Isabella Whitworth

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


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Bells, wool, ropes and a phobia

The English bellringing tradition is ancient. The country’s first bells were associated with Celtic Christianity and were flat sided and welded rather than bronze-cast. They were rung by hand and probably sounded clonky, like a cow-bell. The skills of bronze casting that developed transformed the purity and clarity of bell sounds, and the mechanism of a wheel-mounted bell, perfected around the time of the Reformation, enabled bells to ring individually in a predetermined order. This is a particularly English form of ringing. Patterns of ringing are called out by the Ringing Captain, or must be learned by heart. Some learned sequences or ‘peals’ involve hours of high concentration from a team and can be ruined with a single mistake.

The sound of a bell carries miles across fields and was a key method of communication. Bells sounded the curfew, acted as a call to arms, a warning of invasion, and in some English churches alerted parishioners to the presence of vermin. Churchwardens once held the vermin bounty which was paid out when an unfortunate dead fox or badger was presented. Bells called parishioners to worship, rang for weddings and occasional funerals, and tolled on half and full muffles to mourn the passing of monarchs and royalty.

Hatherleigh Church, Devon

Why am I talking about bells? Some of you may know that I am a church bellringer and that the history of bells has become a recent focus of mine. There is a textile connection too, so please read until the end.

shows bell mounted on wheel
The bell wheel mechanism

Hatherleigh’s Bells

In my small Devon town of Hatherleigh we have a very beautiful set of eight bells, recast in 1929 at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry by Mears and Stainbank. They are set in an oak frame now distinctly past its prime and the bells need some attention too, although they do not need to be recast. The necessary restoration is going to cost about £75,000 ($US91.58 in today’s conversion rate).

Hatherleigh’s eight bells waiting for transport to Whitechapel for recasting, 1929. Photo courtesy of Hatherleigh History Society

I have been involved in an intensive fundraising campaign since February and have been learning about the history of bells, bronze-casting and our town’s bells.

Creepy Sleep-Out

On the night of 16th – 17th July 2022 I will be camping in the church tower to raise funds for our appeal. The name for it was coined by our Vicar, Reverend Leigh Winsbury, who of course has to give permission for such japes on his patch. Thank you, Leigh.

Is sleeping overnight in the tower such a big deal? Not really, unless, like me, you have a lifelong fear of spiders (I’m not so bothered about mice, bats, or strange sounds in the graveyard, although that may change on the 16th…). There are a few hefty spiders in the tower and I undertake to co-exist with, and not squish, my eight-legged dormitory mates. So if you’d like to sponsor me as I face my fears, please follow the links at the bottom of the page. A pdf of our fundraising leaflet is attached so you can see what this is all about. You can also visit our GoFundMe site, but if you are kind enough to leave a donation there please leave a spidery comment too, because it’s our generic fundraising page and I’d like to know how much money my particular stunt has raised.

GoFundMe page for our project

The Textile Connection

There is a textile connection to our bells because the tower in which they hang was built at the time of major medieval south-west wool prosperity, in the 1300s. Many very fine English churches, such as Lavenham and Northleach, were entirely built from wool money. The money for building Hatherleigh’s tower alongside an existing structure may have come from donations from wool-wealthy parishioners, or through church tithes. A wooden spire was added in the 1400s. We don’t yet know when the first bells rang in Hatherleigh, but by 1553 there were three.

Keyrings

Selection of keyrings from old bellrope. The rings to hold the keys are steel cable with a tiny screw section which can be opened and closed. Ropes are whipped with waxed cotton twine.

I have been making small keyring giveaways for the first 25 people that donate £10 and they are made from our old bell rope. The rope has been washed and is probably of hemp, but bellropes can be of flax and it’s hard for me to tell the difference. Modern ropes are sometimes a blend of natural and synthetic fibre.

If you live in the UK, donate £10 and would like a keyring, please send me a screenshot confirming your donation. Include your postal address and email me at persicaria5@gmail.com

The bellringers would of course be grateful for any amount donated, however small.

