Isabella Whitworth

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


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Purple stains

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A very obvious spill of orchil left this 1853 letter stained, with loose deposits of a powdery purple substance on the surface

This is my 38th day in coronavirus lockdown. Like many, I have a diary full of scratched-out teaching, appointments, celebration parties and anticipated trips. I haven’t felt particularly creative for the past few weeks and admire the achievements of those who use their daily exercise to draw and paint and record their experiences visually, or translate their time into the positivity of making work. I feel as though that particular tap ran dry for me a few weeks back. It’s a bit weird but I don’t feel bad about it, it just is. I have found other things to do.

When I’ve not been gardening, or training the new puppy, or learning to make videos,   I’ve been working on family history links with England, USA, Ireland and Ecuador. And with no other distractions or excuses I have finally managed to get my teeth back into the Leeds-related archiving I’ve been undertaking for some years. You can find other blogs about this research in the ‘word cloud’ on the right, under the search titles Wood & Bedford, orchil, and Yorkshire Chemicals.

Over these weeks of lockdown the archived boxes of labelled documents are growing, the unsorted papers are diminishing.  Most nights when I turn out the light and go to wash my hands (in a non-coronavirus way) there is a trace of pink or purple in the dirty, soapy water. I know it’s from orchil. The earlier papers, dating  between 1833 and 1855, came from a time when many of the working spaces of Wood & Bedford adjoined. The Fire Insurance document of 1855 describes these workspaces and some of the equipment. Orchil lichen was ground into powder with stones before manufacturing into dye, after which it was reduced back into powder (cudbear), or sometimes paste. Orchil dust would have hovered permanently, coating surfaces and settling on any uncovered papers. I have sorted papers with heavy purple stains, as if spills took place where they were stored, and there’s even a purple thumbprint on the back of an invoice for glass and earthenware. This gave me a real archival shiver because at that time (1850) there was just one person, James Bedford (1824 – 1903), who would have been working on orchil at the Hunslet address: the move to Kirkstall Road was imminent but had yet to take place. I have developed a very healthy respect for James and I like to think it is his thumbprint on the paper. It feels like a kind of handshake.

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Back of an 1850 invoice showing a purple thumbprint

I also found an 1853 letter stained with a large spill, which had resulted in several crusty deposits of a loose and powdery purple (see top image). I am neither equipped nor funded to conserve these papers and have stored the heavily stained ones separately so that at some time in the future there is the potential for them to be studied further. But while I was working a tiny deposit loosened off and I rescued it, putting it in a container with a little water. I checked it impatiently, and slowly, over several hours, the powder began to release its colour. It shows a typical fresh purple orchil pink. Amazing to see, and a rewarding moment that joins several other highlights in many years’ work on this archive. I will drop a few silk fibres in once I think all the colour has been released, and see if it will still dye.

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Orchil dye reconstituted from the 167-year-old orchil spill. The colour is typical of orchil

It’s intended that my section of the archive will finally join the main Yorkshire Chemicals collection already in the curation of the West Yorkshire Archive Service facility at Morley, Leeds. Wood & Bedford became the lead company of the Yorkshire Dyeware and Chemical Company in 1900, which was renamed Yorkshire Chemicals from 1974 – 2004 when it went into administration. The work on the Morley archive was completed by Dr Howard Varley who had been an employee of Yorkshire Chemicals until its demise. The complete set of archives will give a rare insight into the lifespan of a dye manufacturing company whose work spanned the transition from natural to synthetic dyes.

 

 

 

 


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Exeter Cloth Dispatch Book 1763 – 5

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Detail of the Exeter cloth dispatch book shows several wool samples and their associated bale-mark. Image courtesy of the London Metropolitan Archives. For full reference to this document please see link at foot of page

Late last year I was contacted by a friend with a very interesting proposal. She had been invited to write a chapter on dyes and dyeing for a ‘book about a book’ and asked if I would be interested in co-authoring. A very rare, cloth merchant’s dispatch book had been found in the London Metropolitan Archives by Todd Gray, a well-known Exeter-based historian, and as yet – amazingly – no-one had made a study of it.

Todd was editing a book (Exeter Cloth Dispatch Book 1763 – 5) about his find, to be published by the Devon and Cornwall Record Society (DCRS) this autumn. He was assembling specialist authors to write chapters giving a wide context to the dispatch book. These were to include a history of Exeter’s cloth merchants, the archaeology of the cloth industry in Exeter, fulling mills, Exeter’s dyers, lead cloth merchants’ seals, and tillet blocks (look them up, they’re fascinating). And, of course, a chapter on dyes and dyeing.

