Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Being ill and the importance of craft/art

Posted by Helen on the 1st of January ( but started on the 23rd)
I have been ill, unfortunately quite seriously ill. First I had week in bed after one trip to A & E and to the out of hours doctors service. with aching limbs and a high temperature while DH bought me beef tea which was all I could eat/drink and which has done wonders for my figure, I am now a new slimmed down smaller me.

However when feeling better I sat beside a roaring log fire made by loving DH and rediscovered my old love affair with crochet.

I used to do loads of free form crochet which I always think is painting with stitch, and had a tunic "Fire in the Rain Forest" accepted by the Millennium touring exhibition of the Weavers Spinner s and Dyers in 2000. Not many people saw it as for some reason the way they displayed it all sorts of little ends appeared and it came back in disgrace. After a few ends were sown in again it has been fine and much worn by DH . It is hand spun Wensleydale, silk, mohair and of course all naturally dyed! My inspiration for free form is always Silvia Cosh and James Walters Crochet Workbook published by Batsford, a very much cherished possession. It was the first craft book I ever bought ( gosh! that does take me back!) and from it I learnt a lot about design , planning a project as well as about free form crochet. I also have her sweater book and made my self the Celtic jacket from hand spun naturally dyed shetland spun long draw ( which I also took to A&E as I was feeling so cold).

My crafts have made a difference to how I coped . Much to the ambulance crew amusement I took Dominque Cardon Natural Dyes with me and sat in a wheelchair in the waiting room for my results reading all about cochineal and then about mollusk purple.

First of all I crocheted wrist warmers for my sister in law who has a poorly wrist which after two ops is now giving her problems with arthritis . The lovely multicoloured dyed yarn, and white silk and linen yarn was spun by Anne and the others were her dyed rovings. I bought all these from her at the Artisan Market. Now with the bit firmly between my teeth I investigated my stash. DH had requested a felt beany but was prepared to accept a crocheted one in lieu so off I set off working out a beany . I soon discovered that I needed to spin a little extra yarn so my Lendrum was installed in a cosy corner by the fire and I spun my lovely teeswater in cochineal over dyed in indigo all curly and then a dive into my stash gave me some hand painted Shetland tops in cochineal and logwood for the ply. At this stage I was very wheezy and unable to even walk comfortably upstairs so I was surprised at how my breathing improved after a couple of hours gentle spinning while listening to the Play on radio 4 ( a very good one). My health then nose dived down and I ended up in hospital a medical mystery on Boxing day. After investigations for blood clots on the lung I was found to have an area of collapsed lung with pneumonia and also had pleurisy. My consultant-quite wonderful- rushed into the ward yesterday morning saying before I say anything give me your email address I have a friend who is interested in what you do! Then she told me I could go home but back in the new year for further investigations. I have to take it easy for six weeks :(

While I was on the ward I read more of Dominique Cardon and made notes for a day dyeing with cochineal which I think will be great fun to do as she has lots of different recipes which sound interesting. Then every now and again I picked up my crochet. The poor lady opposite, confined to bed, was very interested and asked what I was doing and before long all the patients on the ward were all involved as we discussed colours and decided on a rib to finish it and they encouraged me to produce a flower on the side when finished. Some of them tried it on and I felt very pleased with how it came out- especially considering how it been done! It looks more like a cloche hat than a beany This was definitely a cooperative hat with inputs from five people-great fun.

Incidentally this was the NHS at it's best. I was seen by a medical consultant about 8pm on Boxing day, the nurses despite being very busy were unfailingly pleasant and friendly and informative. They worked very hard. A bed was often stripped cleaned and made up again with a new patient installed within 45 minutes of being vacated. The respiratory ward where I was was spotless. As Glan Clwyd Hospital faces East towards the Clwydian range and I was by the window on the fourth floor we watched two magnificent sunrises. The first of which the sun rose looking so like a orange you felt it could be plucked from the sky and eaten! The second it was so brilliant you could not look directly at it.

