Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Natural dyeing - how I got started.

Long before I knew about spinning wool, or that people wove cloth on handlooms, I was in a book shop and found a book called "The Craft of Natural Dyeing", by Jenny Dean, and I was mesmerised by the lovely colourful pictures. This was something I wanted to try. My mother is a botanist and I grew up with endless curiosity for and love of plants.

I think that was in 2001, as I find that is the date of the edition I have. It seems like longer ago than that. For ages I had this book, I kept looking at the pictures, reading the strange words, and got no further than feeling a bit puzzled. I couldn't understand the book. It was full of terms I didn't know, like "mordant" and "dyestuff" and I had to keep turning back and forward because the information was not well ordered for someone as ignorant as me.

In 2001, I was doing other things. Working as a company lawyer full-time while starting a Post Graduate Diploma in Law and learning to read legal case records (written in another strange language!). So, the book went on the shelf, and although I looked at the pictures from time to time and wondered, that's as far as I got.

In 2004, I had finished my legal studies, with a couple of good qualifications, was unemployed, working hard at mentally "keeping my chin above water", and then, at the Manifold Country Show, I met some ladies from the North Staffordshire Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. They had spinning wheels and were using them to turn fluffy sheeps' wool into yarn. This was in itself amazing to me. But, what is more, they had a small display that included a child's yellow jumper and I discovered it was yellow because the wool had been dyed with onion skin. My first question was "how long does it take to spin enough wool to knit a jumper?" and after some careful thought the lady I asked said about a fortnight. So that was it, I went home, googled "spinning wheels" in the UK, found Chris' Spindizzy site, then the Loom Exchange, saw an advert for an "Ashford Traditional Spinning Wheel", looked up the Ashford web site and found it quite respectable, rang the phone number and.... on the next day, my birthday, went and bought my first spinning wheel.

O.K., so now I had a book on dyeing, a spinning wheel, and with it... not much idea of what to do next.

With the wheel came a pair of handcarders and a small bag of washed Ryeland fleece. On the back of the carders was a sticker saying "Wingham Woolworks" and a phone number. On the Monday morning, I rang the phone number. I visited the shop the next weekend, and went back at the end of the following week for a spinning lesson. This was the best thing that could have happened to me. I found myself a good teacher, learnt to spin, bought supplies of superwash merino wool (suitable for spinning and dyeing) and met a couple of other spinners who were there to learn fancy yarn techniques.

One of these spinners was Janet from the Alsager Guild and I was invited along to meet the Guild, and to join in a day course in natural dyeing. Yippee! at last... I was going to learn what that book was going on about!

More to follow - with pictures next time...!

(No Leigh, I haven't upgraded, yet, I can get to the library on Thursday evening or Saturday morning....)

1 comment:

Leigh said...

What an excellent story. Interestinly, but Jenny Dean's natural dyeing book was my first introduction to that subject as well. It's still one of my favorites.

Now, looking forward to reading the rest.