Natural Dyeing – a Novel way to research

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Dried natural dye plant material

Well, when you SAY it as opposed to READ it it does cause confusion (and a little consternation if not concern) however, this is all soon put right when I explain  (waving hands about) that I mean dyeing – with COLOURS from natural plants.

A good friend of mine runs workshops from her beautifully converted small barn at Nine Acres near Callington, Cornwall. Workshops on all sorts of crafts. This one was on DYEING USING NATURAL PLANTS .

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Preparing the Weld
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The colour begins to come out – looking a bit green at this stage

So on  a chilly morning we met and after a welcoming cuppa went out into the garden to see some of these plants in their natural state. Now, as this was early winter most were as as stalks of dried out flower stems, or low growing base leaves, but it gave us the idea about the ones that were native or could be grown easily in the UK

Back in the barn we were shown a range of plant material we could work with, some harvested from Jane’s garden, some bought in, some native, some not.

There were eight of us and four work-stations and it was suggested we pair up and each pair work on a different dye in the morning, and yet a different one in the afternoon. Some people had come together, easy pairing. I was there for a very specific reason.

Jane had been to our WI and demonstrated dyeing using Woad, a native plant, and I wanted to know about dyeing using other native plants.

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The resultant colour from using dried Weld plant

 

I said ‘I want to dye with WELD,’ and immediately another guest said, ‘yes, me too!’ This is how Sally and I started working together.

As we gathered the ingredients together I confessed I wasn’t so much interested in dyeing for the product – but that I was researching for a book I want to write one day. Her response was ‘Me too. I’m researching for a book.’

RESEARCH

We worked on the WELD, producing a yellow dye which we then coloured some prepared sheep-wool with. As we worked so I learned of her Trilogy about the real historical figure, Caradoc, set in AD 25 onwards and I told her of my idea to write the legend (that doesn’t exist) to explain the naming of our church after an obscure Irish nun from the late 600s.  Both of us wanting to absorb the sights and smells that may permeate the backgrounds of our stories.

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Dried Madder roots pieces put in together with the wool (before adding water)
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Picking out Madder roots bits from the dyed wool

Now when it comes to researching for novels it can often be done at a remove. You can find many things out now with a carefully worded internet search request and a few clicks of the button. I have also ‘flown’ myself to different parts of the world when researching as I mentioned  here  in another blog – where I wanted my main character Luke Adamson in  The Angel Bug to travel to a prison facility in the USA.

Then you can ‘pick the brains’ of people you know (policemen / doctors / engineers /whatever) for the bits that research cannot really tell you  – sounds, smells, pain-levels, consequences etc.

You can also ‘extrapolate’ from your own experiences. You take the feeling / physical experience from say, the scary experience when some idiot was overtaking and caused a near-miss situation … and develop that snap-shot gut-twist  into the feeling that your character has in a near-death situation.

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From top Weld, Madder and Weld mix) Madder (un-soaked – so pale) and Woad (winter leaves so pale)

And then you can do some first hand work and absorb these sights, textures and smells yourself.

In the afternoon we worked with the third native natural dye – Madder, though the dried root we used was un-soaked, so did not give the deep ‘Beef-Eater Uniform’ red it should. The scent of under-simmering madder (you mustn’t let it boil) seemed sweet in comparison to the ‘cabbage smell’ of the weld, especially noticeable as we compared them directly.  Then at a whim we mixed the remaining Weld Dye with the left-over Madder liquid to produce a pleasant peachy colour.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peek at Authors researching and the world of workshop experiences. I am happy to say that Sally’s trilogy will be published by my partnership publisher (Pendown Publishing) so we’ll get to see more of each other as our books go out together into the market.

Do you enjoy going on workshops?

What is the best thing you have ever done on one?

Do share, you know I love to hear from you.

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