Isabella Whitworth

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

Courses and talks


Please note that courses at West Dean are cancelled for the time being but I hope to resume teaching at the college in 2021 / 2022. Descriptions of courses previously taught there are listed below.

RHS Rosemoor, Great Torrington, Devon. 25th – 26th September 2021

Natural Dyeing with Plants 

The course offers a hands-on introduction to natural dyes and their rich and ancient history. Students will learn how to prepare fibres, yarns, fabrics and dyes, and mordant items before dyeing. Weld, madder, cochineal and indigo dye will be used, as well as some material from the woods and gardens at Rosemoor.  Students will take away a set of dyed samples as well as their own individually-dyed silk scarf.

Bookings will be through RHS Rosemoor: see here

West Dean College (nr Chichester, Sussex)

Silk Scarves – brilliant with pattern

We all love pattern, it represents order and structure. In terms of items that we create or decorate, pattern can be mathematically ordered – or loose and unstructured. Many textile patterns derive from nature and a close study of the natural world is rewarding when creating patterns and designs for hand painted items.

Isabella will discuss some of the elements of pattern-making and show how to make sketches and studies to identify and use pattern elements from nature. You then experiment with original patterns of your own on paper and fabric as you learn how to create effective patterned designs for painted silk scarves.

The course is suitable for those starting out in the medium of wax resist on silk, or with a little experience wanting to widen their knowledge. Those who don’t feel confident about drawing, planning and creative design are especially welcome!

Working with vibrant steam-fixed dyes on silk scarf blanks, you can expect to produce 3-4 scarves, as well as samples, through which you explore various ways of approaching and creating pattern. Wax resist, clamped-technique shibori and direct application of dyes, are all explored, used separately or in combination and on different silk weights and types. Although on the course you will work on scarves, all skills are transferable to fabric painting.

Trial pieces may be made on smaller frames, wax will be applied using brushes and traditional tjantings; stamps and found objects. Complex patterns will be produced by layering the wax and dye. The wax-out and steaming processes will be demonstrated and explained.

All students are invited to bring any image, item or textile which they find inspiring in its use of pattern.

Work that is completed late on in the course can be steamed by the tutor in her studio. She will return it to students by post for the cost of postage and packing, payable direct to her.

An first dip into natural dyes

Gain a hands-on introduction to the world of natural dyes and their rich and ancient history. You will use raw dyestuff as well as natural dyes available in extract form, and learn the essentials of preparing materials before dyeing. Weld, madder, cochineal and indigo will be used, all of which derive from plant material except cochineal, an insect dye.

West Dean Gardens will be used to illustrate sources of dyes and how to find or grow dye materials in a garden environment. The course will include a guided walk in the gardens.

There will be sessions on mordanting which will demonstrate the different requirements of protein and cellulose fibres. An indigo vat will be made up and the associated processes explained.

Some basic dye chemistry will be outlined to enable you to prepare dyestuffs and dyes effectively and you will learn how to make and calculate stock solutions. Over the period of the course you will dye a selection of reference samples on silk, cotton and wool yarn. The use of different dye concentrations, as well as overdyeing, will result in a good range of colours. A method of transforming a dyestuff to a pigment will be demonstrated.

You will be able to mordant and dye a silk scarf of your choice and basic creative dye techniques will be demonstrated.

Allergy note: Nuts have formerly been used in course equipment and may be employed in preparation of dye vats on the course itself. A variety of natural dyestuff will be present for viewing or using, depending on availability. These may include tannins, leaves, nuts, flowers and roots.

Bookings through West Dean College

5 thoughts on “Courses and talks

  1. Please advise if you offer any classes in the frozen North?? Scotland or north of England.
    I just love your work!
    With thanks. Therese

  2. Hi Isabella, Where is your course 20-23 July? It is not listed on the West Dean website.

    • I will check for you today. There is certainly a course scheduled for then!

    • I just called West Dean to clarify the situation. They do not release all courses for booking at once. Summer School can now be booked and also short courses up to the end of June. My course in July will be available for booking after Christmas: if you want to check the exact date may I suggest you call them to check? Very best Christmas and season’s greetings!

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