Finally I want to welcome the new followers to my blog and finally to wish you a happy healthy year full of interesting textiles and of course natural dyeing.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

More on the Artisan Market , Mittens and Stoles

Anne wearing one of my stoles and looking pensive

Posted by Helen
One of the features of the Artisan Market was my friend Anne, one of the two hand spinners at the mill, ( the other is Wendy) and who decided to model my turquoise and silk fine felt stole. She started off just seeing what it felt like and as the day wore on she got more and more enamoured of it. When a customer said she liked it and on being told it was for sale asked to try it on Anne's face was a study in dismay! She was wearing a lovely jacket in a very soft muted turquoise-unfortunately in the only photo of her that I have it looks grey, with which the stole looked fantastic. By the end of the weekend she had decided to buy it and I had two commissions to make one as a result of people seeing her wearing it. All three have had to promise to lend their stoles back to me as they are needed as samples for the biannual summer school of weavers, spinners and dyers, where I am teaching Felt Stoles. Incidentally Anne fastened the stole with a fused seaglass brooch I had bought back from the Harbour Gallery on Jersey. I bought 4 now of course I wish I had got more as they compliment the fine wool of the stole.

These are someof my fine Felt mittens , which just as the stoles are made from ultrafine 18.5micron merino and silk. These are now for sale on my website . My favourites are the big multicoloured one so if they don't sell I shall shrink one down to fit my hands and let DH who was a model for the large size choose another so in a way I don't want to sell them but on the other hand I might as well. I loved making these and I have to confess I rather proud of how light and fine I managed to make them. The mittens even the large ones are under 50g in weight for the pair. The 18.5 micron merino is so lovely to felt with.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Artisan Market

Posted by Helen
Today was day one of a two day Artisan Market at Trefriw Woollen Mill near Conwy North Wales. There were three of us there, Anne , myself and Wendy. Both Anne and Wendy demonstrate spinning and sell their own work from May to September and Iwas invited as well probably becuase the market came out of a suggestion of mine that since Anne was there all the way through the winter for the first time she and Elaine whose family owns and runs the mill ( three generation family business) should advertise her presence to the local Spinner Weaver and Dyer Guilds. Somehow this became a two day Artisan Market in which I became involved. To enable us to make up a poster I took some photos mostly of Anne's work at the end of the day I was visiting her using the candle light symbol on my camera as the light was going and fortuitously this came out quite well. I made up the posters, Elaine did a fantastic job advertising the market to local papers, Anne and Wendy dropped leaflets around the place and I emailed and handed them out to people who came to my workshops . This was all very much at the last minute having been organised about six weeks ago so none of us were hoping for much -given the normal take up of craft fairs, the recession etc- but to our astonishment we were busy all day , the first visitors if not quite queueing to get in at 11 am were nonetheless there on the dot. Wendy asked everyone how they had heard of the event and we were all fascinated to learn that we had fibre enthusiasts coming as a result of my email, interested members of the public coming because of local advertising and friends of the mill as well as guild members.
I managed to take a few pictures but generally when there were not so many people around but here they are to give you a flavour.
I sold lots of inks-I was so pleased as at the Woolfest I did not sell a single bottle but this autumn they have really started to sell. Maybe it is the addition since the summer of purple, blue and bronze.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Two New Blogs for Natural Dye enthusiasts

Posted by Helen
Hi every body I am back from Jersey which I will blog about later but this is just to tell you that there is a new natural Dye blog, Jenny Dean's wild colour, on the blogging scene. Jenny Dean is the author of a number of dye books including Wild Colour and produced one of the first books The Craft of Natural Dyes (I think - I can 't find my copy at the moment so that bit is from memory) which focused on environmentally responsible dyeing. Jenny is also very knowledgeable about dye plants. I also took a very enjoyable and interesting natural dyeing workshop with her years ago which I can still remember and for which I still have my samples.

