Kent Wildlife Trust

Kent Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre, New Romney � Dyeing with plants

November 15th/16th  2008


A few of us did a spinning day at New Romney earlier in the year; this time we were cooking.  I had already mordanted a few 50gm lots of Romney wool so all we had to do to get started was cook up some plant material in the microwave oven, supplied by the Centre. On Saturday I was joined by Janet West, Linda Lilley and Carole Leonard and her husband.  First of all we cooked some dahlia flowers, brought by Carole, for 30 minutes in a plastic bowl.  The liquor was strained off and when this had sufficiently cooled 50gm of alum mordanted wool was immersed in it and cooked for 20 minutes.  The wool emerged a gloriously bright yellow, just the job for that dull, grey day.  The exhaust produced a paler, yet still beautiful yellow.  While I was operating the microwave the others spun or prepared more wool for mordanting, a fairly time consuming job as it involves combing the locks to remove short fibres and bits of vegetation.  Similar procedures produced fantastic oranges from onion skins. 

A few months before I had bought some woad, madder and weld seeds with the idea of having some plants to show but of course it was too late in the year and although the seeds had turned into plants they were very small plants. At the same time as I had bought the seeds I also bought some Earthue dyes, so I began to cheat.  Earthue dyes are concentrated extracts of plants or insects, usually in powdered form.  A little of it goes a long way.  They offer a short cut for people who want to use natural dyes without having to stew a lot of plant material and of course you can do it at any time of the year and not just when the plants are ready. 

A few days earlier I had gone to Hilltop and bought some marigold, madder, yew and weld.  These were the dried plant material, not Earthue dyes but still a very useful alternative to gathering the growing plants.  You have to stew them to extract the dye and then strain so that you don't get a lot of bits mixed with the wool.  Of these I had time to try only the marigold and was rewarded with a good buff yellow.  The others are waiting in a bag.

On Sunday I was joined by Megan and Linda.  Dyeing went on as before after preparing and mordanting the wool in alum. As I don't like waste I tried out the various exhausts in various mixes and got some quite interesting colours.   Megan also spun and Linda did Tunisian crochet.  One of the lady visitors was particularly taken with this and had Linda pinned against the wall for some time while she demonstrated. 

We had a number of interested visitors on Saturday but on Sunday there were fewer with none in the afternoon, possibly because of the weather.  There will be more textile events at New Romney this year.  Try to come along; you are sure to enjoy the experience.

Danny Price.