Isabella Whitworth

probably more than natural and synthetic dyes, wax, resists, and history


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Shibori through the megaphone

Last Friday I packed my passport and left the county to travel up to Gloucestershire. On  Saturday I led a shibori workshop, and gave a talk to the Gloucester Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. Not concurrently; not even foreigners from Devon can do that.  But all on the same day.

GGworkshop

Work from students of the Gloucester Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers

The group of ten students successfully produced a wide variety of scarves during the morning using concertina folds on the vertical, and a triangular fold down the length. They clamped across the triangular block of fabric using oblong wooden blocks. I gave a demonstration of  folding before setting students loose on ironing boards – and then my steam-fixed Kniazeff dyes. The frequent use of  hairdryers, to create harder-edged patterns and lines on the outer folds, was an essential part of the technique. As a result the room became hairdresser-hot and infernally  noisy. Any general verbal instructions required a megaphone. I wondered if I’d have a voice left to give the afternoon talk.

One of the problems / pleasures of my teaching technique for shibori is that results obtained are unpredictable – and unrepeatable. I can only go so far with my instructions, and then students’ work will go its own way. Results are reliant on how wet they allow the work to become, how much they use the driers, how much they dilute the dyes and even which dyes they use. Separate colours can have different interactions.

It’s also a forgiving medium. Students are often dismayed at their first attempts to create a perfectly aligned  block of fabric, but astonished when the result appears pleasing and coherent. One student produced a stunning result by not exactly following my instructions: I am now going to experiment to see if I can reproduce her  ‘Gloucester Effect’.

My talk  was called Dyeing to Connect and described some of  the inspiring ways in which natural dyes are currently being used in social and educational projects.  It went well, as far as I can tell, although a gremlin crept in to my ‘remote’ clicker and it wouldn’t move my slides forward. Maddening. I had to dart in and out of the sidelines like a demented bird to click the computer trackpad. When I returned from foreign parts last night, the clicker worked perfectly and the gremlin had departed to plague a speaker in some other distant hall. Or maybe it didn’t have a passport and they’d apprehended it at the Devon border.

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Madder and goats at Leewood

This week Jane Deane and I continued our research into natural dyes on fleece, working at Leewood in the Dartmoor National Park. On our last session we used weld: this time we dyed with madder.

We have chosen to use natural dye extracts to begin with as these have greater consistency in colour from batch to batch. At the moment our research isn’t so much about finding answers as knowing which questions to ask.  We realise we may need to retest the whole sequence of five dyes using raw dyestuff,  different water, altered mordant proportion etc.

Here are images from the day’s work showing how colour developed, the colour on fleece and the jars at the end of the session.

The sessions at Leewood are open to the public and yesterday we welcomed two visitors, one of whom was Robin Paris. Robin is a well-known and respected local batik artist whose concerns with sustainability have also led her to research the use of natural dyes with wax. You can read about this part of her work work here. Robin works mostly on cotton, a cellulose fibre, and because of this some of the problems she faces are different to mine using silk or wool, which are proteins. But there are also several common issues. I wrote here about some of them.

In May we will be working on cochineal at Leewood. We have had to change our published date of 16th May and this will be updated on my Leewood page as soon as it is confirmed.

The Leewood goats and  kids formed the cabaret as dye-day lengthened: goats are definitely madder than most animals.


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The simple reappears once the dyer’s quite exhausted

Dyeing at Leewood on Dartmoor continues next week and on 11th April Jane Deane and I will be working on the same five fleeces as last month (see here), but this time using madder. Visitors are welcome and it’s free, but please phone Leewood before you make the journey.

I can now announce that our historical dye  project has been granted financial support from the Worshipful Company of Dyers, one of the historic London Livery Companies. I have been grateful for their assistance with research into the Wood & Bedford / Yorkshire Chemicals archive over the past years, but this is the first time I have requested support for a practical project. The Dyers Company has a long history of charitable giving which you can read about here.

Next weekend I’ll be in London for the AGM of the Association of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers followed, on the Sunday, by our quarterly Journal committee meeting. This whole weekend of meetings coincides with the major Huguenot of Spitalfields events and The Big Weave on the 13th, also in London. It’s most unlikely I will be able to bunk off meetings to inspect the Huguenots, however – it’s a shame there is so much on at once.

Despite a whole new bunch of lively committee members, there will be a sad  goodbye to Cally Booker (whose blog you can see here) and Belinda Rose , who have now completed their terms on the Journal committee. They have contributed hugely to a range of ever-changing Journal demands and I’ll really miss their intelligence, cheerfulness and good humour.

Plans for Fusion, West Dean’s summer event, proceed. This week I was asked for a ‘top tip’ by the organisers for a publicity campaign. I don’t have a practical one about dyeing dog hair or boiling sheep dung so I thought of a piece of Eastern philosophy I find revealing and useful. I first heard it when I read that Peter Collingwood had it fixed to his loom.

The simple only reappears once the complex is exhausted

It comes from Nigel Richmond’s Language of the Lines, written about the I Ching. The word I appreciate most is ‘reappears’. It’s because I recognise the simplicity of an idea in the inspiration stages, but endless, exhausting ‘stuff’ gets in the way and I struggle to pare everything down to try to find what I first saw. In so doing, I frequently take the wrong things out. It’s a process I often go through – in fact, I am doing it now, with work based on our trip to Australia last October.

Bookings for Fusion can be made through West Dean’s Fusion page here. I will be demonstrating wax resist on silk on Saturday 22 June and running three workshops on Sunday 23rd. These will be beginners’ workshops, but if you have done some work with wax before it should be equally enjoyable.