While I was away in Jersey and with a bit free time on my hands I started a new blog. This is Natural Dye Inks and I hope that as well as my paintings in natural dyes that all those who has brought the inks from me will also post up their pictures too.

Welcome to two new followers who pooped up while I was away, Madeline and Fibre Fanatic.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Peacock blue

Posted by Helen
Welcome to Sarah and Twisted Sister as new followers of the blog. It is nice to know you are enjoying the blog but please do leave comments-they make my day. :)

I am very excited as I am dyeing a lovely range of colours using indigo sulphonate. Enys when she arrived for her gardening stint - in this case cutting down the Cosmos and lots of cups of coffee, said to me that the colour was peacock blue. I had said it was a dark turquoise but in fact I think she is right. Where is it you might ask? Well the problem is the difficulty of photographing natural dyes. It is often a problem but is particularly so when I have used more than one dye as I have in this case- indigo sulphonate and persian berries. My first attempt at photographing looked a dingy blue. I put it alongside some indigo dyed fibres and it looked even worse. I tried it bracketed with green and with blue -still no good. another friend suggested putting it alongside a cochineal red. This is better and is the one you can see above but the real beauty of the colour does not come across. This is so frustrating. I tried on my website putting up a photo of some merino dyed in madder and logwood and it simply looks dark blue whereas it is the most beautiful dark purply bronze. I have been told by some people who come to my workshops that the colours on the website simply don't do justice to the colours in the flesh as it were and I agree. It seems to be something to do with the complexity of the colours. So for the moment you will have to take my word for it the colour I have got from my indigo sulphonate is fantastic.

I am happier with my new book covers , made with the paper I painted with my new bronze and blue inks. I think they look striking and Iam happy with them.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Light,landscapes and trees

As a child my mother took me to see the Vermeers ( we lived in the Hague then), the Impressionists in Paris when I was 12 and Turner on the return to the UK. It is only very recently that it dawned on me that I responded to all these with an inner excitement I did not recognize at the time because of the light and how it falls.
As I have surfed the blogging world I have loved the blogs which show landscapes as well as art work as this shows the light that the blogger are living in ( if that makes sense). This is particularly true of the Australian blogs such as herewitht or India Flint's blog as the light is so different to the light here but also recently Leigh in the USA showed the autumnal trees near her. How much do people think the light and the colours around them effect their work either consciously or unconsciously?
Well here are some pictures taken to day and in the space of a half hour morning walk ( about 9am) with the dog . You can see from at least one why I wanted blue and bronze inks!

Welcome to new followers of my blog Patrica, FontaineFleurie and PepperJulies who have joined in since my last post. It is great to having you all here, keeps me on my mettle and it has definitely increased links as I always look at the blogs and often the other blogs a follower follows.

I am busy getting ready for 21/2 days of workshops at the Harbour Gallery Jersey next weekend. This is the first time I had to go by air to a workshop destination. As I dye all the fibers and make up packs for all my workshops this has been an interesting exercise. Two boxes with the packs for the main workshop went off last week now I am packing a large suitcase with more packs, extras and a small shop. I am hoping that I can get most my clothes into my quite capacious overnight bag which will go in the overhead locker in the aircraft. Enys, who always travels light says you just need one change of clothes and enough knickers to last! I am not sure I can travel quite that light but I definitely will have to restrain myself from slinging in extra pairs of shoes just in case and one or two extra sweaters.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

New Natural Dye Inks: blue and bronze

Posted by Helen
Welcome to some new followers of my blog Yvette, Willington Weaver( Hi Alison) Mollys and Martine.

