Isabella Whitworth

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


About this site

I started a website over twenty years ago.  It centred on my work as a painter of silk and I set it up at a time when the skill was often poorly regarded. There was an abundance of salt-flinging at wet dyes on cheap silk (often lovely, but not pushing the potential of the medium) and very poorly-executed work using clumsy resists. The medium developed a bad name and it wasn’t always wise to tell a gallery you were a silk painter. I hoped to illustrate some of the medium’s potential on my website as a resource for my students, or to internet users needing reliable information.

Over the years my priorities have changed completely: apart from anything else I am unignorably older.  These days, research into natural dyes is the most interesting feature of my work, but I still love my teaching. I offer two or three annual courses at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation and have recently taught natural dye courses at RHS Rosemoor.  At Rosemoor  it has been inspiring to relate plant dyes directly to the small dye garden and to the the environment.

I produce a limited number of natural-dyed silk scarves and shawls and research many creative methods of using natural dyes.

Since 2008 I have been researching historical dyes which can involve intense and concentrated writing, working with colleagues in the fields of botany, chemistry, conservation or textiles, and the presentation of papers at conferences such as DHA (Dyes in History and Archaeology). In 2011 I curated  Fleece First,  an exhibition at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen which brought together makers, sheepbreeders, manufacturers and innovators using South West fleece.

From 2010-15 I worked as a voluntary editor for the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, with the responsibility for articles on dyeing. The Journal is a unique publication produced by a committed team of like-minded people drawn from several UK Guilds.

I now maintain this one website though WordPress. My old domain name has been adopted by someone else and should not be confused with mine. I mainly write about dyes, and my historical and practical research.

4 thoughts on “About

  1. I live in Stirling and “Dabble in Dyes” – In other words I collect, experiment and dye mainly wool using Scottish Plants and Lichens. My aim to to produce the “Colours of Scotland” and to keep alive this tradition, a part of our heritage so easily forgotten. I run 2 day Summer School classes in Dunblane in August and have run courses in The Botanics Edinburgh, introducing folk to the wonderful surroundings we have here in Scotland. Would be good to keep in touch. Ann Ross.

  2. Hi Isabella
    I am keeping my self occupied during lockdown by advancing with my researches into a small selection of British exhibitors at the Great Exhibition – finding out what happened to them up to the present day. It’s proving to be a fascinating desktop exercise and most rewarding.

    Anyway, one of the companies is the partnership of Wood and Bedford, dyers in Leeds. I have gleaned some information from the Thoresby Society’s website. I have now moved onto your excellent website. I have notice a slight historical discrepancy. The Thoresbuy Society says that upon his father’s death, James Bedford II took over the business and formed a partnership with Edward Wood. James’s father died in 1842. I am assuming that the partnership was formed before 1843/44. However, in your website you say that the partnership was formed in the 1850s. Can you enlighten me please. I haven’t checked for company announcements in the Gazette yet. My research into Wood and Before is at an extremely early stage.

    I look forward to hearing from you.


    Richard M Brown

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