Book Review: Natural Dyes by Gwen Fereday

Note to self: this is the last natural dye book that will be bought for the Stately Barr Manor Studio!

On the advice of someone on the FB Natural Textile Dyeing group (someone i trust 🙂 ),  i ordered a copy of Gwen Fereday’s “Natural Dyes”.

It’s available through used book sellers, but i bypassed Amazon as it was rather expensive ($55-158!!!!!) , just in case it was garbage. I bought mine from Abe books, from the  seller Broad Street Book Centre (an actual bricks and mortar store in NJ Hereford, an actual real live book store!!!),  and was happy to pay slightly less than 30US including the shipping from the US. EDIT: This seller is in the UK! And them sending on the 18th of December, to arrive here on the 27th was impressive also.

And it IS worth the money. Very clear, as the author is also a well respected teacher at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design at University College in the UK, it explains everything from proper pre-treatment of fabrics, both protein and cellulose, to specific dye types, and through to the most wonderful colour plates with “recipes” for achieving the colours. Best of all, as much information is presented for the cellulose as for proteins–while i like wool, and am happy with my results, i prefer to work with cellulose, specifically cotton, and let’s face it, most natural dye books barely give a passing mention to anything but wool!

For the longest time, my cotton results were frankly, lousy, because there was little clear information. I did hunt around and eventually found the tannin/alum method for cellulose (Turkey Red Journal), and that made a world of difference. I still felt there had to be more out there–let’s face it, the average dyer of yore would have been working with linen, cotton or local indigenous fibres, not silk, and possibly not even wool, depending on the geographics.

Even more specifically, and exciting, is that decent mention is made of Turkey Red Oil, a type of sulphated Castor oil, often used historically to deepen reds from madder, hence the “Turkey Red” (not the bird, the locale!) I found a near by supplier–REALLY near by, as in 20 blocks away!!!! It can be used with other colours/dye materials, so i want to play with it, and buying a SMALL bottle of it will mean that effort/expense/extra steps are not wasted or being committed to.

But i digress 🙂 The only point i don’t like about the book is the extremely heavy WOF of cochineal used: 60%!!!!!! as opposed to the usual 3-10%WOF!!!!!!!!!!! (EDIT: JAN 10/17 Actually a lot of her recipes are really heavy WOF’s (500% madder????)—i’d say overkill in some respects, as fibres can still only uptake so much before it’s wasted effort, materials and EXPENSE. And if it crocks after, well, big problems.) And yes, a lot of the info contained is also in other respected books in my library, but the extras i needed are what’s made it worth adding to the shelf. If i *didn’t have any of the others, it would be a fantastic start to the library too. And best of all, no wasted pages on “projects”: really, i’ve said it before, if you didn’t know you could actually MAKE things out of what you dyed, WTF are you doing it for then?

Anyhoo. The next step is to figure some time management so i am not obsessing about one thing, as i am wont to do :), but dividing my efforts between this, and some serious stiching again, so that both are “sustainable”, i.e. they get DONE, not just blethered about.

10 responses to “Book Review: Natural Dyes by Gwen Fereday

  1. I struggle with prices on books at times as well. A friend of mine has authored quilting books. In describing how much goes into creating these books, I can appreciate it more. It helps if you can see more of the book before you actually purchase it; however, this is not always practical when you have to order it online.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Having taught classes where i had to do the samples, the writing and photography, and having self published, i know the effort put in. That being said, i don’t buy books based on how long it took to write or the complexity of the process being published, but for new techniques/processes, or fact based information. Too many books (quilting especially) are re-hashes of what has already been around for aeons, and too many, despite the pretty pictures, are wasted money and expectation. I want/need reference books, not coffee table, kitchen scrap, latest trend, self aggrandizement 🙂


    • Postage is always a killer, one reason i was thoroughly surprised and pleased with this particular bookseller. Sometimes shipping to Canada is more expensive than the product!


  2. Latest issue of Väv magazine mentions the Turkey oil as well! Sounds like this is a book worth looking for, if I ever decide to dive into cellulose again. Like I haven’t got enough to do, but still. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Uh-oh…some of the other book samples look fantastic too–because of the 200/300/500%WOF’s used…………rather excessive, so will experiment with usual amounts!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Must be nice to have a University budget for that quantity of dyes 😉 )

    Liked by 1 person

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