I’m currently staying at Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen, Wales, attending the Summer School of the Association of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. The course I am on is called Turkey Red and all that Madder and it’s being taught by Debbie Bamford.
There are 14 of us on Debbie’s course (about 16 textile courses are running concurrently) and she has selected a number of madder recipes for us to try during the week. Because we can divide into small groups, we can prepare several recipes, adjust elements of the instructions, compare results and dye using water from different areas of the country. This ties in neatly with work I’ve been doing with Jane Deane at Leewood.
We are using several historic madder recipes for wool and silk, including one from the 1548 Plictho of Gioanventura Rosetti and another from the late Jill Goodwin’s A Dyer’s Manual. What’s even more exciting is that we are going to dye Turkey Red. This method of dyeing cotton is very lengthy, requiring a number of separate processes which may involve many days’ airing between each. I have always wanted to know more about it. Natural dyes are often reluctant to bond to cellulose fibres and the success of the complex and lengthy Turkey Red recipe is legendary. As the course only lasts a week, Debbie has prepared cotton in stages, ready for us to participate in all the preparations for dyeing Turkey Red.
Today, as the first stage, she presented us with a metre of cloth scoured and ready for the first process which involved fresh sheep dung. Debbie has not brought us the sheep intestines which would have made it truly authentic. Shame on her.
The dung was squeezed and dissolved in water, then filtered through a cloth. The cotton was then agitated in the fluid and allowed to soak.
More about madder and Carmarthen as the week goes on. You can follow other Summer School participants on Twitter using the hashtag #wsdsschool