Links, follows, media

Blogpost on fibre and bellropes from 2013 here

My Instagram: @whitworthisabella

Hatherleigh Bells Instagram: @eightbells8

GoFundMe If you donate here, please leave a spidery comment!


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Stockholm and Leyden Papyri Project

Orchil lichen growing on the Ecuador coast, near Puerto Lopez

I’m involved in an international project to recreate historic recipes from the Stockholm and Leyden Papyri. The group have a blog, and I have just published an account of why I am so interested in orchil recipes, how I set about searching for a historical dye lichen in Ecuador and more importantly, why I ate a dessert in the interests of science. My blog is called ‘Talking Orchil’ and was published on October 17th 2021.

The blog’s admirable administrator Mel Sweetnam (of the equally admirable Mamie’s Schoolhouse) describes it as a ripping yarn, so head over there to see if you agree. Stockholm and Leyden Papyri Project

Mamie’s Schoolhouse


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RHS Rosemoor: Course in Natural Dyes

Green leaves of Japanese indigo are shown in top of a pink, white and purple silk scarf with a stylised floral motif. There are small seed-like grains on the right which are cochineal
Top left: wax resist scarf dyed in indigo and cochineal; leaves of Persicaria tinctoria and cochineal grains. Underneath left: fringed wool scarf dyed a deep purple in cochineal and indigo

Teaching has so long been off my radar I can’t quite believe that my first course for 18 months is rapidly approaching. I will be at RHS Rosemoor in North Devon on 25th and 26th September for a hands-on introduction to using natural dyes. With a bit of luck students will end up as bonkers as I am about natural colour and its ancient history – and will leave with a great set of dyed samples and a beautiful, individually-dyed scarf.

For overseas readers, RHS stands for the Royal Horticultural Society. The RHS is the UK’s leading gardening charity and owns five beautiful gardens across the country. RHS Rosemoor is one of them and it’s just up the road from me. I have visited it countless times since I moved to Devon nearly twenty years ago. On my visits I often noticed some of the plants that yield dye colour and thought it would be a wonderfully appropriate place to run a course.

In 2019 I contacted the Education and Learning Manager and found her to be very receptive to the idea. The Manager was the late Sarah Chesters, a bright, funny and delightful gardening expert who was also very knowledgeable about textiles and fibre. She was engagingly interested in all I told her about natural dyeing and came to my house on a memorable day when I was working with Jenny Balfour Paul: we showed her how my indigo crop was processed, shared lunch, and we all laughed a lot.

So I was very saddened to hear that Sarah died earlier this year, and I will actively remember her warmth and humour when I am teaching at Rosemoor.

Booking through RHS Rosemoor here


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The Loom Shed Online Natural Dye Symposium

Left: Perkin’s mauve; centre, Tyrian purple threads and murex shells; right; orchil lichen, orchil-dyed silk and wool

At the end of the month I’ll be taking part in an online symposium run by The Loom Shed. What is The Loom Shed? Well, it’s a shed and it has looms in it. But weaving isn’t all that’s planned at this new and imaginative venue.

The Loom Shed has been set up by Louise Cottey, weaver and tutor, and Liz Croft, crochet specialist, weaver and tutor. Both Laura and Liz are passionate about yarn craft and the benefits to mental health that craft work can bring.

My talk Pursuing Purple: Shellfish, Lichen and Mauve will follow some of the dye trails I discovered when researching a nineteenth century industrial archive. If you follow my blog you’ll know I became particularly intrigued by the dye trade in lichen, historically used for making a purple dye called orchil. My findings very unexpectedly linked two other famous purple dyes: Imperial or Tyrian Purple, and Perkin’s Mauve.

The Natural Dye Symposium is on June 26th and will offer a day of talks by four specialist natural dye speakers. It was decided to hold the event online this year but in the future there will be dye-related workshops and events at The Loom Shed itself, which is located in East Devon. There is also a varied programme of speakers and courses and you can look at their Events page to see the latest listings.

