We popped to Lytes Cary last month which is a beautiful National Trust property, and I picked up a leaflet about their Contemporary Craft Weekend in partnership with Somerset Art Works. They were running a series of workshops and one in particular caught my eye – Practical Dyeing Workshop and Foraging Walk, with Flora Arbuthnott. I’d seen something similar on Countryfile recently (apparently I’ve reached that age where people watch it, or maybe it’s the move to the country…), and it sounded intriguing. Little did I know that it was actually Flora who had been on Countryfile!
Anyway the workshop was so popular that I ended up on a waiting list, but thankfully Flora decided to do two workshops so I quickly booked a place. Last Sunday I headed back to Lytes Cary for the workshop set in one of the rustic barns on the property. Flora had brought along her collection of dried and fresh flowers and talked us through the colours we could get using them, some of which were surprising. For example buddleia makes yellow! She taught us about mordants such as symplocos which helps brighten colours, and showed us her copper and iron solutions made from soaking metal in water and vinegar. We used silk, and bundle dyeing using steam to ensure we could make a dyed piece in the time we had.
I couldn’t resist buying some extra fabric to compare the delicate silk with the raw silk so I made two separate pieces. Firstly in the raw silk which is a bit thicker, I used hibiscus, buddleia, rose petals, symplocos and copper solution (basically a bit of everything, I couldn’t help myself!).
After tightly wrapping the bundles and putting them on to steam, Flora took us on a walk through the gardens where she talked us through both the wild and cultivated plants that could be used for dying. From ivy, to tree bark, berries, to nettles and docks roots, she is a font of knowledge! The foraging walk was a real eye opener and has inspired me to gather more from my garden.
So back to the dyeing….the thinner silk didn’t take as long so I unwrapped that one first, and I wasn’t disappointed, the colours were amazing! All from natural plants and flowers found in the garden! A beautiful mix of orange and purple.
The ease with which you can use plants from the garden for this is amazing, and it is such a simple process when you know more about it. If you get the chance I’d highly recommend going to one of Flora’s workshops (she’s based in Bristol) or take a look at her website www.wilddyedgarden.co.uk – you’ll learn more from one of her workshops than you could learn from a pile of books on the subject.
I’ll definitely be trying this again at home, and I’m going to be gathering up flowers and plants from my garden – jars of petals would look gorgeous on a shelf, and why waste them? Silk scarves would make lovely presents, and I’m thinking of turning the raw silk I dyed into some lavender bags for Christmas gifts.