It's no wonder dyers and tanners used to live on the outskirts of the town! At SAW in November we took a whiff of some of the pongs created by natural dyestuffs and the 'mordants' - natural salts, such as alum, that were used to make the colour permanent - to me, wool soaking in a weld solution smelt a bit like drains and old socks combined!
Chris showed us all the colours you can make from a small number of plants: Weld, a plant with little yellow flowers produces striking yellows through to mild greens; the root of the Madder plant makes deep reds to red-browns; onion skins create a range of warm browns and tans; but what is most magical, is watching as wool which has been soaking in woad solution, is lifted out of the water and turns from a murky green into strong blue.
We all helped Chris to prepare the woad plants by ripping up the leaves by hand
which left us all 'green-fingered'!
Everyone got the chance to create their own dye pot to take home - the longer it's left the stronger the colour - we wait to see who leaves their pot the longest!
Then we got weaving!
Chris showed us examples of different hand looms and 'heads' which twist the threads to make more complicated patterns - some heads are made of wood and some of leather and they come in different shapes with varying numbers of holes.
Most people got themselves in a bit of a tangle trying to understand the deceptively simple craft of 'stick-weaving' - that is using a stick to hold the ends of two colours of wool, in order to hand-weave a braid. It's not as easy as Chris made it look!
On top of all this activity Aidan was filming the session , finding out how everyone was getting on - so we can't wait to see his results.
Despite the knots and pongs, everyone seemed to have a good time, so we say a big 'Thank You' to Chris for all her superb information and for passing on her skills and 'thank you' to Jane and everyone at Priory Country Park for letting us use your facilities and to all the helpers, including 'Jim-the-Camera'.
Next session Saturday, see you there!