Isabella Whitworth

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


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Day 4 and madder: sorry about the quilts

I have been writing Summer School blogs late at night and I am forgetting to include things. Here’s what I forgot yesterday: images of the textiles from the Welsh Quilt Centre at Lampeter. They should have been attached to yesterday’s post.

Today, Turkey Red preparations continued and we started to plan the ordering, labelling and displaying of the various samples dyed on the course. We are working in the art college (Coleg Sir Gar) in a Life Room; it’s part of a larger suite divided by folding screens. The screens are also whiteboards and we can write on them with markers, which makes displaying and explaining samples a bit easier. An exchange visit with students on Helen Melvin’s eco-dyeing course took place this afternoon and they could see the first samples together with their recipes and comments from the groups that had dyed them.

‘If you would dye wool into a perfect red colour..’ begins Gervaise Markham’s 1615 recipe from his book The English Huswife. I am in a group-within-a-group on the course; we excel at producing dispiriting pinks from recipes which boast all manner of ‘perfect reds’ as their outcome.  I think we have even astonished tutor Debbie by our unerring skill in this regard.

From the selection above, guess which yarn is ours after trying Markham’s recipe. No prizes.

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Madder, wool and Welsh quilts

In the dye room this morning we reground the fourth and final exhaust dyestuff for the Turkey Red samples and heated it to temperature so that it could cool before dyeing tomorrow. Debbie has hung the Turkey Red-prepared cloth in the college smoking shelter – which might well discourage smokers from entering and be very good for overall Welsh health.

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Smelly smoking shelter

Many madder recipes state that one should not raise the temperature of the dyepot above a certain point or the colours will turn brown.  On the other hand, many recipes have silk or wool boiling for as much as an hour. So what’s going on?

Jill Goodwin advises a maximum of 158 F (70 C). We were careful to follow her recipe yesterday, but today someone suggested we should boil one of the Goodwin skeins to see if  it would affect the colour.

So we did, and it didn’t…. and it set us thinking where such advice originates and under what, if any, circumstances it might be true.

If you read yesterday’s blog you’ll know I wasn’t sure where we were going on our outing: it turned out to be the National Wool Museum at Dre-fach Felindre and the Welsh Quilt Centre at Lampeter.

Our visit to the museum was interesting but short and there were far too many of us for a comfortable visit. Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching the spinning mule in action, and touring the finishing and weaving sheds. Across in the field was a tenterframe for stretching and finishing cloth, and a windhouse for drying more delicate fabric. The tenterframe looked squeaky-new and unhistoric (do Ikea offer a selection?)  but gave some idea of how the field might once have looked.

I came across a set of natural-dyed yarns produced by David and Margaret Redpath who, until 2002, ran Wallis Mill in Pembrokeshire. It was the last commercial mill in Wales to dye with plant materials. The dye garden behind the wool museum was sadly neglected and overgrown with weeds, although some madder was struggling plantfully on.

The Quilt Centre at Lampeter is in the old Town Hall. Currently, and until November, a collection of antique Welsh quilts is on display with work by Kaffe Fassett and other contemporary quiltmakers. There was a time when this modern work would have held all my attention, but now I am old and grey it was the monochrome historic textiles I found the most beautiful. The collection has been put together by Jen Jones, who realised several years ago that these lovely bedcovers were being discarded as having no value. In a short address to the group, Jen said that she had once seen a farmer using an old quilt to keep a sick cow warm. The Quilt Centre exhibition was superbly done, with work suspended at different angles and heights from an immensely high ceiling. Complexities of lighting were skilfully handled so that nothing appeared overshadowed.

crossover

This collection is by Moda Fabrics and is called Indigo Crossing

In Calico Kate,  a shop for quilting enthusiasts almost next door, I found a set of printed cottons in the blue and white derived from the traditional patterns of resist-dyed indigo. These fabrics seem to be following me around: see this post from earlier this year.

A reminder to anyone following in real time that you can follow AGWSD Summer School at Carmarthen through the posts of several students here on Twitter, using the hashtag #wsdsschool


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Ten things I learned about blogging

What do I have in common with two new-road-protesters, a writer seeking a publisher, a foster-carer, a few craftspeople and a family history researcher ? We all met last night at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen, attending a beginners’ workshop called ‘Writing an engaging blog.’ The workshop was given by Cosmic ethical IT, a local social enterprise company.

The presenter faced a diverse group. Many of us were familiar with material she had prepared, but to others it was new and puzzling. Some of us operated blogs; others would like to, but didn’t know where to start. Few understood the full potential of interaction with other social media or the best use of tags, categories, search engine optimisation (SEO) and Rich Titles (which are nothing to do with last week’s bones in the car park).

I have distilled the evening into my own LIST of 10 useful / interesting pieces of information:

  • Over a glass of Rioja or similar, identify 15 words or phrases that anyone would need to find your blog, and use them regularly in posts, tags, categories. Do this before too much of the Rioja disappears 
  • Decide who you are, and who your audience is, and always speak to that audience
  • Words in titles of posts carry more ‘weight’ for search engines than the body of the post. Making ‘rich titles’ means including key words or phrases in the titles as well as the post
  • Google spiders, which regularly trawl the internet, take sophisticated  ‘snapshots’ of sites and compare them next visit, giving greater weight to updated content. Updating regularly is vital
  • Having links from more prominent organisations into your site will carry more search engine weight than the other way round. Spiders can, and do, cancel out reciprocal links in their calculations!
  • Pinterest is becoming a particularly important social media tool in the US. Workshop participants commented on how time-consuming it can be to maintain a Pinterest board
  • The Facebook business page can be used to generate very useful statistics on the traffic into a site or blog
  • You can search Google specifically for blogs with the content you want
  • Using YouTube is considered very valuable and it is easy to add (properly attributed) video content to your site
  • Certain types and formats of post are very popular with readers. One of these formats is THE LIST.

This is cheating, as it will make 11. But the other thing I learned was that when you wrap text around an image in WordPress, you can set a border so that the text doesn’t crowd in on it. I have disliked this but haven’t known how to avoid it. I learned how to rectify it last night by using the ‘Advanced’ settings for images. You can set the border to be white as below, not the default black. Warning: In the ‘dashboard’ stage my version looks awful, with the photo overlapping the text. But when uploaded it comes right.

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Studio scene complete with empty Rioja bottles

The evening left me wondering who exactly I am in this blog, in terms of my 15 useful words or phrases. Natural dyes, history of natural dyes, dyeing, synthetic dyes, wax resist, shibori, orchil, orchil research, silk painting, indigo, Devon, teaching, workshops, lectures, talks makes 15, and I’ve used them, and it is all the serious stuff.

But it leaves no room at all for nonsense, which will surely creep in amongst the worthy natural dye and shibori. For instance, take a look at the Guardian comment generator, found via the Twitter feed of the admirable  @SimonNRicketts. Press the buttons and you will generate some gems, such as this one from Gwyn Trig-Hampsteath of St Andrews:

After spending three years in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, I find that I am able to see much more clearly the interconnections between today’s geo-political imbalances and many of our social predicaments – for instance: Isn’t it amazing that we can find £30bn to spend on Trident but we can’t afford even basic woodwind lessons for all Primary school pupils?

You see? There is currently no danger of me joining Facebook and going viral.

Thanks to Fiona of Cosmic, and to the Devon Guild of Craftsmen for organising this event.