I’ve started a new blog, just for the occasional poem. if you are interested, it’s here
Newburgh is a little town on the Tay estuary, not far from St Andrews and Perth in the other direction, and the countryside around is very beautiful, especially with the light reflected from the wide arm of the sea that comes up past it.
and the light changes with the tide and the weather
meadowsweet grows in all the ditches and hedges round about, which I was soon to discover is a useful dyeplant, giving yellows,
and that violet-blue cranesbill is everywhere too, as it is in Cumbria and Yorkshire.
Philippe Model, my master hat-maker, and interiors designer friend from Paris, and I stayed in the the Gallery Flat, which is the other half of the handsome building that the textile centre occupies,
giving all hours access to the studio and the cafe space.
Michel Garcia, Plant Alchemist (biochemist actually), taught a concentrated five day course,
covering dyeing wool,
silk, cotton and linen, with plant co-mordants, aluminium accumulating plants, silk screen printing,
and on day four, three different kinds of indigo vats
one with the exhaust dyebath from dyeing wool with madder
one the swedish vat, with ferrous sulphate
and a big one, with henna as the reducing agent
and lime as the alkali. it was wonderful and we all dabbled our hands in it, together with India Flint who joined us for the last two days, as we flocked to dip shibori tied fabrics and all sorts of personal projects, rather more than we were perhaps supposed to … it was a generous vat, producing a second big bucket full just from the rinsings.
We had a trip to the Hat Shop in Perth (both Alison and Jeanette sell their hats there and run more courses there too)
Philippe and I, and fellow dye student Beate from NY came back with felt hats made by Alison; they are irresistible, soft and pliable but tough wool felt with depth of colour and lovely shapes.
now I have ambitious ideas about dyeing with madder and indigo, and a box full of dyestuffs just arrived from Michel in the South of France, smelling very exotic; I am waiting for the fair trade indigo from Maiwa in Vancouver to arrive, and planning a trip to Foulsham for natural builders lime. it was a very special week; we were fed by Michel with almost more brain food than we could take in, and by Alison with plenty of delicious meals to sustain us, and by Jill with baskets of her gourmet handmade chocolate . I met a lot of very special people and learnt an amazing amount; thank you so much to Alison and Jeanette and Michel.
you can see more photos from the course at Hat in the Cat’s facebook page if you have a facebook account
the third and last glaze firing this month is for me the most exciting. I made the pots during the firings of the last two weeks, so all is fresh and new, except for the little brown pot which is a refire
the first thing I saw was the top of the big brown bottle. I am so pleased with this. I have used this glaze before, but always much thicker, and it’s very hard to get it to reach just the right point with enough reduction and enough melt but for it to still have the very dry suede-like texture, but with good colour.
this is the first of the tall bottles I made from the pink grogged stoneware two weeks ago, and when I made it I decided to go for totally plain because I like the shape very much. this was a good decision,
there will be more of this kind of thing.
all the small bottles came out well. there is less slip on them, and the chun has started to melt off the top of the bottle so lots of lovely things are happening, though no bidori droplets this time. I put the slip on thinner, so it hasn’t reacted with the glaze and cracked and crawled at all this time.
the tall bottles had to have the slip and the glaze poured on, as the bins aren’t full enough for dipping, which has given them a completely different character. you can’t get it on as thickly as with dipping, after a point the pouring liquid pulls off what is already there.
I’m also very pleased with this clematis impressed bottle. it nearly came apart when I was making it.
this lower part was at the back of the kiln; the chun stays very grey and opaque there , but that’s interesting in combination with the stem impressions and the oxide runs, and the iridescent blue higher up.
the other bottle I glazed with the ash/china clay glaze (it is a glaze that Carlos Versluys invented, I found it in Phil Rogers’ book on ash glazes) was made from the clay body I mixed up in March, part crank, part “lavafleck” with extra coarse sand with some black grains in it. this has a spot in it which doesn’t show much under the slip and chun, but with the ash glaze it is really nice. I’m very glad I brought this glaze out of retirement. I make it with unwashed ash and it takes a month or two to mature; this has been at least two years in the bin.
you can see photos with dimensions etc in dropbox at this link
my daughter gave me Karen Casselman’s book about lichen dyeing for my birthday, and remembering how much lichen lies around in Extremadura where I have a place in Spain I thought it would be interesting to try out, purely as an experiment. I had been thinking of the pretty green lacy lichen in the ilex oak and cork oak trees, which comes out with the prunings, but I also found a lichen that is very common on the granite rocks around my house and on the sierra. of course, lichen takes ten years to grow back, so it is not at all viable to go pulling it off rocks, even in the back of beyond, but you can take a few loose pieces and windfalls.
the black edged lichen in the centre of the photo is lasallia pustulata, I have since discovered, on an old blog from Isabella Whitworth who made a special trip to Galicia in Spain. I didn’t know that at the time, and had my kit out to test the various lichens I found with bleach or the very alkali ash water, lye.
the lasallia briefly flashed red when touched on a cut edge with bleach, which according to Casselman means it is a variety of lichen containing the pigment orcein (purple) and needs processing in an ammonia vat. the lacy green tree lichen did not flash green, but it did react to the lye, so it was put in a pot to soak in spring water for thirty six hours, with the possibility of gold or rust colours.
