Monday, 1 November 2010


this book could seriously change your life

India Flint's beautiful book has been sitting on my bookshelf for a number of months. I bought it on the recommendation of various friends, knowing it was a must have, but hadn't found the time to look at it properly. . . Until I spent a morning with Hannah Lamb collecting items for dyeing using some of the methods that India describes. As a result I was prompted to actually pull the book off the shelf and start to read it properly. Apart from the fact that it is absolutely beautiful to look at it has just what I needed to get me going on some dyeing adventures.

I've been interested in natural dyeing for a long time and have dabbled with bits and pieces in the past, mostly with indigo. I have a couple of books already on the subject but somehow the scientific nature of them was quite daunting - alum, mordanting, specific temperatures... all a bit unapproachable somehow. So, although the idea of natural dyeing appealed the practicality meant I hadn't quite got round to it yet.

We have to get to grips with procion dyes at college - really exciting and useful - but I've always had this nagging discomfort with some of the processes because of the use of chemicals and the amount of water that is required. If I make ethical choices in certain parts of my life (the washing powder I use, the printer paper I buy and the vegetables I feed my family) then really I should be making my choices to do with work based on the same principles and ethics. But of course the practicalities so often get in the way.

On the final year of my degree we are required to write our own briefs and make more choices for ourselves. I had previously thought that I could investigate some of the changes I would like to make to my practice after I finish, but actually I've realised that now is the time to be making them.

Now I've started to digest India's processes and understand a little more about the methods (thanks to Hannah) I realise that a lot of it is actually very simple. India encourages an experimental approach (more Nigel Slater than Delia Smith!) so she makes all sorts of suggestions based on her extensive experience but really emphasises that on top of the basic principles so much is up to the individual and the different elements you put into the dyeing alongside the numerous variables to do with location and the time things are left to process.

So, hoping to be able to use natural dyes in my project work, I've started to experiment a little with what I have available to me. This is just the starting point but experiments have to start somewhere.

Leaves I collected at the Yorshire Sculpture Park last week were wrapped in silk, wool and cotton (pre-mordanted in tea and ash water)

and bundled up for steaming.

Nettles (collected at my parent's last week) were ripped up (with gloves on!) and left to soak in rainwater

as was chopped red cabbage

and grated beetroot

Tayberries, gooseberries, blackberries and damsons from the freezer were put into jars, topped up with rainwater and left to infuse.

They all look quite scrummy in their jars but we'll have to see if they produce scrummy colours in time.


  1. Hey, this is one of our books - glad it's useful! India has a new book coming out next year, called Second Skin, along the same themes of eco-friendliness but about clothing. I'm sure we can sort you out with a copy to review on your blog if you like!

  2. have only just found this page [thanks to you alerting me about your review of 'second skin'] and can offer some useful advice...
    steaming in a metal pot with a lid will offer far more satisfying results than that bun-steamer [from which all the lovely hot air leaks] :D
    and thank you for the kind review!

  3. Thank you. I have been using a metal pot since with good results. With those first tentative experiments it seemed like a good thing to use... we all learn through doing though!