Dyeing from my garden

The main inspiration for my weaving is the landscape in which I live, and so it seemed a natural progression to experiment with plant dyes from my own garden. I had been inspired last autumn by a visit to Jane Meredith’s lovely cottage and garden on the banks of the River Wye in neighbouring Herefordshire. Jane grows a wide range of dye plants, and runs summer weekend courses where participants forage for plants in the garden, set up dye baths and dye prepared fleeces, which can then be used for felting and weaving. Being too late for her 2017 courses, I promised myself a weekend the following year, and in the meantime set about creating a dyer’s garden in place of my old vegetable patch.

Jane generously had started me off with a weld (Dyer’s rocket – Reseda luteola) plant from her garden, and once spring arrived, I started sowing seeds for Dyers chamomile, Dyer’s greenweed, woad, Dyer’s coreopsis, yellow cosmos, madder, French marigold and more weld. I also realised I could use plants already growing in the garden – pear and walnut trees, hollyhocks and dahlia. Jenny Dean’s book ‘Wild Color’ gave clear instructions on how to use each plant, and Teresinha Robert’s website, ‘wild colours’ also provided invaluable information, as well as a source of seeds and mordanting materials.

(from top left: dahlias, coreopsis, weld and French marigolds in the dyer’s garden, Cosmos sulphureus infusing, and the end result!)

The following weekend, I attended one of Jane Meredith’s Plant Dyeing Workshops at Byford near Hereford. It was the only wet weekend after weeks of hot sunny weather, but our spirits were not dampened. Jane is an excellent tutor, describing the processes of dyeing, preparing and pre-mordanting materials to be dyed, and also the important health and safety considerations. After picking plant materials, an abundance of pre-prepared Cotswold fleece was available to us as we prepared 12 or so dye baths, and we could see the different effects of various pre-mordants. We also watched Jane prepare a woad bath, and then put materials ourselves into a pre-prepared indigo vat. The change from yellow to green as materials came out and were exposed to the air seemed nothing short of miraculous. An absolutely absorbing, inspirational day, with a delicious lunch as well!

(Dyers chamomile in the basket, and dyed fleeces laid out to dry)

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