I shredded the lasallia into small pieces and covered it with the same depth of water, and then the same amount again of an ammonia based window cleaning product, an alternative to household ammonia which Casselman suggests.
then I put the top on and shook it vigorously. I continued to shake it up to aerate it, six times a day for the first week, during which time it became a lovely rich deep rusty brown, then three times a day for the second week .. tailing off during succeeding weeks. and it turned, as casselman says it should, a beautiful purple-black colour like sloe gin. I brought it home to Norfolk with me, and then I had to think hard about what to dye, Casselman said purple, will dye anything including synthetics, plastic buttons … what in the world did I want to dye purple? also a very small amount – 1 oz to 250 ml of the original liquid. in fact I got almost a litre of liquid from my jar.
in the end I decided that I would re-bundle a cotton jersey jacket that I made, and which I had already dyed in a bundle, (using India Flint’s wonderful leaf dyeing method), in order to try to get the collar and top of the back purple.
but I made various mistakes. if you alter the ph you alter the colour, it goes pinker, and rather than use my neutral tap water full of calcium and iron and chemicals I used water butt water – acid!
then I hadn’t bargained for the dye soaking through the bundle and so being quite dilute. anyway I ended up with a delicate shade of rose-purple in a great bundle-string pattern on most of the top of the jacket
and some lovely maroon string!
the jacket is now waiting for an antiqued metal two way zip.
the other lichen was most disappointing and produced nothing but a pale fawn colour. In fact if you look through the tables in Casselman’s book lasallia pustulata is down as giving a red colour rather than purple, though not tested by Casselman herself, so the colour is possibly not due to the acid water I used, though the photos on Isabella Whitworth’s blog would indicate purple colours.
every summer we see a succession of umbellifers in the hedgerows, from May to October. they are members of the carrot family; if you let your garden carrots run to seed you will see the resemblance.
but first there is that green giant, alexanders, smyrnium olustratum, which is a coastal plant that comes from Macedonia, like its namesake; we do have it in Bale, being just five miles from the coast. it is edible, and like ground elder, was brought here as a vegetable by the Romans. horses love it, which can be embarrassing when a beginner is not able to extract their horse’s head from the hedge in April.
however, the first true carrot on the scene is cow parsley, anthriscus sylvestris, also known as Queen Anne’s Lace, for its frothy white flowers which erupt out of the hedgerows in May.
the most constant is good old hogweed, heracleum sphondylium, dominating the hedgerows from early June to October with its tall hairy stems, great curling lobed leaves and plate-like multiple branched flowers, dark pink, or creamy white. galloway wild foods rates the young shoots and the seeds as one of the most delicious of wild foods in the UK.
however the recommendation comes with the caveat that this family, the carrot, has several poisonous members with which hogweed must not be confused. Hemlock is the most famous, conium maculatum, in verges, by streams and on waste ground from May to July, it is fortunately easy to identify, with its hairless purple blotched stems and finely divided leaves. every part of this plant, but the seeds in the greatest concentration, contains coniine, an alkaloid that paralyses the respiratory system. (Death can be prevented by artificial ventilation until the effects have worn off 48–72 hours later).
I filched this image from wikipedia, as I have never recognised and photographed the plant.
fool’s parsley, Aethusa cynapium, another member of the carrots (Apiaceae) contains the same alkaloid, though with less concentration. it is common everywhere, flowering in July and August. it is easily distinguished from all the other carrots by the long streamer-like green triple bracts which hang from under the umbrella shaped flower heads. it is common in gardens in central europe and can easily be confused with parsley if it grows in a herb garden. apparently it smells rather unpleasant, unlike the real thing.
back to more cheerful local plants, after cow parsley, hedges and woods are full of the daintier rough chervil, chaerophyllum temulentum. this also has purplish and spotted stems, but they are hairy, unlike hemlock.
then there is the rather elegant upright hedge parsley, torilis japonica, with tall attenuated stems and pinkish flowers, in July and August.
and wild carrot, daucus carota, which flowers on my finca in Spain in May, and makes beautiful dried flower displays, enormous, theatrical things that I plonk into large galvanised buckets and constantly bump into. in my garden they flower quite late, in August and September. they have a dense flower head, more like an oriental sunshade than an umbrella, with one dark red flower in the very centre, and when they are seeding they have a tendency to curl up into an elegant bird nest shape.
their root is not very edible, unlike the pignut, conopodium majus, which I have not seen. this flowers in may and june, has smooth stems, finely divided leaves more like fennel, and is not as tall as most of the other carrots, growing to a maximum of 50 cm. it has swollen brown tubers which have a pleasantly nutty flavour, cooked or raw, according to my wild flower book. you can find a lot more information on foraging for this plant here on Paul Kirtley’s blog.
