Scottish Natural Dyes with Carole Keepax

Helendyeing reports1 Comment

The talk that Carole gave in the morning was very interesting. Carole had just recently finished her Certificate of Achievement which was many volumes of work examples, recipes, historical evidence of dyeing in Scotland and beautiful drawings of the dye plants.  The whole certificate would make a wonderful reference book for people to dip into both historically and on a practical level when dyeing with natural dyes.  I hope one day she will publish her work.

Carole comes from an Archaeology background and so was in an excellent position to give a good historical framework for the dyes used in Scotland from the earliest written recorded evidence and samples both in archaeology and in tapestries and portraits.  It was interesting hearing when dyes started being imported to Scotland, when the process become more commercial and the cottage industry declined and brighter stronger colours came into fashion.  Carole showed some lovely slide examples of early dyed cloth and embroidery, paisley shawls and army jackets.

wp1a7b5649_06We forget that all dyed cloth was dyed with natural dyes before chemical dyes came into being fairly late on.

The lunch break allowed those of us who were staying for the afternoon workshop to catch up and chat about projects.

In the afternoon Carole gave handouts about dyeing with natural dye extracts and explained the process and how to mix the dye stocks if starting from scratch.  Carole had brought ready mixed dye solution so we did not have to mix any powder with masks on.  In the meantime wool and silk that we had brought with us was being mordanted with alum soaked and simmered for an hour.  While we waited for this to be ready we were given a box of pre-mordanted materials to experiment with. We could either cut these into small pieces and put a different dye onto each piece to act as a record of colour or experiment with colour mixing.  We put the dye on the material on top of cling film which we then worked in and folded and put in the microwave for between 1 and 5 minutes depending on the amount being dyed.  Most of us opted to keep our examples wrapped until we got home as it could continue fixing and strengthening over 24 hours before unwrapping and rinsing.

The natural dye colours were very subtle and worked well together and would be wonderful for a project, such as the quilt Carole had made with beautiful cut out motifs. She also had a wonderful array of wool and silk blends from these dyes.  Some of the natural dyes used were madder, cochineal, weld, fustic, logwood purple, brazilwood, cutch, quebrachio red, pomegranate, chlorophyllin and teal. These extracts definitely made the whole process simple and easy to use, although I think it takes time to learn the different strengths of colour and quantities to use when mixing to make new colours.

I felt I learned a lot and would be happy to buy some in the future and enjoyed the day. I felt the combination of talk and workshop went well and Carole made the day an enjoyable experience.

Sarah Grant

It was very inspiring to see Carol’s collection of work relating to dyes which she had undertaken for her certificate of achievement. Her files of dye samples were so detailed that they would make an excellent resource material for dyers, if they were to be published.

Carol’s illustrated talk on Scottish natural dyes was of much interest to our members. It had been very well researched historically. It was fascinating to realise how many natural materials, such as countless heathers and lichens, had been in common usage as dye materials until very recent times, particularly in Island communities. The importance of continuing to impart such knowledge to future generations was raised, as well as concerns over environmental protection.

Hilma Rask

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