Why my love of textile machines is inspiring me.

In a dark mouldy area on the ground floor of Armley mill there are three fulling machines, textile machines, in a room that once housed many.  The machines were driven by water and large hammers smashed the wet woven cloth , shrinking it and making it warmer and water resistant.

On the more airy first floor of the mill amongst the warping, carding and spinning machines stand two jacquard head textile machines. These complex, intricate machines allowed the automation of the weaving process and were at the very start of the development of computers. Each machine contians hundreds of threads and beautiful cast levers, cogs and wheels.

Two totally amazing and totally different textile machines both key to the development of the woollen textile industry.

Armley Mill is the industrial museum of Leeds , containing not only textile machines, but a cinema and  photography equipment exhibits.  Plus lots of artefacts relating to garmet manufacture in Leeds. But among all this it’s the textile machines that grab my imagination and inspire me.

Returning to the fulling machine , my first photo in the low light captured to me what I might have been like when the machines were hammering away.

A bad case of hand shaking really !

With some help from my photographer husband I used this composite image to develop a piece of felt.

Capturing the green mouldy walls, and the elements of the fulling machine, a felted and stitched piece emerged.

In similar process I have depicted the Jacquard head in felt. There are massive amounts of machine stitching in this piece.

Inspirational textile machines

First captured in digital format and then converted into felted textile art. What a wonderful process. I love it !

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Excited by my garden dye material harvest

After a number of months being very busy with my family, I have managed finally to get into my studio this week.

What a mess.

There were flowers and leaves drying everywhere, such quite a bumper harvest from my garden this year.

Coreopsis Harvest

My coreopsis plant has really settled in , and I have cut blooms all summer long.

The dried flowers are light as a feather and I have just over 100g in storage.

Adjacent to it my rudbeckia plant is not nearly so happy.  The harvest of flowers is very poor less than 25g. I think I will probably dig it up and relocate it. ‘

French Marigold bumper harvest

In the spring I was given some small French marigold plants, and they have done very well. They were not the same variety as I grew last year, so I hope they will be as successful at producing a beautiful golden yellow on wool.

I have collected over 200g – that is a lot of fibre and fabric that can be dyed.

My new discovery of buddleia

2017 was the year when I discovered this year how successful buddleia is as a dye stuff. Surprisingly even the dead flowers. So that was a really easy pick , just needed to prune the dyeing flowers. They certainly don’t look attractive , but hopefully will give some successful dye results.


Underground harvest

I have also harvested some of my madder plant roots although I really was not sure how much I could dig up without killing the plants. Perhaps I think I was a bit cautious collecting only about 50grams of dried roots.

As part of my garden tidying up , I dug up loads of dock plants and I saved the roots of the plants.  Dried they now weigh 350grams.  I understand this will dye wool a lovely brown colour.

Overall I have had a great harvest from a relatively small number of garden plants.  I am promised a sumac tree, so next year should be even better .  Look at the lovely sight of my collection of garden materials and those obtained from foraging on my shelves.

I just need to find the time to do some dyeing now. The cold dark days in January will be ideal.


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My inspiring day at the fascinating Couleur Garance 

It rarely happens to me, that I am just in the right place at the right time.  Months ago we were asked if we would help some French friends harvest their grapes. It seemed like a good idea to us and we thought we could roll this assistance into an Autumn holiday.  Not long after all these plans were laid, I realised we would be staying not so far from the gardens at Lauris managed by Couleur Garance.  It then transpired that whilst we were there Couleur Garance were holding a natural dye forum and fair.

 What perfect timing !

Couleur Garance was founded about 20 years ago in part of the terraced gardens of Lauris castle in southern France.  The garden’s main aim is to inform everyone about natural dye plants.   Plants from around the world are assembled to tell the science of plant dyes, along with  how the plants that colour the  world.

Here is the castle (chateau)

The fair was laid out on one of the terraces of the chateau with lots of stalls all displaying beautiful natural dyed articles, materials and dye stuffs.

There were some beautiful displays of naturally dyed wool.

Along with beautiful fabrics.

We got the opportunity to have a guided tour of the Couleur Garance garden given in English. It was fascinating to see all the indigo containing plants from around the world together.

Equally fascinating was to learnt that the reason for the colourants in the madder roots is to act as pest control for the plant.  Garance is actually the French word for madder and it was once widely cultivated  on the plains around Lauris. Hence the name Couleur Garance.