I have been busy making new ink colours. The inks have been a bit quiet or rather the sales of them have been quiet but have suddenly started to pick up. Every time I ran a workshop someone would buy a set of 5 or 8 and people have been coming back for more and like ripples in the pool they have been getting to a wider audience. Two local artists , amongst others, have been using them; David Brightmore and Jan Gardner. It was David who started me off on the journey of actually making inks rather than concentrated dye baths, which I had been using and tells me that he has sold some of his pictures painted with my inks and he has also been back for more.
Last week Debbie Bamford went off to the original reenactors market at Coventry taking with her my medieval inks; a medieval black, yellow and red, the black and the red being new. She sold a few and says that there was a lot of interest, but it takes time for people to buy something new: it is seems so odd to hear my medieval inks described as something new as the very name makes them sound antique and you would expect re-enactors to leap on them with cries of joy, especially as Debbie sells quill pens, but apparently not, apart from a discerning few. In the meantime having a few days free between the end of one set of workshops and the next series in Jersey I decided to bite the bullet, gird my loins and face the challenge of blue. The reason for the girding of the loins part is that I thought the only way to make a good blue was by going via saxon blue. Saxon blue is in fact indigo sulphonate which is indigo dissolved in concentrated sulphuric acid. I was a bit concerned about using this as my memories of A level Chemistry were rather in a dim and distant past , but one of the people who came to my last workshop on mitten making is Pam who teaches Chemistry . She went through safety procedures with me so on Sunday I made some indigo sulphonate wearing goggles, face mask, vinyl gloves and old clothes., stirring finely ground natural indigo slowly and carefully into a measured lot of concentrated sulphuric acid. It had to be left for two days but today it was ready for use so I experimented with making it up into an ink and here is the result.

The first is a weak concentration and the second a higher concentration . The texture on the surface is the paper's (I think) which is a heavy weight rough textured paper 425not- i.e paper that has not been either hot or cold pressed to give a smooth surface. However I was a little concerned about the look of that ink so when I made up the full amount I made sure that the thickener was very well dissolved and smooth.

My next ink is a bronze. I have long been wanting a bronze. The recipe I have for bronze ,which I found in Dominique Cardon's book Natural Dyes, and which apparently was designed for the Marquis de Pompadour, the husband of the courtesan Madame de Pompadour mistress to Louis XVth. The recipe was for brazilwood and weld and I used a variation of it for the fibres for the felt bronze bell which I made with the children of Bodfari school. I was really pleased with the colour . I have been trying to replicate this in ink but it had not worked but after a lot of experimenting using a combination of three dyes I made a bronze I liked. I am not going to say exactly what the dyes are -a girl's got to have some secrets- and after all I do sell them, but above you can see the result . The painting in the blue and bronze is a sheet of watercolour paper destined to make five covers for my dye books which continue to sell steadily. One of the things I really liked is the interaction the blue and the bronze, sometimes it went a very gorgeous green , but a tiny bit of blue on the brush made the bronze go into different bronze colours. Quite yummy in fact!

I noticed that India Flint describes herself as a mark maker which description I like very much and wished I had thought of-sigh- It occurred to me that what I do when I make my dye book covers is not painting but making marks and above is another also in bronze and blue but using different brushes and marks. Finally I have put in one of my pictures- a design for felt which never happened as when I tried to translate it into felt it did not work, but I like the painting.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Tagged and colours

I have been tagged! I have been tagged by Tumbleweed. I did not know what I had to do but apparently I have to list 7 little known facts about myself and pass the baton on towards 7 others. It seems a bit of mild fun so with apologies to the next seven victims I decided to pick up the challenge

Now I have found some more rules for this elsewhere and here they are:
The rules of this Tag are:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.

2. Post the rules on your blog.

3. Write seven little known facts about yourself.

4. Tag seven people at the end of your post and link to them.

5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog

6. Let the tagger know when your entry is posted

7 little know facts about myself

  1. My favourite hand stitch is a french knot but I am too lazy to hand stitch much
  2. I am 4ft 9 inches and my eldest son is 6ft 2"

  3. I feel colour.

  4. My eyes are hazel

  5. If I am feeling tired and down I will retire to bed with a Georgette Heyer -writer of regency romances or Dick Francis's racing thrillers

  6. I have a dog called Walnut and here is a picture of her on the sofa with her head on an expensive cushion inspired by Miro we bought at an exhibition at the V&A on surrealists.

