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.


how much does a year?

I used to judge myself on how many things were finished in a year . In the last six years, i’ve let myself slow down, with technique, thinking process, research and results. It’s much more satisfying for me to view work that i am connected to *because* i have taken “more time”. It seems very much to me that quantity over quality, fast fix over real depth has become the way for some to feel they are Artists. I don’t believe any of the masters in any other medium keep a ledger on how many paintings/sculptures/plates/widgets, whatever they have produced each month. It actually makes me laugh too when i see articles about the newest stitching SuperStar “who takes up to 35 hours to do each piece!!!!!!!!! OMG!!!!” Some of us count into the several 100’s, even 1000’s………… No, it doesn’t make us better/more involved/more enlightened, but please, it doesn’t mean we are not conscious of what we are doing just because we count them either. (All creativity is mindful)

Time also has the advantage of your voice and style being added to the work. When you slow down (and i’m not talking about just hand stitching or embroidery here, as that is *not* what “slow” means or what the Slow Cloth movement is about), you actually have the luxury of really looking at what you are doing, can ask yourself if design elements or techniques actually fit with what you are doing, if what you are doing is truly important enough to you to actually/factually do, and really get personal with the cloth. You also learn to fix mistakes, not just cover them up–though as we all know, the occasional mistake can be serendipitous. That can apply to machine work, or any of the fancy “buy more product” mixed media projects as well. It often seems also that speed kills creativity in the competition to try everything, new under the sun or not.

I don’t want to be prolific anymore, i want to be profound. (Even if that is only in *my* head, not recognized by my “peers”…) Of course, the last paragraph of this post aside–because time is precious, does not last forever,  and who might die tomorrow?—- time is also needed to play, to experiment, to simply fart around, but time also must be used wisely and judiciously so that millisecond of Profundity is recognized and acted upon.

Over the last five months of this year, having finished a really large intensive commission, i have found myself at an impasse with my work. I pull out things: sketches, fabrics, notes and get all excited, then realize the momentary WhatIf is not a sustainable mood or strong enough desire to actually do it. I’m an Idea Gadbee right now i guess, too many flowers to visit, not enough time to get back to the inner Hive. There are an awful lot of posts here in the time since “Tabula Memoria” that will just have to sit and seed. I don’t like being one of those people who posts over and over about what they are GOING to do, instead of just doing it. Or not 🙂 Admittedly, my work blog has a hell of a number of those, but that’s good for future mining.

These last few weeks of the year 2017 are being spent with noodling around, and returning to, if not finishing, a few old old old projects that *do* want to be worked on OR finished (still not counting with those), and so, whatever happens, happens.

It’s not so much about the hand, as it is the involved mind. Originality doesn’t arrive at lightening speed, nor does Becoming an Artist. In the words of The Old English Poets “Ti-i-i-ime is on my side, yes it is, yes it is.”

becoming a purple thread

Certainly a vanity, thinking one knows everything, but i’ve always subscribed to “Learn something new everyday, and you know you’re not dead” — i *don’t* know everything, but i do my research and i’m happy to not only do the correct thing, but to riff on that once the lesson is learned. If i need an affirmation of something i’ve done or a puzzlement needs solving, i’ll ask, but i don’t JUST ask and expect the whole answer “with 8×10 glossies and paragraphs and arrows on the back” to be handed to me on a silver platter.

I remember asking a Contextural member a long time ago how she achieved a certain shade in her natural dyeing/ecoprinting, and she sweetly and truthfully replied “Every dyer has her secrets” with no smugness, and in all honesty. I took that to heart, learning what i could and often failing because i didn’t follow the basics first.

I’ve got that part well sussed now, and am quietly thrilled with the tried and true, and the experimenting. All of this past week’s naturally dyed threads here have notes on each as to what it is, but you’ll have to figure out certain parts for yourself 🙂

And the details in close-up:

Where these threads go next will be “the long white gown”,  metaphorically speaking.


Excuse me? Because i count the hours it takes to make something, do my stitching, i’m “cheapening” and “commodifying” my work???????????????????????????????????????