There were plants I knew and many plants I was not aware of from all corners of the world. Each plant was labelled with it Latin name, it’s family name and the chemical constituent of the colour it contained.  There were also blocks of colour indicating the dye colour obtained from thr plant.

A surprise to me was that I could buy a plant of pericaria  (indigo) dye originally from China, but grown in France by Couleur Garance.  Hopefully I can persuade it that it will like to grow in the North East of England.

Here is the plant shortly to be transported back to the UK.


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Seeing the Couleur Garance garden really inspired me to  continue with more natural dyeing.  In addition  I want to try and learnt just a little more about all the dye plants and their chemistry.

Walnuts are not just for eating

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be given some green walnuts.

I had never used walnuts for dyeing before.  It was a bit of a puzzle to me as to what part of the walnuts I should use for dyeing.   Should I use them whole or chop them up.? I checked in Jenny Deans book Wild Colour and realised I should use the whole green walnut .  So I just randomly chopped the green casing away from the walnuts shell and placed the chopped up mixture in the dye pot. I did not remove the nuts.

After a short time of simmering the solution was a delicious brown colour.

I kept it simple and only dyed wool fibres, silk thread and a small piece of silk fabric. The wool fibre , which was Wensleydale long wool , had been mordanted with Alum.

The wool dyed brilliantly with the walnuts the silks far less so.  I wonder if this is down to the mordanting?


I have saved some of the walnut dye liquor.  I will try dyeing with walnuts again with some mordanted silk and some mordanted cotton.  I am not going to eat the walnuts that I dyed with , they looked very mouldy after removal from the dye liquor.    I put them on the compost heap.


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My exciting experiments with Woad 

I am keen to use locally grown dyestuff in my work, either foraged or from my garden. So earlier this year I planted some woad seeds. I had obtained the seeds from natures rainbow.

Woad has been used as a dye stuff in Britain for 100s of years and I found it remarkably easy to grow. What I did not research at the time of planting was anything about harvesting for dyeing. When I did was somewhat perplexed as to the complexity of the harvesting procedure – never mind the dyeing processes. It was clear that I needed to harvest the leaves in the first year of growth. But when , summer of autumn.  Possibly that depends when you planted the the seeds.   I have been looking at my plants now for a number of weeks , wondering is today the day to harvest.    As I have a holiday planned shortly I decided I could not wait for my return, so today I picked the leaves.

My woad plants before picking


The bald woad plants after picking



The approx 1.5 kg of leaves of woad leaves

Unfortunately there is no way if knowing whether there is any blue dye in the leaves at this point. I realised late that my plants had been planted far to close together so seemed a bit stunted. Not really ideal!

So I soaked the woad leaves in boiling water and let them cool naturally. I did not use ice cubes to speed up the cooling process. It seems over the top to me. After straining the woad leaves out I  adding washing soda and the pH shot up from approx 5 to 8.

Aerating next . A plant pot worked well, too well. So much froth. It just would not dissipate.

Eventually I got fed up waiting for the froth to go whilst trying to keep the temperature at 50 oC. I added the spectolite and waited.  Because of the froth I could not really see the dye solution to see if it had turned greeny.  I guessed that it might be ready.

I first dipped some hanks of silk yarn and then a longer scarf. Suprisingly they turned a lovely shade of turquoise. What does that mean ? I went on and successfully dyed some wool fibres, all Masham. The silk and cotton fabric were less successful.


So my first experiment worked, although not a massive amount of dye seemed to be present in the leaves.

Continuing the experiment I simmered the spent woad leaves and left them  overnight. The liquor was pink , exciting to think I might now get some pink fibres as well.
Here they all are. Not much weight of fibres and fabric , but what lovely colours.




So overall I am please my my woad experiments.  I can’t decide whether to dig up the plants , or see if we have a magical Indian summer and I can harvest more leaves before the winter.


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Too many distractions = no time for felting

September always signals a new beginning for me. It’s years since I left school I still always get that start of term feeling. This year however I am really struggling to deliver on that new term,  new start feeling,  as I have so many distractions.

Distraction one : Produce in garden










Our chaotic vegetable garden is producing an abundance of courgettes and green beans and not much else.






