April 2010


Cochinilla - Berrimilla

I am late in writing up last month's doings. I have now completed most of my Lanzarote cochineal work (see last month) and will write it up properly as a separate feature. I have been using cochineal from Lanzarote, where the Milana Association are making efforts to revive the cochineal industry. I have been finding that their grain is making a very good red on silk and wool.

Dyer friend and colleague Helen Melvin finished her cochineal work too. You can read her equally positive results with wool on her blog here; look for her entry on 15th April, 2010.


Grinding cochineal the old fashioned way. Many people use a coffee-grinder - not used for anything else but cochineal of course! I find it quite satisfying grinding it by hand. I daresay if I did a lot of it I might be cured of this eccentricity


Berrimilla arriving in Sydney March 15th 2010. With thanks to an unknown photographer: credit will be given if they contact me!

Berrimilla, my brother Alex Whitworth and Pete Crozier arrived in Sydney on March 15th after another epic journey which completed a historical circumnavigation via the North West Passage.

Flying from the rigging are many of the flags that Berrimilla collected en route around the world (twice). They include the flags of Australia, USA, Canada, Nunavut, Greenland, Irish Republic, United Kingdom, New Zealand, the Falkland and Kerguelen Islands. Not listed, I should add, in order of collection or Berri's route would have been somewhat odder than it was.

I like this textile record of Berri's travels.The Nunavut flag is mine, and is now back, flying limply on the kitchen radiator and dreaming of Polar Bears and the ice-floes of the North West Passage. The radiator has taken it all to heart and sometimes grumbles that the enthusiastic warmth of its efforts should have merited a more appropriate flag.



Scarves and shawls bound, clamped or tied ready for the indigo vat. On the left is a wool scarf that was dyed with weld and then a weak vat of indigo to create the sharp green. Other items have been dyed with cochineal or indigo

Indigo gods from previous dye-sessions. I always make these as when I studied with Jenny Balfour Paul she explained the Japanese tradition of honouring the indigo gods. It's acknowledging that we are not particularly clever and that it's indigo and nature doing all the hard work....


Natural Dyes - Natural Indigo

Recently I have been dyeing with weld (Reseda luteola) and indigo as well as with cochineal. I bought the weld as dried dyestuff which is a first for me. I bought it from Kevin Wood in Lancashire, who grows it himself. His website is here.

Up until now I have used weld extract but as I am planning to grow some weld this year (seeds also from Kevin) I wanted to know how to dye from plant matter.

As advised by Kevin I put the dyestuff into a bag and boiled it up for over an hour in water made slightly alkaline with washing soda. The alkaline environment is supposed to aid release of the dye.

I then dyed pre-mordanted silks and some wool fabric and achieved an impressive acid yellow. This was ideal for overdyeing with indigo to create some greens.

Above : Weld-filled gauze bag after one boiling session. I found that I was still obtaining colour after two or three boilings, but the smell became moderately unbearable and reminded me of school cabbage


The Eyjafjallajoekull effect. We happen to have clear skies this week and as flights have been cancelled over most parts of northern Europe because of the volcanic ash cloud there are no planes making scribble marks across the luminous blue. In a way it's very sad that this is so remarkable.


I have been learning traditional bellringing. It's a lesson in humility since each mistake I make is heard by every inhabitant of my local town. When I mess up, everyone else in the team is messed up too.

We went on a tour of local North Devon churches last week. Here's an image of Easter flowers in a tiny village church a little north of Crediton.

Coldharbour Mill...

...should be better known. It's a museum, but also a historic wool mill with a fascinating history and with some machines still working. Over Easter the steam boilers were fired up for visitors to see something of how they operated the machinery. I am not usually excited by machines but these really captured my imagination. For more see here.


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