A dispatch book is neither a ‘sales‘ book to show potential customers, nor a dyer’s book recording dyestuffs and recipes. It records dyed cloth sold, in this case exported, between 1763 and 1765, and relates to the South West. There are bale-marks drawn on many pages. It is a collection of wool cloth samples (all 2,475 of them) and was the one-time property of a wealthy Swiss émigré of Huguenot descent, named Claude Passavant. Passavant had strong connections to the city of Exeter and in the 1750s established a factory producing high quality Gobelin-style carpets there; he was also a cloth merchant. 

The friend who invited me to co-author is Jenny Balfour Paul, a world authority on indigo. In the early 1990s I attended one of her lectures at the Crafts Council in London and her knowledge and enthusiasm for indigo pushed me in the entirely new direction of natural dyes, and we also became friends. So I wasn’t going to say no, was I?

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Four figured fabrics from the Exeter cloth dispatch book. The bale mark from the page reverse can be seen in mirror image, bottom centre. Image courtesy of the London Metropolitan Archives. For full reference to this document please see link at foot of page

Colours are hard to describe, but in my vocabulary the range covered in the dispatch book includes scarlets, dusty and dark salmon pinks, russets, golden browns, tans, beiges, and all manner of blues. There are soft watery-blue-greens, olive and grassy greens and there are blacks and greys. There are several figured weaves among the samples. We have no dye analysis for these cloths but we could make educated guesses about how they were dyed by studying contemporary sources, and literature. Together with Dominique Cardon and Anita Quye, Jenny has been researching the Crutchley Archive, an important set of pattern, recipe and account books from the eighteenth century Crutchley dyeing business in Southwark. This source, and Jenny’s knowledge of it, was a vital part of our interpreting the likely dyes and chemicals used in the dispatch book. We also researched Standerwick’s Somerset Pattern Book (c 1760) located in the Somerset Heritage Centre, maps and journals held at the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter and other papers located by Todd Gray in Devon archives.

The book will be published for the Devon and Cornwall Record Society in the autumn of this year. It can be ordered in advance, and for details you will need to access the pdf here Exeterclothdispatchbook and print it out. You will have to order it the old-fashioned way – by mail. Note that if you join the DCRS you can expect the book at a lower price as part of your 2020 membership, representing a considerable saving on the £30 price after publication – but without membership.

 

London Metropolitan Archives 

Cloth book of an Exeter wool merchant, 1763-1765 (London Metropolitan Archives, City of London reference CLC/B/227/MS09803)

Somerset Heritage Centre

Standerwick’s Somerset Pattern Book at Somerset Heritage Centre: SHC, A/ALU/1, ‘John Standerwick of Rydiness [Buckland St Mary] and Hermitage [Broadway], 1717-1777’

Devon Heritage Centre

Devon and Cornwall Record Society homepage

Devon and Cornwall Record Society link to pre-order page for the forthcoming book edited by Todd Gray

Extract from full bibliography used in chapter 

Crutchley Archive: Anita Quye, Dominique Cardon and Jenny Balfour Paul‘The Crutchley Archive: red colours on wool fabrics from master dyers in Southwark, London 1716-1744’ in Textile History (forthcoming 2020)

By Dominique Cardon: Mémoires de teinture: Voyage dans le temps chez un maître des couleurs (Paris, 2013); The Dyer’s Handbook: Memoirs of an 18th Century Master Colourist (Oxford and Philadelphia, 2016); Des couleurs pour les Lumières: Antoine Janot, teinturier occitan 1700-1778 (Paris, 2019);  Le Cahier de Couleurs d’Antoine Janot /Workbook, Antoine Janot’s Colours (Paris, 2020).

William Partridge: A Practical Treatise on the Dying of Woollen Cloth, Cotton and Skein Silk (New York, 1823)

Carolyn Griffiths, ‘Woad to This’ and the Cloth Trade of Frome (Frome, 2017)

 

 


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Inspiration from polèng

My two presentations at last month’s World Textile Day were something of a sensation. During the first talk there was an unfortunate medical emergency requiring an ambulance, and in the second the projector plug dislodged and the screen went blank, just as I started waving my arms in excitement over an image of Imperial Purple. That’ll teach me.