This require picking on a regular basis and either eating , freeezing and giving away. The courgettes won’t freeze so well. So I have made some soups and frozen that but now I have just resorted to giving them away.

Distraction Two : Garden projects

Since we renovated our house in 2016 , the area outside has reassembled a building site. Now my husband has retired he has embarked on sorting it out. I am a kind of unpaid assistant, tidying up, moving soil and with a little help building these new steps.  Many distractions here when the weather is good.











This week 4 big bags of gravel have arrived.  That is is quite a lot of wheel barrowing to do soon as well.

Distraction Three : Unfinished knitted items


I have recently joined a new knitting club at our local library and I am frankly embrassed about my unfinished knitted projects.






I can’t possibly list them all, but there a sock needing  its partner. A cardigan for me needing finishing , a cardigan for my granddaughter needing sewing up. A hat needing the ends sew in and a jumper I knitted needing either me to put on weight or to be taken in. You can be sure I have not admitted to all this at the knitting club , just quietly sat there finishing my socks .

So back to felting , I have been ignoring the garden produce this week and managed to felt another bag.









Hopefully this week I will manage to keep the distractions under control. I will finish my bag along with a couple of the smaller knitted items and be on top of things again.  Luckily the weather has turned quite rainy and I can’t possibly move gravel in the rain !


How I measure success at exhibiting textile art

In the last few years I have participated in a number of exhibitions. Exhibiting my very first time was my most successful in terms of sales. I sold out. A fluke ? I don’t know ? As I think about my pieces for a exhibition in Leeds I wonder what defines exhibiting success .

In 2012 I became aware that there would be an exhibition entitled “The dyeing of the Sun – a meditation on fire “.  I had never put a piece in an exhibition before. I thought about the exhibition brief and my mind started to think about super novas and the wonderful pictures you see of them.

They  have crazy names like crab nebulae and pelican nebulae. These pictures are produced by assigning different wave lengths to the colours of the visible spectrum. How techy.  Just my thing.  I was hooked on this as a exhibiting subject. But how could I get the twinkley effect into my felt?



My answer was to felt beads into the fabric of the felt. They were first threaded onto feltable wool so that they became an integral part of the piece.




So I made a number of pieces using different super nova and nebulae as my inspiration, and there were two placed into the exhibition.







I was totally surprised when a number of weeks later I found out both pieces had been sold. Who bought them ?   So then I measured my exhibiting success by sales. But I should also measure it my being inspired orginally and developing a new felt making technique .

I was so pleased to be selected to take part in the “From the Earth” exhibition in 2016 with a naturally dyed piece.









This success and seeing all the other naturally dyed pieces being exhibited in the exhibition has spurred me into continuing to progress my natural dyeing work. Two pieces of mine that were naturally dyed were sold from an exhibition in Scarborough this week. Another little boost.

In another recent exhibition I placed very high prices on my precious naturally dyed pieces as I did not want to sell them.  I need to save them to be in another naturally dyed exhibition. So no sales were a success in this instance.









They did look good on the wall.

Looking forward to exhibiting next year at Armley mill, again this is different . It’s a collaborative event with all participants inspired by the venue.  It will be wonderful to see all the different ideas and interpretations.

So for me, I am very lucky that it does not have to be all about sales.  It’s about the taking part, the inspiration process and the impact this has on my future work .

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After a few years of experience of exhibiting , my  first experience with 100% sales was definitely a fluke.

The benefits of integrated felt bag handles 

As I lay out the fibres for my latest felt bag, I am reflecting on the options for felt bag handles. For me a bag of whatever kind has to have a handle. I just can’t manage clutch bags and in truth I struggle to use any bag that can’t hang comfortably on my shoulder.

There are many methods to make a handle for a felt bag. The handle can be made from felt or an alternative material like canvas or leather. It can be integrated into the bag as part of the design , or it can be attached in a variety of ways. I am thinking of :

  • Stitching
  • Loops
  • Ties
  • Knots

All of which I have tried at one time or another.














These handles all work but what I really like are fully integrated felt bag handles.


Because I think integrating fully integrating the handles,  is what sets felt bags apart.    It makes them unique.   With some thought the handles can be integrated seamlessly, giving simultaneously strength and style. That’s just not possible with fabric or leather.  Maybe is possible wth knitting or crochet  ?  But a knitted bag is not very stylish.