On June 10th at 12.45 pm I will be doing an Instagram Live with Liz Croft. You can Insta-follow me on @whitworthisabella, and The Loom Shed at @the_loom_shed


The Loom Shed Online Natural Dye Symposium Programme

Aviva Leigh 10.00 am – 11.00 am Strips, Stripes and Satins – Exploring 18th Century Norwich Textiles

Isabella Whitworth 11.30 am – 12.30 pm Pursuing Purple: Shellfish, Lichen and Mauve

Luisa Aribe 1.30 pm – 2.30 pm An Indigo Journey

Susan Dye 3.00 pm – 4.00 pm Growing and Using your own Dye Garden

There is an ‘all day’ ticket for all four talks, or you can book in for individual speakers here

Times given are British Summer Time


Links

The Loom Shed

The Loom Shed Events page


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Knitwits: Knitting the Blue Stockings

Indigo-dyed wool showing how adjustments in vat concentration and multiple dips can achieve many shades

Once in a while a seemingly mundane request, such as ‘could you look at some old boxes from the attic’ explodes like a dandelion head and breezes into all corners of your life. That happened to me in 2007 and the research it led to is well documented on this website.

About a month ago I had a simple-sounding request from Nicole Pohl. Would I, the email innocently requested, ‘talk on Zoom for ten minutes about dyeing wool?’ Nicole Pohl is Professor of English at Oxford Brookes University and the Editor in Chief of the Elizabeth Montagu Correspondence Online (EMCO), a charity that was set up to digitise and edit all known letters by the ‘Bluestocking woman’ Elizabeth Montagu. I looked up Elizabeth Montagu and the Bluestockings and was intrigued. This was going to be about more than just blue wool.

It meant I would have to learn how to present a Powerpoint via Zoom, compress the subject of natural dyes and what I know about eighteenth century dyestuff into ten minutes and, along the way, include a section on blue-dyeing. Anyone who knows how to dye with indigo or woad will understand what that means. Nicole said there’d also be presentations by two other speakers, plus the input of a knitwear designer. A group of academics would then start knitting blue stockings…. it all sounded a bit of a lark, so I said I’d do it.

Then I learned that one speaker is Susan North, Curator of Fashion, 1550–1800, at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Another is Lis Gernerd, a historian of eighteenth century dress, art and material culture. The knitwear designer is none other than Kate Davies whose very recently launched Bluestocking Club has hit over 2000 members. All of them are invited to the Zoom event on Monday 24th May 1600 – 1700 UK time.

You are invited too. It’s free but you have to book, so do it fast as numbers are limited. Here is the link.

https://www.brookes.ac.uk/about-brookes/events/knitwits–knitting-the-bluestockings/

I think its time for a gin and tonic – and it’s only half past two.

Links

The Bluestocking Club

A conversation between Kate Davies and Nicole Pohl on Kate’s site here

Elizabeth Montagu Online


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Exeter Cloth Dispatch Book 1763 – 1765 (2)

A selection of wool samples from the Dispatch Book

In 2017 a rare 18th century cloth merchant’s dispatch book of Claude Passavant, a Swiss émigré, was discovered in the London Metropolitan Archives by Todd Gray, a well-known historian from Exeter in England’s South-West. Exeter was internationally renowned for all aspects of cloth production, not least dyeing, but few records survive. Realising that no-one had studied Passavant’s book, which contains almost 2,500 wool samples, most of them dyed in a range of vibrant colours, Gray assembled specialist authors to write thirteen chapters for a book on the local and wider contexts of 18th century cloth making. I co-authored the one on contemporary dyes and dyeing techniques with Jenny Balfour Paul. Jenny is a writer, artist, lecturer and traveller, internationally known for her research into indigo and natural dyes.  Other chapters in the richly illustrated book include a history of Exeter’s cloth merchants, the archaeology of Exeter’s cloth industry, fulling mills and merchants’ seals.

There has already been excellent national and local press coverage of this book and the story behind its discovery.

