An unexpected blue!!

This dyeing lark can becoming a bit addictive!! Since I started I find myself looking at plants in a whole new light; where before I thought about texture, colour and where the plant would fit in my garden, I now find myself looking at a plant and wondering what colour would it give to my wool? This now also seems to apply to the vegetables I cook!

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After my beetroot experiments. someone mentioned red cabbage as another plant that gives unexpected results. Naturally I had to give it a go, so I went back to the greengrocer (he really is a lovely man) and got some cabbage.

While I have no proof that the vikings would have used red cabbage as a dye stuff, it is another example of a colour which my be achieved from using natural dyes.

I used the same principle as the beetroot (twice the weight of dye material to the weight of wool), and the same method of preparing the dyebath.

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I used some wool that I had mordanted with alum before, and when I first added the wool I was quite hopeful of getting a pinky rose colour; it looked quite promising.

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But one thing that natural dyeing has taught me is that things are seldom as they appear; after half an hour the wool had changed colour again…….. to a more slate blue.

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After simmering for an hour, washing and rinsing, here’s what I got…………….. blue! A very nice blue.

It’s another good colour to add to the previous ones.

However I have been told that red cabbage is not completely light fast (and that it may fade in colour). I’ll just have to keep an eye on it and see if that’s true or not.

Now, what else have I lying in my fridge?

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Valle Crucis; another Welsh gem!

On a recent trip home through Wales we stopped off again in Llangollen. We had a day to spare, so we decided to go and visit Valle Crucis Abbey which is just up the road. The ruined abbey lies on the road to the Horseshoe Pass; another beautiful place to visit. It is also known more formally as The Abbey Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. You can get more information about the abbey’s history and architectural information Castle Wales website. Further reading and pictures can be found on Wikipaedia.

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The name Valle Crucis means Valley of the Cross; the ruins nestle in the valley under the hills surrounding Llangollen. We visited in October when the heather and the trees on the hills had already taken on that wonderful autumnal gold.

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The site is wonderfully maintained by Cadw. There is an entrance fee, but it is well worth it.
Valle Crucis is a breathtakingly haunting place to visit; the abbey was built by the Cistercian monks in 1207, but now  lies in ruins having been one of the monasteries affected by the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in 1537. Here are a few photos to give you an idea of what Valle Crucis looks and feels like.

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There are some pathways to follow but a lot of the site is not paved so care might be needed on damp days; I went sliding on a grass bank because I wasn’t looking where I was going!

When you reach the rear of the site there is a duck pond – complete with ducks! These little guys were very active;there was a lot of chasing each other around the pond, and it was also very vocal. You could actually hear them way before you could see them.

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The small white house in the last picture has a little visitors centre. When you enter the building you can hear the chants of the monks, and there is even one writing at his desk. Okay, so he’s not real. but he did give me a start when I walked in the door.

08-DSCF2759It’s not too hard to imagine what it would have been like for those monks here in this Welsh valley all those years ago, as they spent their time in prayer and contemplation.

The stonework in the abbey is amazing; I often wonder when walking around sites like this how they ever managed to build them. This is a photo of the vaulted ceiling in one of the buildings.

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Here are a few more photos of the buildings. I don’t normally photo-shop my pictures, but I was trying to capture the stonework in the buildings.

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I love this place; it has that far from the maddening crowd’ feeling about it.
Next time you’re passing in the area, take an hour and go and visit.

Beetroot……..not what you might expect!

Beetroot stains………everything! It stains chopping boards, fingers, dishcloths and white cotton material a deep crimsony red. So as a natural dyer you’d be forgiven for thinking that you wouldd get that colour if you dyed wool with beetroot. Sorry guys – not gonna happen.

I figured the best way to show this would be to dye some wool with beetroot and share my results.

First thing to do was to get some beetroot, so I headed back to friendly greengrocer and bought some.
All the literature I had read suggested twice the weight of dye material to weight of wool. However I wasn’t feeling overly confident about this project, so I bought 900g beetroots to dye 300g of wool.