  7. I have always secretly wanted to be a helicopter pilot

    Here are my seven, Leena, Bettina, Anne Robin, Sue Nina Cedar

The merino's below have been dyed in golden rod overdyed with indigo, golden rods, green extract, madder, logwood, cochineal and cochineal /madder exhaust

I have also posted photo of all the fibres I dyed for my most recent workshop, Felt Mittens, I dyed dyed a range of merino ,merino/angora cross and merino/silk The merino in this case being 18.5 micron ( ie very fine). The swirls of fibres have silk cap layers stuck in the tops. I fully intended to show you a picture of the finished mittens alongside but alas for my good intentions I was so busy rushing around and helping a few at the end to finish their mittens it did not happen. As it was one of the students made tea and handed around chocolate cake. It is the story of my teaching life, I never have a chance to take pictures ,or if I do they are hasty snaps which tend not to do justice to anybody. So you will have to just take if from me that the some fantastic mittens were made. One lady made a very long one in lime green that came nearly to her elbow. It looked just like one of those evening gloves people used to wear with long evening dresses. It was so finely moulded on her hand I thought we might have to cut it off but no she managed to pull it on and off. Another was a pair made with cochineal dyed merino and silk. Enys was made up because she made a bright green pair to go with her green velvet coat.

The red photo is red teeswater which a patient customer has been asking me to dye for her for the last three months. The really bright red is cochineal /madder, the red is brazilwood/madder cochineal extracts which as you can see has given some rather pink shades.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Back from Paris , Picasso and thank you

Thanks to all of you who took the time to pop in or send congratulations to me. :) very kind. Welcome too to the new followers of my blog, Blythe and Vali.

I am just back from a visit to Paris to see Picasso et les Maitres where DH and I went to celebrate our( gulp) 35th wedding anniversary. Seven or so years ago DH and I reached a compromise. I agreed to go visit Picasso's antiwar picture-La Guernica- while DH agreed to be dragged around the Prado. Since then we have both enjoyed going to art galleries together and I have , to my astonishment learnt to love Miro -later in Barcelona and DH fell in love with Fra' Angelica, Goya and Velasquez in the Prado. This time he suggested visiting the Picasso exhibition in Paris. This was Picasso's ( no and he is not my favourite artist either) take on the old masters. For example Picasso took Manet's Dejeuner Sur l'herbe ( the one with a naked lady sitting between two clothed men with another lady in the background bathing) and did his own thing, this included what were my favourite ,his lino cuts, but he also played around with the positioning of the figures and the colours to0. The main exhibition ( there are three) in the Grand Palais was fantastic and very well curated. The Musee D'orsay had the Manet and Picasso canvases inspired by it and the Louvre had Delecroix'sLes Femmes d'Algers which I did not know and Picasso's pictures of it, which in the Louvre looked quite astonishingly out of place but also very alive and vibrant too. Delacroix's three ladies of the harem in Turkish clothes and their servant made a lovely delicate and romantic picture which Picasso gave a sexual edge too. One of the women Picasso turned onto her back with her legs entwined in the air above her. I have no photos of these as they were not allowed although photos are otherwise allowed in the museums in Paris which is very intrusive. In the galleries showing all the impressionist at Musee D'orsay two women went point, click, point click around the whole lot without once apparently ever looking at a single picture. Why? What is the point? As for the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, well here you would not be able to see it properly for the number of people posing in front of it. I am so glad I saw it thirty years ago, although I thought it overrated. The Virgin of the Rocks is much better. However if you get a chance to see the Picasso exhibition do go as it make a stunning visit. Even if you are not a Picasso fan there are the old masters such as Manet, Rembrandt's, Velasquez, Murillo and more more more! Canvases have been brought from all over the world so giving a chance to see work never normally seen together outside books. And it is fascinating to see how an artist's mind works even if the end result is not your cup of tea. However his drawings and his Lino cuts and his still life's are quite quite fabulous. Go if you have a chance. Just writing about it make some realise how very lucky I was to be able to go. I wish I could show you some of the pictures of it.