The Exeter Cloth Dispatch Book 1763-5, edited by Todd Gray, launches on 19th February, and is available at a special discount price of £25 from Keith Stevens at http://www.stevensbooks (sales@themintpress.co.uk) or (01392 459760. Otherwise it is on sale at £35 from publishers Boydell & Brewer and can also be found on the usual bookseller outlets.

I wrote a little more about my involvement with this project last year, and you can read it here.

The above images show details of the actual Dispatch Book held in the London Metropolitan Archives, including wool samples and associated balemarks, and the recently published book edited by Todd Gray. Gray’s publication includes images of all pages of the Dispatch Book.


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Dr Denim

UPDATE December 13th 2020. Every year, visitors to the Members’ exhibition at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen are invited to vote for their favourite piece. This year the invitation was extended to online visitors and I am delighted to announce that Dr Denim won the People’s Choice Award, 2020. My thanks to all who voted for the Doctor.

UODATEUPDATE December 13th UPDATE

One of the stranger items I’ve ever made is currently on exhibition nearby in Devon. Dr Denim is a full-sized cloaked ‘figure’ wearing a beaked mask, similar to those used by Plague Doctors of the past. The mask is made from a deconstructed pair of old denim jeans; the cloak uses my exhibition stand background felt over a dressmakers’ form and the ‘remedies’ strung on the unstitched waistband represent thoughts on the current pandemic.

I feel every artwork should speak without words, and I hope it does. But if it intrigues you and you want to know more, please read supplementary information below, or on the exhibition’s own website where you will also find additional images. The exhibition is called 2020 (it’s basically, the annual Members’ Show) and is being held at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen in Bovey Tracey until the end of this month. You can visit in person from Wednesdays to Saturdays. But you can also drop in online, from anywhere in the world.

The show was rigorously selected by a panel of Members and I was extremely happy to receive the ‘thumbs-up’ for Dr Denim. It is a particularly strong exhibition this year and contains fascinating and moving statements that Members have written about working during lockdown.

Exhibition links

2020 Exhibition, main page

Isabella Whitworth entry page

Vote for your favourite piece

Devon Guild of Craftsmen homepage

More information about Dr Denim

(this information is similar to that shown on the Devon Guild of Craftsmen 2020 exhibition website)

While making fabric masks during lockdown I looked into the historic use of masks during epidemics. An extraordinary 16thCentury Plague Mask is held at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin. The mask had glass coverings to the eye holes and a curved, bird-like beak. It was believed that plague, such as the Black Death, spread through bad smells known as ‘miasma’ and the beak, strapped close to the nose, held aromatic herbs, dried flowers and sometimes a vinegar-soaked sponge. Fragrant smells were thought to fight the pestilential miasma. Plague Doctors were hired by a community during an outbreak of the plague. They wore a beaked mask, long dense robes and a wide brimmed hat. Their key role was not to heal the sick, but to separate infected from well, to write and witness wills, arrange burials and count and record numbers of dead. Some doctors were renowned for their skills and even wrote treatises to assist others. But many took advantage of their proximity to the dead and dying to line their pockets. 

We are now all familiar with manifestations of fear during an epidemic, and the universal desire to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Then as now, the medical profession offers hope, as does religious faith. Over the sewing machine making Covid masks, I considered remedies and ‘cures’ past and present, what they have in common, and I then made Doctor Denim.

‘Remedies’ are hung around the doctor’s neck in the manner of a Siberian  shaman’s costume. The remedies reflect and blend contemporaneous knowledge of causes and transmission, anecdote, religious faith, folklore, superstition, fake news and conspiracy theories, the role of leaders and the state, racial or religious prejudices leading to ‘persecution as remedy’, duplicitous quackery, and the ever-present spur of money-making. Inequality of social circumstances could affect the likelihood of plague infection and death, as it does with Covid. 

Materials

All materials used are recycled, ‘found’, or from existing studio stock. The only specially-bought items were the rainbow ribbons. The fabric elements are created from a partly deconstructed and entire pair of worn-out indigo-dyed (denim) jeans, a garment which has become iconic in our time. The black ‘robes’ are from my exhibition stand display.