I’m not one to get into that mind-set that all creative work is “meditative”, but there are moments when it comes close. Often, my hands are occupied, while my brain sorts other tasks, or tunes out completely while watching tubage, whether it’s informative, trash, entertainment or “current”. I also sit without outside stimulus, sometimes i’m outside listening to the birds, sometimes i’m on the train conversing with fellow passengers. Time slows and speeds during these periods. “Mindful”? Well, all of creativity is mindful, whether good or bad. Intuition and spontaneity still spring from the subconscious, whether or not my brain is in Alpha, Beta or Theta mode. I will not/do not buy into that arena that says i can be/am only an artist when i am zoned out. I certainly can’t do it while in Delta, but maybe, just maybe, perhaps more likely, some of it is Gamma. Look all that up, the types of brain waves. When you come out of your coma, maybe.

When you PM me to take me to task for counting hours, instead of just “going with the flow”, you are saying my way of working is inferior to yours. You want to get nasty? I think your work that consists of attaching ragged scraps together in a cacaphony of colour and pattern, “embroidered” solely with running stitch and “completed” in two days is the cop out in this case. But that’s just my opinion.

I count hours for good reason. Deadlines must be met, commissions must be paid for –i can’t start a project that takes hundreds of hours to do if the deadline is in two weeks; i can’t AFFORD to sell work that takes hundreds of hours for a pittance, like maybe you’re fine with, because “you love doing it” as you “release the love into the world”.

In the final analysis, i do what i do because i DO LOVE it. You don’t like the way i work, tough beans, BabyCakes. My methods are my own, and they are no more “wrong” than your way. If it turns your crank, go ahead, but hands off the keyboard when you criticize my way as perverse.



not political but…..

But i AM a citizen of our beautiful fragile world. I keep seeing blacked out profile photos as people protest the Dumpster. Mine is a little more hopeful. I am VERY grateful that i am Canadian, but fear the way the world may will be affected by this narcissistic lunatic.



And i spend way too much time on FB, gonna have to cut that back, as it’s really starting to get me angry from that man, abused animal pictures, photos of dinners had, what Mrs Dump is wearing (i should give any shits???)  and poorly sourced quotes.

whatever makes us happy

At first i was pissed off and scared about all the bad news posts this morning, then i was afronted and pissed off by the alternating flowers and pussycats posts, because it seemed to trivialize the point, but you know what? Let’s do that: art, shoes, cats, babies, flowers, sunrises and all the good stuff–because we need a reminder that the world in our hearts is still good and *these* are the things we affect and are affected by to DO GOOD ourselves. Here’s my DogFaced Girl Nessie, having yogurt for breakfast. THIS makes me heartened.


still hopping

Second rabbit is almost done–and there won’t be anymore in this time frame! (19 days till set up!) As much as i love them, the work involved getting them to sit properly is time consuming, and sometimes frustrating! I just about threw “Darkwoods Rabbit” in a hissy fit at one point the other night. “Next year i’ll start earlier for Christmas” as we all so  brashly say 🙂



This is my new favourite variegated from Caron’s Wildflowers collection. Oft-times when i choose a thread to use, it’s late at night, and i am depending on the Ottlight in my stitching corner to “match” colours. On Sunday, i was in the stoodio with the sun was shining on the worktable as i pulled various flavours, and i saw this colour combination as it truly is–deep grey, deep indigo, soft charcoal and that wonderful rust shade, perfect!

stones-colourwayCaron Wildflowers collection # 260, “Sticks and Stones”

There are other pieces, just moons, and something else i’ve come up with to produce for this sale, all laid out in an ever burgeoning pile in the stitch corner……but whatever gets done, gets done. I haven’t a clue how much more i can do in 19 days, but am giving it my valiant best to have enough to show what i do, and interest people!


I was finishing one of my small moons on the train last Friday morning and the lady sitting beside me started talking about what i was doing, asking intelligent questions and truly interested. After she asked me how much i would sell it for, another woman sitting across from me sniffed and said derisively “$XXX for *that*???”, whereupon my seat mate smiled, leaned over and put her hand on the woman’s knee and sweetly but edged said “yes, isn’t it awful how we undervalue handwork?” HUZZAH! #somepeoplegetwhyhandworkisvaluable