I had been invited to talk about inspiration, and how I started to work with textiles after a graphic design training and several years in industry. I directly attribute my career change to travels in India, Indonesia and Australia in the 1980s where I observed unfamiliar textiles being created, used or worn. For the first time I properly understood how textiles can hold significance and meaning and became absorbed in the ways that dye can be controlled.  I bought many examples of cloths and textiles on my travels which I displayed at the World Textiles Day talk, and amongst them were samples of Balinese polèng cloth. Of all the cloths I came across, polèng is the one that most changed my way of thinking.

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Polèng cloth from Bali, purchased in market

Polèng is not technically complex. It’s formed of equal strips of warp and weft in black and white set up to intersect and create black, white and grey squares. In the West we often see similar, coloured checked cloth used for tablecloths, children’s dresses, casual shirts and curtains. We call it gingham. It has a homely feel to my eyes, and when on my first trip to Bali in the ’80s I noticed it draped around trees, shrines, altars and statues I was puzzled by the meaning and usage of this unmissable cloth.

Next to where I stayed in Ubud was the home of a remarkable Italian dancer called Cristina Formaggia. Cristina was a most extraordinary woman (she died, too young, in 2008) and I include several links about her below. She had lived on the island for some years and through her kindness friendship and humour I learned much about Balinese life, belief, ritual and dance.  Her insights and knowledge were offered from a dual perspective as both Westerner and deeply-embedded student of Balinese tradition. Only when planning the Word Textiles Day talk did I realise how much I owed to her, which included an explanation of polèng. 

If you seek an academic explanation of polèng, please stop here as I can’t give you one. My simplified version is that for everything, there is an opposite. For good, there is evil. For sickness, there is health. For heat there is cold, and so on: no element exists without its opposite and through its opposite each element acquires its meaning and purpose. So it is with the equal black and white squares, and with spiritual awareness comes the grey, the point at which elements blend and stand in balance. The need to maintain these opposite elements in balance seemed to me to be what polèng symbolises, and what every Balinese knows as elemental when they see the cloth.

‘..polèng is an expression of the community of existence: being in its totality, which is made up of black and white, in the world of both the visible and the invisible.’

Brigitta Hauser- Schäublin, quoted from the book linked below

Links

Cristina Formaggia links

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cristina_Wistari_Formaggia

https://www.themagdalenaproject.org/content/cristina-wistari-formaggia-1945-2008

http://repository.essex.ac.uk/23060/

https://www.fortdecafe.org/topeng-cristina-formaggia/

World Textile Days 2020

Book: Chapter seven focuses on polèng cloth:

Balinese Textiles; Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin, Marie-Louise Nabholz-Kartaschoff, Urs Ramseyer, British Museum Press, 1991

 


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World Textile Day, Bristol, October 5th

On October 5th I’ll be presenting Deeper than Dyeing at World Textiles Day, Saltford, near Bristol. I’ll outline the influence of World Textiles on my work, and bring a varied selection of textiles (of all kinds) to stop everyone falling asleep.

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Evening jacket from 1920s – 30s, that belonged to a great-aunt

Some examples go way back to my childhood, such as this gold-and-black-woven evening jacket that belonged to a great-aunt. Others reflect a growing interest in textiles and techniques and tools, acquired not at art college (I studied graphic design), but on travels in India, Indonesia and Australia.

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Batik collected in Jogjakarta when travelling in the 1980s

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Turban length collected in Rajasthan. It is printed but appears to mimic  leheria and mothara techniques

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A selection of traditional (or local) tools, used to apply wax

When I originally agreed to speak I had to scratch my head a bit. I’ve never actively thought through, or publicly acknowledged, the influence that travels and observations have wrought on past and current work, and my diverse interests. On finally deciding the talk’s direction I needed a title, and kept circling Deeper than Indigo, the title of an extraordinary book by Jenny Balfour-Paul. I asked Jenny if she minded my adapting her title – and she was kind enough not to – which is just as well. Once I arrived at Deeper than Dyeing as a title I couldn’t imagine anything that worked better.

I’ll be speaking at 11 am.