Denim and indigo

Denim, from which jeans are made, is an indigo-dyed cotton twill suitable also for a Covid mask because its densely woven fabric will help to impede virus-carrying droplets from passing through it. Natural indigo-dyed fabric is revered by many for its healing properties; it coats fabric and offers a further layer of protection. 

Visitors may rest assured that in the spirit of true quackery the potions are not precisely as they claim. Unicorn horn remains hard to obtain and is substituted by brown sugar. Urine is Yorkshire Tea, the crushed emeralds and arsenic are Indian Holi powder. The ‘Holy Relic’ is a sheep or goat’s bone from a Cretan beach, theriac contains neither opium nor viper’s flesh, but is made of blue and white twine pills. There were no leeches in the box when I last checked. 

Construction of the piece has consciously reflected the raw quality of unpicked and chopped-up jeans.

Notes on the remedies

Chain

Blame is placed at both ends of the chain. The persecution by expulsion, fire or torture of marginalised minorities such as Jews, the disabled or gypsies, took place during times of plague. They were believed to be the source of the pestilence. Modern 21stcentury conspiracy theories about coronavirus continue to spread through the press and social media (for example, blaming a Chinese laboratory, the Freemasons, Bill Gates, G5 and even Norwegian Salmon).

Holy relic

The bone is mounted in a denim pouch, blinged up by gold ribbon from a chocolate box. The power of a holy relic was historically believed by Christians to effect a miraculous cure, or aid the intercession of a saint on the patient’s behalf. Belief in the power of prayer and intercession is still with us today.

Blue and white threads

The remedies are suspended from blue and white twine cords. I use the twine for tying shibori and once through the vat they are dyed blue with indigo. Some cords are made with reference to the knotted technique of tzitzit, or fringes, for the tallitor Jewish prayer shawl.

Knotted threads

It was believed by Christians that the plague was divine punishment for human sin. Processions of flagellants would whip themselves and each other as penance, in the hope of avoiding the pestilence.

Stellar pills

Pharmaceutical companies compete or co-operate to develop lucrative medications which may alleviate symptoms, cure, or prevent infection.

Disposable ‘gloves’are fronted by a cartoon by The Times cartoonist Peter Brookes. 

Eyam (hung in isolation down the back of the Doctor)

During the Black Death there were no remedies, beyond quarantine, that made much difference to outcome. When the Black Death arrived in the Derbyshire village of Eyam in 1665, the rector and a minister introduced a number of measures, such as outdoor church services and burial of the dead by their own families. They further persuaded villagers voluntarily to quarantine themselves as a community, in an act of great sacrifice and selflessness, with the aim of not spreading the disease beyond the village.

Donald Trump’s ideas on preventative measures are covered in a brief treatise.

Lockdown Pack

With no current cure or vaccine for Covid, a main course of action has been to avoid contracting and spreading the disease by means of quarantine and lockdown.  Connection to locked-down friends and family through the internet has eased isolation for many: online contact has been a kind of remedy.

Flowers, herbs and incense

Bound up, dried fragrant herbs and flowers comprise a selection of scented remedies to ward off miasma.  These include rosemary, mint, lemon balm, sage, lavender and meadowsweet. The Doctor’s beak is stuffed with lavender and rosemary. Incense is carried in a hanging pocket, together with Café Rouge matches. At exact time of writing, Café Rouge has announced that it too is a Covid casualty and is going into administration.

Medical knowledge: The Four Humours

Much medical knowledge during the Black Death was based on ancient theories of Hippocrates and Galen who described four bodily humours. This theory stated that the elements of earth, water, air, and fire are linked to bodily fluids of yellow bile (fire), blood (air), phlegm (water), black bile (earth). Remedies were prescribed to restore a natural balance which had been corrupted by the plague. 

Bloodletting

Deliberate bleeding of a vein, with leeches (expensive, but less painful) or a knife (cheaper, and it hurt) was believed to be an effective method to rid the body of undesirable ‘hot’ blood.