Friday, 31 October 2008

A lovely book and I am in it!

Look what popped through my letter box two days ago! This is Textiles Now by Drusilla Cole published by Laurence King http://www.laurenceking.co.uk/ ISBN 978-185669-572-5. It is book of glorious photos of Textile Art. Some of the artists in it are ones that I know like fellow blogger and batik artist Robin Paris and Isabella Whitworth, who paints the most fabulous scarves, as well as some of my favourite artists such as Alice Kettle whose stunning and huge embroidered textiles I have admired for a very long time. ( I have one of her preliminary sketches for the Odyssey). And lots and lots of fabulous work by artist new to me that now I shall look out for . The colours and the textures are fabulous and the quality of the book is outstanding I think. And I am in it too.! I am so proud to be in such a fantastic collection of work. It really made my day, as it is the first time I have ever appeared in a collection of work. Dru contacted me shortly after my father died in January 2007 which gave me a boost at the time. She had seen my name on Natural Dyes Online and then had gone to have look at my photos on my website. It shows how good it is to have an Internet presence. The two picture she chose were Sea and Sand and the Rough Sea both sold, the Rough Sea recently. Below is the Rough Sea and another Sea and Sand also sold, part of the same series as you can see from the name but not actually the one in Dru's books as I can't it find that on on my computer -odd. Oh well.

Here is the picture of the wall at the local gallery with my current pictures on it. Not a brilliant photo I am afraid as I had real problems with the reflection in the glass.

Oh! I forgot to say yesterday was my blogaversary! My blog is now one year and one day old.

Sunday, 26 October 2008


Here are the results of dyeing with cosmos from my garden .

I picked 300g of flower heads, covered with tap water in my traditional style slow cooker and left this on overnight. The advantage of this slow cooker is that unlike the more modern electric casserole it does not reach boiling but heats to between 80 & 90 degrees C and can therefore be left on overnight without too much fear that the studio will burn down and the colour will be spoiled by boiling. I allowed ( this really means that I was to busy to do anything with it ) it to cool, when the bath was red and then dumped in what I had left in my mordant pot which turned out to mixed fibres of silk laps, Lesley Prior 's Bowmont, teeswater fleece and some 18.5 micron merino. These had been mordanted in 8% alum, 7%cream of tartar and I left them to heat gently for about 24 hours before removing. This morning when I came to check, the dye bath was a soft yellowy green which for some reason does not show up well in the photos. I made samples as follows. I remove about a 100ml - (this is quite approximate incidentally)- of liquid and added to it appropriate chemicals as follows. A small glug of ammonia ( about 5ml) ), a 1/16 teaspoon of stannous chloride , the same plus ammonia, 1/16 of copper sulphate and the same plus ammonia , 1/16th teaspoon of ferrous sulphate and the same plus ammonia. I then gave these a minute in the microwave to provide some gentle heat, remove the fibres rinsed and labelled. The ammonia turned the dye bath a deep gold so I added a glug to the main bath and took a photo after about half an hour of gentle heat.

I probably dyed about 100-150g of fibres but I will check tomorrow when they are dry. I have not obviously done light fastness tests yet but according to John and Margaret Cannon -Dye Plants and Dyeing published by Kew Garden, cosmos sulphurous (my cosmos is in the same genus), is in the same dye group as coreopsis tinctoria and dahlia. Originally they came from Mexico and were used by the Aztecs before the Spanish invaded Central America. I first grew these plants because my mother in the last few years of her life grew them and they reminded me of her. Enys and I think I brought a packet of seeds and handed them to her but we both have been very pleased with them. They obviously have enjoyed the wet summer which is surprising as my mother lived in dry Surrey but they have been fantastic this year. So another dye plant which , like dyers chamonile, coreopsis tinctoria , lythrum salicaria and to a lesser degree genista tinctoria, is both beautiful and useful. The picked plants are already flowering again so will no doubt go in giving pleasure till the frosts come.

