be repeated and the colours would be successful. She had brought some onion skins – both brown and red – to demonstrate the method and while these were simmering, she weighed everyone’s yarn to be dyed and made up a solution of alum accordingly. Alum is required to maximise the uptake of dye and can brighten colours too. But it is important to be precise with the concentration of alum, as if too much is used, the yarn ends up sticky and unpleasant to handle.

After an hour simmering in the alum bath, the now mordanted fibres were ready to dye.  Besides onion skins, other dye baths were pomegranate skins (which smelled deliciously like marmalade), logwood, madder and a promising but unidentified red-leaved, yellow-flowered plant picked from Hazel’s garden.  While the pans gently simmered, Guild members – about 27 including three guests from Tynedale Guild – started on the bring-and-share buffet lunch laid out inside.

Everyone was surprised at the vibrant colours produced in such a short time.  All dye baths produced strong colour with the exception of the mystery plant – now identified as a Lysimachia – which only produced an interesting buff colour.

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