Theriac

Theriac was a popular remedy among the wealthy and included many ingredients such as viper flesh and copious amounts of opium. Ingredients were mixed with honey or treacle and could be thickened and made into pills.

Crushed emeralds, arsenic, mercury (quicksilver)

Crushed precious minerals were made into concoctions to drink. Those who couldn’t afford them drank mercury or arsenic – which probably despatched them even more swiftly than the plague. It was thought that ‘like could be treated with like’, and one poison could cure another.

The feather: the Vicary Method (after inventor and doctor Thomas Vicary)

A live chicken had its back and rear plucked. The chicken’s bare skin was then applied to the swollen area of the body, and strapped on to ‘draw the disease’ from the patient. The chicken died, or the patient died, or both.

Unicorn horn

Drinking a potion comprising ground unicorn horn was thought to be an effective remedy for many sicknesses including the plague, and, not surprisingly, was very rare and expensive. To obtain any horn, the unicorn had first to be lulled into submission by a young female virgin.

Urine

Bathing in urine or smearing oneself in faeces was a cost-free remedy open to the poor. 

The hope pocket

Our hopes for a Covid solution centre on the research to find an effective vaccine and the pocket contains part of a syringe. I’m happy for people to write their hopes on slips of paper and put them in the pocket.

Sources: 

https://www.ancient.eu/article/1540/medieval-cures-for-the-black-death/

https://www.livescience.com/plague-doctors.html

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

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

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

https://www.eyam-museum.org.uk/about-us

https://www.dhm.de/blog/2017/07/27/beaky-plague-protection/


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Lockdown: orchil and masks

A 5mm square of silk mousseline showing typical orchil colour

My last post featured some purple orchil or cudbear dust detached from stained paper. I attempted to convert it back to dye and soaked it in water for several days. I didn’t know if it would dye fibre after 167 years but after several weeks’ cold-dyeing a fragment of silk with the purple liquid, it has taken on a typical orchil fuschia purple – see above. I don’t know what that proves, but it’s wickedly, super-nerdily satisfying.

And now to Covid-19 masks. In the early 1990s I completed a number of publishing commissions to design textile craft projects. I accumulated boxes of fabric scraps in vibrant designs which I have failed to part with because ‘one day they might have a use’. Translated into stash language, that means I couldn’t bear to part with them. But their day has finally come and I have made masks for family and friends during the pandemic. After some online research I settled on the Olson design for adults which has a pocket into which a HEPA filter can be slipped. Research suggested that high thread count natural fabrics made the most effective mask and my 90s fabrics were ideal, being quilting cottons, cotton lawns, or fine weaves. It seems a suitable way to let these fabrics go. I made children’s masks but found the scaled-down Olson unsuitable since I couldn’t approach individual children to adjust the fit and instead used one of the many pleated designs on the internet. To supply designs that children would actually wear I bought a few new fabrics. All the girls wanted pink masks, and being Devon, small boys chose tractors and I’m unapologetic about this apparent stereotyping. I made fabric ties but advised parents to change to elastic if they weren’t efficient. There’s no point wearing them if the masks slip down all the time.

Four masks in the Olson pattern design (see link below). There are three layers of fabric in the centre where the pocket sits and if a HEPA filter is inserted a further layer is added. I fed a copper nose-wire into a channel along the top centre which shapes the mask to fit the face as closely as possible

Although appearing simple, I found mask-making fiddly because of the curves, layers of fabric, nose-wires etc. and the labour rapidly became tedious. I’m full of admiration for the army of makers who have made so many masks and scrubs over the past few months.

Children’s masks with a pleated design. Two layers of fabric overall

Olson Pattern Links

https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Cloth-Face-Mask/

Olson Pattern


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Purple stains

stain

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.

orchil2

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.

IMG_9520

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 – 1765 (1)

Passavant_edited-1

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?

figured_edited-1

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.

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UPDATE January 2021

The publication of this book, originally scheduled for Autumn 2020, was postponed as a result of the pandemic. It is now scheduled for release on 19th February 2021 and can be ordered from the publishers Boydell and Brewer here

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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

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)