My exciting new method to make naturally dyed felt pictures

My first felt pictures with my new natural dye method are based on the tun house at the Peak Alum works in Ravenscar, UK. Really I should say based on the remains of the tun house. Today this is all you can see.

Helpfully a drawing by the National trust gives an idea of what the tun house would have looked like in the 17th century. I choose this place because it is beautiful and today is quiet and peaceful,.  Once the Alum it produced was an essential component of the natural dyeing process and it would have been smelly and dirty.  it a good example of the ability of the earth to recover.   A like the idea of exploited land recovering and also of this natural dyeing chemistry link across the years.

I choose this place because today it is beautiful and quiet and peaceful.  Once the Alum it produced was an essential component of the natural dyeing process and it would have been a smelly and dirty place.  It a good example of the ability of the earth to recover from industrial activity.   I like the idea of exploited land recovering and also of the natural dyeing chemistry link across the years.
A tun is a barrel and the tun house is where the Alum solution was left to crystallise before being ground into Alum flour for sale.

Inspiration and planning for my felt pictures

I am using the remaining tun house floor stones as my inspiration.
Here is a small collage made from some photos taken from immediately above the stones.


Some sketches followed and of course a plan of which colours to use from my beautiful but limited palette of colours.

I plan is to make four felt pictures.

Making my felt pictures

So with my plan and my naturally dyed stash I am ready to start.

Some prefelts above and below some fibres.

I choose my felt colours and cut prefelt pieces to size placing them on my map.

When I was happy with the layout, I reversed it onto a piece of bubble wrap. All that’s needed then is to fill in the gaps, layout the backing and felt.!!

My next steps

So far I have made three felt pieces.  Here is one example.

Now that they are dry I am going to stitch on them, then frame them ready for an exhibition in May.  I am both excited and nervous about making and displaying these felt pictures, made using my new techniques, in an exhibition.


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The challenges of my new natural dyeing technique 

When I first got into natural dyeing of felt, I wanted to make all white pieces and then dye them as a whole.  Doing this was unique and special as all the different fibres were subtle shade variations.  This process was great and taught me a lot about natural dyeing, but I towards the end of last year I was becoming frustrated with the end results of my l technique. I thought maybe I needed a new natural dyeing technique.

Why did I need a new natural dyeing technique?

My make it white,  then dye the finished pieces,  made beautiful pieces but they contained only a limited range of colours. This is perfectly obvious as they had all only seen the same dye bath. Special though it was I felt that the pieces were a bit boring as there was not much light and shade or colour variation. I was also frustrated as the technique used to make the white pieces was very different from the technique I used successfully to felt with pre dyed ( purchased ) fibres.  It was far less flexible.
I thought long and hard about the problem. In the end, I decided the only solution was to turn my natural dye felting method on its head and make it the same as my pre dye felt method. In other words dye the fibres, and fabrics, and yarns and threads up-front of felting.

A big change.

A big challenge.

A change requiring a lot of dyeing to build a naturally dyed stock before any felting can start.

Building stock for my new natural dyeing technique

For the past two months, I have been mordanting and dyeing. Using local Blue faced Leicester and Masham fibres. I like the fact they are local and they also both have a nice range of natural browns. First I  dyed using my stock of dried dye material as I was waiting for spring to arrive.

I used my dried marigolds , golden rod , the Alder cones and dock leaves.


Spring came and I picked the first fresh nettles and bought carrot tops

For blue, and greens, I purchased indigo and for red I purchased madder.

At the end of two months, I have a reasonable collection of dyed fibres, fabric and threads.

Some of my fibres


Threads for stitching and fabrics to add to my felt.

Am I ready to start felting with my new dyed material ?

Well actually probably not but I am going to anyway. I have a deadline of producing some new material by the middle of May.
I am hesitating as I am concerned about my stock levels, both of dyed material and dyeing material.     Once I have used a batch of dyed fibre I am not sure when I can make some more !

What can I do?

I think all I can do is continue to forage and harvest for materials for future dyeing on a frequent basis so I keep the stock well filled.  To this end, I have replenished my dock leaf store and plan to pick more nettles soon.

First pieces made using my new naturally dyed technique

I have been planning a new series of pieces based on peak Alum works.  Here is my first trial piece using some of my newly dyed materials.  With a few trial stitches.

This was the first step and in the next few weeks, I plan to get back to felting and test out the benefits of my new natural dyeing technique.

What will be the challenges for my new naturally dyeing technique in the future?  Clearly, it is the ongoing collection of dye material.  Then dyeing in as large a batches as I can to keep my stock full.  Then I have to manage to keep track of all the materials I have dyed and how.     A tall order !!

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