Here is an example of a bag I have made wth two integrated handles

the corded handles are felted into the fabric of  the felt bag and also form the start of the cord edging of the felt bag

the integrated cord gives the bag structure







A more substational felt bag made from the beautiful Gotland wool.  Here the handles are intergated into the back and the front of the bag giving it stability and shape.


Both bags are different in design but based the same integration principles.  Both have unique and fully integrated handles.

I made a bag recently at a workshop that I really like and it’s got leather handles. This adds contrast and is very easy to do.

Gladstone Bag










What I am currently wondering is can I modify this bag design to give it integrated handles. This is quite crazy idea really as it will make the bag much  more complicated to make. I think if I am going to do it,  I will need to make  strap like handles, or maybe strap like at the end and cords in the middle.

So even though I think integrated handles have benefits ,   I think , this time , I will make a bag without integrated handles.  I will continue to ponder the best method of attaching them for the next bag.

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Why I enjoy the excitement of Eco Printing

Eco printing is fun, exciting  and for me a good change from natural dyeing and felting.   Here in the UK now is the ideal time for eco printing.   The flowers are blooming and the sap is rising as the spring turns in summer. I had a great experience with a workshop in 2016 with the wonderfully generous Fabienne Dorsman-Rey at Art Van Go .  This year I have refreshed some of my Eco printing knowledge as I was lucky enough to win a free workshop with Kathy Hays.

Their Eco Printing methods are not the same but are very complimentary and I would recommend them both.

Looking back a year ago I am delighted with this eco printed and slow stitched cloth I made during and after Fabienne’s workshop.

I also incorporate Eco printed silk into felt pieces. Below you can see where I used the almost shibori dyed edge of a piece of ecoprinted silk chiffon to represent cliffs.

This year pieces include this beautiful sample eco printing with continus, geranium coreospsis and fern.

I have also been trying my hand at making ecoprinted scarfs. I am quite pleased with my first attempt.

The photo is not so good, but I cant find a good way to photiograph a long scarf.  Can anyone advise me ?

This scarf has been Eco printed with geranium and budlehia and  natural dyed with onions.

When it stops raining I need to start harvesting some leaves as I have learnt from Kathy Hays that prnting will work well with dried leaves.  This has the advantage that I can enjoy Eco Printing during the rest of the year.

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Why I enjoy Eco printing

I love the colours you get with natural dyes although the process can be frustrating in its unpredictability. But I find there is a lot of  excitement and even more unpredictability by adding prints of leaves.  I especially enjoy slowly unrolling my Eco Prining bundles and anticipating what has happened during the process.  If you haven’t tried I would encourage you to give it a go.

Why am I building an unique scrap hoard?

I never thought I would be building a scrap hoard with all my thread scraps and felt scraps and then reusing them.

When I first started natural dyeing, I stitched the felt before dyeing but I did not cut off all the loose ends. They were left until the piece was dyed and them tidied up. At this point I started saving the excess threads and sometimes adding an extra stitch or two with the small amounts of spare thread. This was not very satisfactory as I was so very limited in the amount of thread. So I quickly started making some extra dyed threads by adding small hanks of cotton and silk threads into the dye bath with my felt pieces. I saved these yarn scraps made during this process. This was the start of my scrap hoard.

Early this year started dyeing separately all the constituent parts of my felt work. The wool fibres, the fabrics and the threads and yarns . Different dye baths with mixed fibres dye together.

This give me the opportunity to make more colourful pieces .

Now I found I was saving even the smallest thread cut off when tidying up the back of my work. To begin with I had no real rational for saving these tiny scraps. They just seemed precious. All that time harvesting , mordanting dyeing etc.

Now I know they have a use. Below are a few and it only needs a few incorporated into a piece of felt and really lifting it.

But of course it hasn’t stopped with hoarding scraps of thread.  No my hoarding habit is spreading.  I am now saving every scrap of felt that is spare and of course all the scraps of fabric.

Can I use these?

Well I am not really sure , but I am certainly not going to be throwing them out. I have made a little postcard felt picture from them .

So here is the answer to my question of why I am building an unique scrap hoard !

Every bit of my naturally dyed yarn , fibre and fabric is precious to me. They can’t be simply bought again. I hope my process are robust enough that they can be made again, but probably not identically. So every scrap is an unique,  a part of my dyeing process to be treasured and used again if at all possible.


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