Friday, 24 October 2008

No reds but turquoise and artisans.

I started to blog the other day -meditating on whether I had been hit by the recession ( unofficial as yet but definitely here). Well I nearly fell asleep reading it so I decided not to inflict it on you either.

I have been dyeing , but the sort of unremarkable routine dyeing of fibres for lots and lots of up and coming workshops. As I was making up packs I got panicked by lack of certain colours so I have been doing much panic stricken dyeing mostly greens and purples and thisis despite the fact that my studio is a sea of boxes full of dyed fibres. I usually use the extracts for emergency dyeing but even with them and mixing I really have a problem with getting reds, because a) I have soft water i.e. not easy to get red from madder , b) a lot of reds turn towards the purple when felted (it is the alkalinity of the soap that does it). Brazilwood is the worse for this. I then discovered to my dismay I am out of bugs, although I could have sworn I still had a 200g left-
:( so I can't do my favourite cochineal/madder mix for reds. No reds. Ho hum! I have got turquoise though, lots and lots of yummy turquoise, using "green" extract over dyed with indigo.

I am simmering cosmos as I write so tomorrow or possibly Sunday there will be an update on that! ( it is looking promising with a deep orange coloured bath from 300g of flowers).

PS What do you call a craft market when the word craft has been so bastardised. As for handicrafts -bleh. I have come up with "Artisan Market" with a nod of thanks to Karen Casselman who uses this instead of crafts. I would be interested to know do you all who read my blog think artisans is better than crafts person or man/women and is Artisan Market better than craft market?

Friday, 17 October 2008

garden in autumn

Enys came round for her gardening stint today and you can see her looking pensive in the background with a visiting springer spaniel-mine is out of shot.

I am running a workshop tomorrow to which Enys is coming. She came to survey my packs and decided I had not got enough range of colours. "You need golds, terracotta and green packs" she said doing her usual job of getting me organised. My studio which had looked reasonably tidy ended up looking as if Attila the Hun had been for a visit but we made up some fabulous packs so tomorrow my 9 students will have a choice of no less than 18 yummy packs . I have my eye on one which I find really exciting, dark reds, soft greenish greys with some lovely patterned fabrics for the surfaces so I hope that it will get left and I can use it as my demo.

Enys parting shot to me was " you need to use the cosmos for dyeing". You can see these in the pictures and they look so lovely I can hardly bear to cut them but Enys says they won't last much longer, I have not used them before but according to John and Margaret Cannon in Dye Plants and Dyeing they contain similar dyes to coreopsis.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Death of the old dog

Today we had to make that heart rending decision to put the old dog to sleep. He had started to go downhill and was painfully thin even with his three meals a day and last night we got up 14 times to let him out and this morning he looked at me with woebegone eyes. When the vet arrived it was hard for him to stand for more than a few minutes although he managed a deep woof but his rear legs were trembling with weakness so we all knew it was the right thing to do . He went with his head peacefully in my lap lying on the dining floor next to his bed being stroked and being talked to.
The springer spaniel looks a bit bemused but we went out for a walk and enjoyed ourselves, although after the walk she had a good sniff around the house . Talking to the postman who is a great dog lover and owner he reminded me how awful it is when the only dog goes which is no doubt true but the old dog won't be replaced much as we loved him and enjoyed his company- keeping two dogs is proving a luxury we feel we can no longer afford.