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After a quick wash, the wonderful colour was more apparent….. maybe it would work; after all my fingers were now red!

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I chopped the beetroot up, covered with rain water and boiled for an hour. I use rainwater as it is more natural than the tap water in my area.
Then to extract as much dye as possible, I drained that off, re-covered the beetroot and repeated the process. In the pot the water had turn a wonderful shade of crimson.

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In a previous post about mordants, I had commented that some dye materials do not stick to the wool. Beetroot is one of these.  So I decided to do a little experiment; dye one hank in the half the dye-bath with un-mordanted wool. It looked so promising, however as soon as I took the wool out of the pot the colour went; I now had a very pale beige colour.
One thing I should point out is that the photographs are not exact replicas of the colours I’ve achieved, but they should give an indication of what happened.

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It wasn’t a colour that really appealed to me. Anyway, after boiling for another hour, I got this;

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It’s a very pale beige colour. And there you have it; dye extracted from beetroot will not stick to wool that is not mordanted.
But would a mordant make much, if any, difference?

I’d already mordanted some wool and I added that to the dye-bath. Still no vivid red, but at this stage any colour would have been good; this looked more promising.

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When I took the wool out of the pot, the colour held. Not the brilliant red one would expect from beetroot, but a soft peachy gold colour.

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I left the wool simmering in the pot for an hour. I let the wool cool, then rinsed it through in cool water. When i was finished I had two hanks of peach gold wool. They’re quite a nice colour actually.

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As a comparison, this is a photo of the mordanted and unmordanted wool together. The colours in the photo are not as true to life as I’d like them, but I think they give an idea of the colours achieved and the need for a mordant if using beetroot as a dye-stuff.

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This was quite fun to do.
As a dye material, beetroot will not give you a vivid red (unfortunately) but it will give a rather nice peach gold colour. Would I use it again – yes!

Battle of Hastings……..2012

In 1066, Duke William of Normandy defeated Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings….. to be honest, these words are ingrained in my memory. One of my childhood memories revolves around this battle; my sister must have had a history test coming up, and my mum was helping her revise for it. They were sitting in the porch of the little house we grew up in; my sister lying on the floor walking her feet up and down the walls, and my mum beside her in the old white armchair. Mum reads the passage ‘In 1066, Duke William of Normandy defeated Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings’ and my sister replies ‘I didn’t get that mummy – read it again!’ So on it went…….. needless to say my sister didn’t turn out to be a history buff!

I’m not going to attempt to write a history of the Battle of Hastings here, but  you can find out the background to the battle here.

Suffice to say that while Harold was defeating Harold Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25th September 1066, William was preparing to land his forces at Pevensey Bay in Sussex. The two forces met at Senlac Hill on Saturday 14th October 1066.

Each year the battle is re-enacted in the present-day town of Battle, East Sussex, in the grounds of Battle Abbey. I’ve been fortunate to attend this for several years now; it’s like an end of season event for the re-enactors before winter sets in.  It’s a great event to attend with participants from the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe.

The site is laid out with both Norman and Saxons encampments, and the battle follows the script of the actual battle. Most years the weather is beautiful; but in 2012 it was quite simply a mud bath, apart from the battlefield.

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The Saxons line out at the top of the hill, in front of the abbey walls………

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with the Normans approaching from the foot of the hill.

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A key part of Williams army was his cavalry. Personally I always envy the guys and girls that get to do the cavalry fighting as I have always loved horse-riding.

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They are very skilled and quite adept at getting their mounts to engage with warriors on foot – this takes quite a lot of training and practice, both for the riders and the horses!

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Another key feature of the re-enactment are the archers.

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The battle script tells how the Normans attack up the hill and eventually the Saxons break ranks to follow them, allowing the Normans to take advantage and win the battle. Harold is killed by an arrow to the eye, and William becomes William I of England. We would come to know him as William the Conqueror.

I’ve included a few more photos; hopefully they demonstrate the level of skill and fighting that these re-enactors display.

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Unfortunately plans for a battle in 2013 had to be put on hold to let the grounds recover; we’ll be back in 2014!