Last Sunday was one of those wonderful, sunny Spring days, warm enough to eat outside and giving a taste of the Summer, I hope is on it’s way.
The weekend was made all the nicer as we had my three borrowed children (I dislike the whole step thing) gathered together for a birthday. The girls were in a creative mood and having found some old fruit and vegetables, lurking in dark corner’s of the fridge, I gathered some pieces of cotton, silk and paper to work with. These were then painted, sprayed, folded and rolled around various vegetation and layered in a steamer. Later the bundles were unfolded to reveal lovely colours and patterns, all from fridge waste, including blueberries, red cabbage leaves and onion skins.
Walking in the mud and puddles between showers in an unseasonably warm February I have come across uplifting signs of Spring. There are Crocus’s and daffodils flowering, of course, and carpets of Snowdrops lighten the forest floor even primroses are blossoming.
Elders are starting to produce leaves and dandelions are showing themselves with short necks keeping their heads close to the ground for now. Soon the fields will be glowing with successions of untamed plants which will give plenty of opportunities to experiment for the botanical alchemists amongst us.
The time for planting has begun. My sweet peas have emerged and broad beans and onion seeds are planted. Next it is time to plant Woad, Coreopsis and Weld and then April for the less hardy Persicaria Tinctoria. I plan to grow much more Japanese indigo this year to add to last years harvest with a view to ferment at some point. This won’t be on the scale of Rowland Rickets project though I have been encouraged by a post here to ferment on a much smaller scale. The first harvest is in August which will give me an opportunity to perhaps incorporate it into a workshop. Shibori and a fresh indigo bath could be a happy addition to the the mud resist workshop.
Working with plants as a gardener, grower, cook and mark maker is great for your health. It heightens your awareness of time and sense of place. I go wandering with a deeper appreciation of my environment and a quest to know more about the seemingly endless variety and potential of plants. In Spring plentiful wild plants regarded as weeds can be gathered, including docks, dandelions, nettles (which are also good for soup, gnocchi and butterflies) and brambles which are rich in tannins will between their leaves flowers and roots give a variety of yellows, greens and browns.
My reading has led me to find out other interesting things about wild plants used for dyeing including, that common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is used to stop bleeding and was carried into battle in medieval times. Comfrey, is also known as knitbone, is another addition to the natural medicine chest as a poultice for breaks and bruises, and plantain has leaves which are better for Nettle stings than Dock leaves and are also good for bee stings.
The weather has been so bad for so long with relentless wind, rain and flooding. I feel so fortunate, unlike many others, to live on a hill with no fear of flooding. The bad weather means it’s a good time to be inside by the wood-burning stove bundling pieces of fabric.
I have wanted to experiment and see what is possible in the depths of winter with very little in the way of fresh leaves to work with. Bundling what I can find in silk and cotton, around sticks, stones and metal scraps and then simmering them in baths of windfalls.
I bundled a piece of the fine hemp silk from the hemp shop with the habutai samples. It has the body of hemp with some of the dye qualities of silk. Steamed up windows and the lovely aroma of leaves fill the air and later, though little time has been given to developing the prints lovely colours and marks emerge.
My brain is whirring thinking of what wonderful things I could do with it. I have also bought some organic hemp and cotton jersey fabrics to play with which are calling for an indigo bath.
As a child of an airline employee I was born and spent my early years abroad in warm climes. Many hours were also spent on long haul flights around the world. I loved looking out of the windows at the brilliant blue stratosphere and wonderful cloud landscapes beneath. Happy memories for me have not a rose tinted hue but one of various shades of blue.
In cold, dark and cloudy January it is sometimes hard to imagine the long summer days when you are torn between the garden and various creative projects. Making a mess outside and hanging indigo dyed cloth from washing lines to dry under warm blue skies seems a long way away. It is a good time, however, to make plans, buy seed, fabric and materials in readiness.
An exhibition with a friend, Noriko McFarlane, during Oxfordshire Artsweek in May is already in the diary. A conversation about the colour blue has led us down new paths with plans for work in indigo and pottery with blue glazes. Speaking of future plans a big thank you to those of you who have been in touch about workshops. I have people booked on every one though non are full yet. There is a new 3 day mud resist course penciled in for the August bank holiday if anybody is interested.
Took my silk stoles for an outing to a Textile Fair at Bisley village hall on Saturday. I sold my Japanese indigo stole, even though I was determined not to, but a lovely lady fell in love with it. I was also promoting my workshops and there was quite a lot of interest in the eco bundling which was encouraging. India Flint breezed through Stroud this summer and many people who were interested in the process but either couldn’t afford or get a place want to know more.
Ann, one of the lovely workshopees from my last workshop in Herefordshire appeared and we had a lovely chat. I think I will be seeing more of her next year on a mud resist and eco – bunding course. There were a few familiar faces from other workshops and other connections and it was lovely to renew contact.
I also spent time talking to the very interesting and knowledgeable Martin Conlan of Slow Loris who had wonderful textiles from south west China. Intricate indigo and wax pieces, tribal hemp, wedding embroideries and the most lovely woven pieces made using rags which really appealed to me. They had the same aesthetic appeal and spirit as Japanese Boro textiles. The one I particularly liked sold before I could summon up the justification to buy it. How much for inspiration?
We talked about indigo and hand weaving and the rapid changes that are occuring in SE Asia and the rapidly rising prices of textiles. He had some lovely Chinese decorated chinese folded thread books or Zhen Xian Bao. I have had an idea to incorporate making something similar in a workshop.
They have lots of origami type of pouches and compartments to hold threads, needles embroidery and keep sakes.
I spent yesterday working on a newspaper prototype while not as beautiful was very enjoyable to make.
We are bracing ourselves for the storm due to hit tonight and have been gathering the last of the dye plant seeds from the garden.
I’m very pleased with my crop of Japanese indigo (Persicari tinctoria) this year of which 3 plants were encouraged to go to seed. The last of the flower heads are now hanging and drying to add to the harvest. I have a very good supply of seed this year and hope to sell some to anyone wanting to grow and dye with this wonderful plant. You have to use fresh seed as it isn’t viable for long. The good thing is that it is easy to grow and will layer easily. Look at my Indigo page for more information.
I have dried both my first and second harvest and hope to ferment it as they do in Japan. I don’t have enough to create a pile as Roland Ricketts is doing in Indiana. However, I have been looking at Bryan Whiteheads blog and he ferments smaller quantities using another traditional method which I might try this year or wait until I have another harvest next year. It would be wonderful to make a natural fermentation vat using indigo that I have grown from seed.
Autumn fruits provide coloured backgrounds to leaf prints. The possibilities seem endless. Walnuts are simmering on the stove and another pot is reducing the previous extractions to a dark and wonderful ink. Painted on watercolour paper with the berry dye produces lovely colours that reflect the gloomy sky outside and remind me of beautiful landscapes I viewed last night by local artist Duncan Clarke at our community shop and gallery
The rapidly shortening days create a sense of creative urgency. The hedgerows are heavy with berries, leaves are changing and falling onto the damp ground. The remains of squirrel collecting lie under the trees asking to be made into dyes and inks for future projects. Pots of foraged hulls and berries are simmering on the wood burning stove. Bundles of ferns, rose geranium and cotinus leaves laid in cloth are bound around fallen pine cones from the forest floor. Pieces of bundled silk wait for the dyepot ready to be transformed by botanical alchemy.