Links

Deeper than Indigo by Jenny Balfour-Paul

World Textile Day, Saltford


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New book: dye lakes and recipes

Since I started teaching natural dyes at West Dean College, I have had a problem. How could I save, transport and use litres of expensive dye not fully exhausted on the course? I travel with two large beer-making flagons containing indigo, but transporting additional containers of weld, madder and cochineal isn’t feasible – and I hate waste.

For some years I have been working with my friend and colleague Yuli Sømme, who commissions me to dye different shades of wool felt for her company Bellacouche, in Moretonhampstead (see link below). If I have pieces of mordanted and wetted-out felt ready, I can dunk it into the vats on the final night at the College, and by the next morning much of the used dye is exhausted and the felts dyed. I can rinse out the felts and take them home in empty buckets. The exhausted dye can be discarded.

But if students need the vats on the final day, or I am travelling home the day I finish teaching, I don’t have the option of using Yuli’s felt and the leftover dyes.

The Art and Science of Natural Dyes: by Catharine Ellis and Joy Boutrop

A newly-published book by Catharine Ellis and Joy Boutrop has encouraged me to experiment with making lake pigments from the leftover dyes at West Dean. Their suggested process greatly reduces the volume to be transported and involves binding the leftover dye to the alum mordant, thus turning it into a concentrated lake pigment. The pigment is precipitated using alum and soda ash and sinks to the bottom of the vessel, leaving the water on the surface, which can be poured off.

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Making a madder lake. You can see the dye beginning to precipitate and separate from the water

The resulting substance is strained through cloth and when this process is complete, a gooey, paste-y mixture like thick custard remains.

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Straining the madder pigment through a cloth

By reversing the chemical process at home, again using the instructions in the book,  I can dye pieces of wetted-out felted wool – which do not require a mordant.

It is typical of this book, which in its entirety covers a very wide range of natural dye processes, that methods are well-explained, options or alternatives outlined, and reasons given for certain instructions. Recipes are clear and easy to follow and I would have greatly valued the book in my library when I started natural dyeing because of its comprehensive treatment of the subject and a thoroughly researched, straightforward approach. I will write more in future posts because I am still learning so much from the work of these two authors.

Since my West Dean course last month I have made pigments from madder and weld lakes, and tried mixing them with indigo and earth pigments.

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Madder and weld pigments (pink and yellow) and overpaints of earth pigments sienna and ochre (rusts and red-brown) from Roussillon in France. Painted on soya-sized cotton

Links

The Art and Science of Natural Dyes: Principles, Experiments and Results

At time of writing, this book isn’t readily available in the UK. Check this link on the Blackwell’s site to see if it is in stock.

Bellacouche

Yuli Sømme’s company in Moretonhampstead, Devon

West Dean College Short Courses

My next natural dye course at West Dean is March 27 – 29th 2020.

 


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A treasured textile tool

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My textile treasure from The Gambia, the gift of a former student. 

When unpacking after teaching at West Dean this week, I noticed one of my favourite tools hadn’t re-appeared from the boxes.  I began to realise how precious the tool was, and kicked myself for being sufficiently stupid to take it out of the studio and risk losing it. The tool is no bigger than a long paintbrush, it’s clearly home-made and would look insignificant to anyone finding it but not ‘in the know’ about what it was. It could have been binned, or slipped beneath a workbench. It might never re-appear.

The tool, used for applying wax, was given to me nearly ten years ago by an inspiring and enterprising young student who left us with very special memories of her. She was on a scholarship studying batik world-wide and she stayed with us for a few days while I showed her how I worked.  She later travelled to The Gambia, and sent me the tool on her return. It has a simply-shaped, graceful wooden handle around the tip of which is wound a casual-looking thick spiral of copper wire. The spiral forms into a tightly-twisted, spout-shaped ‘nib’.

The copper tool can be dipped into hot wax, and because copper is a good conductor of heat the entire wire quickly reaches equal temperature. The coils of the spiral hold a considerable cargo of hot wax, which flows down into the ‘nib’ allowing a controlled drawing to be made in hot wax. Experience has taught me not to start drawing until drip frequency is slow, or wax flows too fast and floods the fabric. The tool looks as though it shouldn’t work, but in fact it’s remarkably effective and one of my studio favourites.

Some time ago I tried to replicate the tool for students in my classes, using copper wire and a substantial twig, or an old paintbrush, for a handle. I have had surprising success with them and I’ve found, for instance, that a narrower gauge wire can form a finer nib. But none of my versions has the grace and integrity of the original, or carries its history. I instinctively choose the Gambia tool when working, even though my replicas work just as well.