Saturday, 4 October 2008


Posted by Helen
I always like to have the long wools. They have an irresistible lustre and sheen and look so enticing and some of you may have noticed that my dye sample are often a clump of long wool. It is so easy to pop a handful into the dye pot and they tend to take the dye beautifully with a sheen and a depth of colour that is somewhere between short wools and silk. I have dyed and spun Wensleydale, Leicester long wool and Lincoln long wool but this year I discovered Teeswater. I bought a kilo at Wonderwool and loved it. It has the length and lustre of Wensleydale but costs less. At Woolfest I bought another lot that has been washed . I understand that traditionally they used to run sheep through a river to get rid of the worst of the dirt and the grease and now they are doing this again but not through a river but a something more akin to a sheep swimming pool although I doubt it is heated. I have a picture in my head of a curly fleeced sheep doing a fast over arm through a pool with a disgruntled expression on it's face. I wish I could draw it.

I am not the only one who likes Teeswater. My friend Bettina likes this fibre too and has been dyeing it in tops form
If you want to get some yourself I found an excellent supplier at Teeswater wools who also tells you the technical stuff like staple length and fibre thickness.

Here is my most recent basket of dyed teeswater. Centre is cochineal, then at 1 o'clock coreopsis tinctoria, at 2 o'clock fermented madder and madders, 3-6 o'clock coreopis exhausts, 7 o'clock logwoods, 11, I am not sure -12 o'clock goldenrod exhausts.
Just in case any of you find these as mouthwatering as I do I sell these in an A5 zip lock bag full ( about 75g) for £3.50 +p&P

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Pictures, a creative surge and panic stations

Posted by Helen

Last Saturday I ran a felt jewellery workshop for the Rowan Art Gallery in Mold. Their gallery is made up of movable walls - a brilliant idea , and a long time ago ( as in sometime in the spring) they asked me if I would like to have a wall at the gallery for three weeks . I thought this was a wonderful idea as it means I can put a lot of my work together without having to have 30 or so pictures and the courage for a solo exhibition , so at the workshop , which went really well, they asked me is I still wanted it. "Great" I said "November"? "No, October 20th"! Oops. Fortunately I have been doing a lot of paintings which are the start of making my pictures and some felt making and quite a lot of thinking about my next pictures. So I set to and got going and and suddenly a creative surge swelled up from inside me! . Tim and Chanel who do all my framing for me ( The Cathedral Framers St Asaph), said they would frame anything I could produce up to a week before. So over the last few days three pictures have gone to the framers.
Falling Leaves.

Stormy sky and hills 1
Srormy sky and hills 2

Saturday, 27 September 2008

All the Coreopsis in the garden!

Posted by Helen
Merino tops dyed in Coreopsis tinctoria after the Teeswater Curls in the previous post. Glug of ammonia added to bath.

Perennial Coreopsis

Tiger's eye Coreopsis Tinctoria
Coreopsis Tinctoria in an open sunny bed which is where it does best
Close up!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Coreopis Tinctoria

I remember my excitement when I first had coreopsis tinctoria, as it gives such wonderful shades of yellows and oranges . So I persuaded Enys to plant lots in my garden. All over this summer Enys and I have been picking the flower heads and drying them. Getting ready to a jewellery workshop last week I decided I could do with some clear bright oranges for felt beads. Casually I tipped the latest bag of dried flowers that Enys had brought round, from her garden into a pan covered them with water and put on a low heat. I popped in a handful of mordanted teeswater at the same time to see what colour came out. Usually it is a yellow that goes to a orange with ammonia. Look what I got this time! An orange that has given an orangey red with ammonia. Yummy. Mind you it is probably about 300% of flower heads to fibres so I shall treasure it. In the meantime it is a colour to brighten up a dull September day! And cheer me up as having nearly set the studio on fire last November yesterday I flooded it. One of the brass taps on my old chemistry lab bench sprung a leak or being more realistic I did not quite turn it off and the studio was literally two inches deep in water yesterday. It took DH and I about an hour an d a half to get rid of all the water but as I had to clear out all my boxes it now looks quite clean and tidy.

Yesterday we had a lovely sunny afternoon and here are some photos I took of my favourite dog walk. The hills are often part of my landscapes , although at the moment I am doing a series of hills and stormy skies.