Isabella Whitworth

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

Courses and talks


West Dean College (nr Chichester, Sussex)

Silk Scarves – brilliant with pattern: February 7th – 9th 2022

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 shows 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 if you are starting out in the medium of wax resist on silk, if if you have a little experience of silk painting and are looking widen your 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 three to four 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.

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

An First Dip into Natural Dyes: March 25th – 27th 2022

This course offers a hands-on introduction to the world of natural dyes and their rich and ancient history.  Weld, madder, cochineal and indigo will be used, which all of these derive from plant material except cochineal, an insect dye.  You can expect to use raw dyestuff as well as natural dyes available in extract form, and learn vital essentials of preparing materials before dyeing.  There will be a practical session on mordanting with alum and cream of tartar, and other mordants will be explained.  The tutor will also introduce the basics of making a natural indigo vat and two indigo vats, at different strengths, will be available.

Some simple dye chemistry will be outlined to enable you to prepare dyestuffs and dyes effectively and learn how to make and calculate stock solutions.  You will dye a selection of reference samples on silk and cotton fabrics and wool yarn, using the four dyestuffs.  Overdyeing, and the use of different mordants and dye concentrations, will result in a wide range of colours.  The historical aspects of natural dyes will be presented in short talks and during practical work.

You will have the additional option of producing a natural-dyed silk scarf or small individual samples, and simple resist and dip-dye techniques will be demonstrated.

Please note that some of the dye materials and equipment used on this course will have come into contact with various nuts, so may not be suitable for those with nut allergies or sensitivity to dye plants.

Bookings through West Dean College

RHS Rosemoor, Great Torrington, Devon. 

July 9th 2022

Natural Dyes: A First Dip

Enjoy a hands-on introduction to the world of natural dyes and dye a unique silk scarf to take home. Students will learn how to use a selection of plant dyes including weld (yellow), madder (red), indigo (blue); and cochineal (pink), an insect dye.

Students will learn the basics of fibre preparation and mordanting and some simple dye chemistry will be outlined so that participants learn about the dyes on the course, where they are sourced, how they are prepared and the conditions they need for reliable dyeing.

Using simple-to-learn design techniques students will create their own scarf plus a small selection of dyed silk samples to take home

Scarves vary in price according to silk weights and the size of scarf. Prices from £8.50 – £20, payable to the tutor on the day


September 10th 2022

Natural Dyes: Dyeing the Rainbow 

Learn how to use natural dyes and dye a rainbow of colours. The course will focus on different groups of plants which dye yellows, reds and browns, and learn the basics of making an indigo vat to dye blue.  The course will also offer a brief introduction to the world of natural dyes and their rich history.

Students will dye with a wide selection of plant materials plus cochineal, an insect dye.

Some basic dye chemistry will be outlined as well as the preparation processes which fibre, yarn and fabric must undergo before dyeing. During the course students will dye a selection of reference samples on silk which they will take home. Overdyeing, and varying vat concentrations, will produce a selection of shades and a rainbow of colours.

Bookings for both courses will be through RHS Rosemoor: details later in the autumn

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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