The tool was created by people who own little and must labour extremely hard to produce their batik work: they have no electricity, gather wax from bee-hives, heat wax on a fire and carry all their water by hand. Only when I unpacked my boxes and contemplated the possible loss of my student’s gift did I acknowledge (for the first time) that the tool’s story was as important as its function.

Happily, I found it.

 

Link: This remarkable little book tells the story of Rushyan’s batik journey

Paths of Molten Wax: A Textile Odyssey

 

 

 

 


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Dyeing Reds in Amsterdam

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Safflower petals before washing

I recently took part in a two-day workshop in Amsterdam, dyeing historical reds on silk at the Rijksmuseum’s Department of Conservation and Restoration. The event was organised by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. Selection for the workshop was by application, and the organisers chose eight international participants known for the variety and extent of their expertise in natural dyeing, and / or their interests in historical dye recipes.

A range of 26 samples was produced using American cochineal, kermes, annatto, brazilwood, madder, safflower and lac. Participants worked in pairs dyeing different sets of dyes: my partner was Paula Hohti of Aalto University, Helsinki, where she is Assistant Professor of History of Art and Culture. We dyed three recipes in total: one for lac and two for safflower. Demineralised water was used throughout.

Lac Our lac recipe was adapted from Edelstein’s translation of the 1548 edition of The Plictho of Gioanventura Rosetti. We prepared and used an alum mordant on Day 1, in which the silk rested overnight. The stick lac we were to use had been extracted over the previous three days. On Day 2 we sieved the lac solution and heated it, adding 25% (to weight of dry fabric) cream of tartar. It was dyed for an hour.

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Lac-dyed silk being lifted from the beaker to check for colour. On the right is the beaker containing yellow safflower dye and silk

Safflower We dyed two versions of safflower: yellow and red. Our recipes were adapted from various sources, including Macquer’s Art de la Teinture en Soie. To obtain yellow, safflower florets were washed once and drained, and then soaked again for 30 minutes. After sieving, the resulting extract was used to dye unmordanted silk.

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First washing-out of the safflower florets for yellow dyeing

To obtain red, safflower florets were pre-washed for two weeks to remove all traces of the yellow extract – this process had been completed in advance of the workshop.  We undertook a further sequence of washings until the yellow stopped running and the water was clear. The water was sieved out. Potash was added to obtain pH 10, and the florets squeezed by hand until they appeared pink and transparent and the liquor looked pinky red. This took about half an hour to achieve.

After sieving into a new beaker, unmordanted silk was added and the pH checked (it was around 7). We then added fermented beer (bierken) little by little, continually monitoring pH, until the pH dropped to a crucial pH 5. This threshold pH has a term ‘virer le bain‘ or ‘turn the bath’. We were required not to allow the pH to drop lower or it would damage the silk. The silk then rested in the dye for 10 minutes after which it was washed in Marseilles soap, and water.

Both safflower baths produced strong colours, with the pink having an especially bright ‘pop’. The colour is very light fugitive.

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Safflower red (left), lac (centre) safflower yellow (right

Everyone, including the three organisers, gave short presentations on their work and research interests. I showed some samples of my orchil dyeing as well as a few pieces of my studio work in natural dyes. Many participants were involved in education, some of us were artists and dyers, others were textile researchers or art historians. These absorbing presentations illustrated what a privilege it was to attend the workshop.

The results of the workshop were recently published at the Spring Symposium of the Textiel Commissie.

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Participants were able to take away a sample of each recipe dyed: a total of 26 samples

Participants took home a complete set of all the silks dyed. The organisers also retained a set, which will be catalogued and stored as historical reproductions on reference sheets, together with supporting information on the recipes and preparations. The sheets will eventually be published online through the Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE) website, for the benefit of other researchers.


Thanks With many thanks to organisers Drs. Ana Serrano, Jenny Boulboullé and Art Proaño Gaibor; to the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands; the Ateliergebouw of the Rijksmuseum; and to all fellow participants at the workshop for their unique and specialist contributions.


Links

Rijksmuseum Conservation and Research

Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands

Textiel Commissie

Paula Hohti has recently been awarded a European Research Council grant for a five year project Re-fashioning the Renaissance: Popular Groups, Fashion and the Material and Cultural Significance of Clothing in Europe 1550 – 1650