outside my gate there is a magnificent specimen of hogweed, all denticulate leaves and big hairy stems
I had to cut one leaf off so that I could get in the gate. sadly now a neat and tidy neighbour has rather officiously cut it right down to the ground.
and its statuesque stems say norfolk summer hedgerows to me.
giant hogweed, heracleum mantegazzianum, is not a native plant, it comes from the Caucasus and central Asia. introduced as an ornamental in the nineteenth century, it has spread to much of Northern Europe, the US, and Canada. very nasty, phototoxic – contact causes lesions and blisters, and in the eyes, blindness. I can’t remember seeing it in the wild, except in my school, in the sixties, we had a dried stem and seed head in the Art Room!
in summer the garden frames my day; early mornings, whether rolling out clay or lighting the kiln, are begun by a short walk up the path to the shed, past waist-high oxeye daisies, overhanging pink dog roses, red campion and all the flowering grasses.
the last firing was a bit sticky, although I lit the kiln at 5 am it stuck in the eleven hundreds all afternoon. but a slow firing means the temperature doesn’t have to get so high to melt the glazes – potters call this “heatwork” – and in fact I ended up turning it off perhaps 20 minutes later than the firing before, although it was lit an hour earlier. today’s firing is going faster, as I dropped the burners down a little, giving them more air to burn. I think the wind helps too.
the results were good – a whole lot of blue-ish chun, two pieces with the old “chalk beach” barium carbonate glaze, suitable for the hot spot near the flue. a refire which did well, but some other pieces which need refiring and they are mostly in the kiln again today.
I kept this one out, because I want to see what happens to the others when refired in higher parts of the kiln
front left bottom is a pretty dead area – usually I put a tall pot and the props which support the cones there.
this was next to the flue and I’m pleased with the result, though there could have been more early reduction to make the clay pop through the glaze more. still, the purity of it is rather pleasing.
there were five of the bottles I made in march and April in here – I have nineteen more to fire. the two that were higher in the kiln came out the most blue.
I got braver and fired this incense burner with its lid on (I have been firing them separately) with a perfect result. no sticking, and no grinding to be done because one part has warped and won’t fit.
the bowl came out well, though the interior is still frozen lace – all crawled and rolled – not functional. I have only made one bowl which is functional and acceptable so far, out of all these.
the only one with bidori (melted droplets of glaze) was this, which was in a fairly hot place near the flame on the top shelf at the back. it’s great – the combination of the stronger blue, the peeling back in a patterns and the altogether five bidoris makes it special.
more of this in today’s firing – I have seven large bottles, and quite a few smaller ones in there.
I’ll be at Hatfield (Art in Clay) in just under four weeks, and I want a good selection; also Padstow Fine Art need more stock.
I love David Pearce’s landscapes and interiors – and the pots go really well with them.
meanwhile, another visit to the kiln to check the cones, 1222C and cone 8 going, cone 9 thinking about it.
I have a shed full of biscuit-fired pots to glaze, it may take three glaze firings to whittle them down.
this one has been sitting under the bench a bit neglected, it’s actually at least two, maybe three years since I made it.
I have this one too, I did start to glaze it last year. but today I had a visitor who took three big bottles, one of this masculine sort, and
this one, and another which we agreed had the same reference to a female robed figure; to put on Rowntree Clark’s stand with the William Turnbull, Peter Lanyon, and Denis Bowen paintings, all abstract painters of the fifties and sixties, which Edward Clark is showing at Art Antiques London. this is an enormous compliment, and I am very excited about it.
the twenty four bottles and flagons I made before I went to Spain have all been bisc fired, and now I have to choose what glaze to put on them. quite a few will get the oxide, slip and chun glaze that I have been using so much recently, and some will be set aside for the wood firing week I am doing at Nic Collins and Sabine Nemet’s workshop in August.
but a few are going to be glazed with my old dry glazes too.
so tomorrow I will get out my squirrel – a glaze mixer which fits onto an electric drill – stir up all the glaze bins, and get started on glazing.
meanwhile I can’t resist posting more pictures of the garden
I have aquilegias in two colours, a present from Kay Corbett (cabinet maker extraordinaire) 2 years ago, and they are really something this year.
lots of sweet peas to pick, from purple to freckled red on white with plum edges,
love in the mist
these marigolds, which are more daisy like, and in fact almost a bigger version of corn marigolds.
and Madame Isaac Perriere is absolutely covered in these gorgeous citrus smelling blooms
back in my norfolk home I’m surrounded by burgeoning growth, which has to be kept in check to some extent.
this year the dog roses are even more extravagantly looping and taking up a lot of space. it’s a problem deciding when to cut them back; they need old wood to flower, and then the hips are so gorgeous in the autumn and winter.
I have two massive ones just over the arch and then on the end of the hedge here at the entrance to the wild garden. and another that has grown a trunk thicker than my wrist and grown up into the beech tree, to flower at a height of twenty feet. this is what they do best.
the meadow grasses and flowers are doing well. I have gone in with the long-handled shears and deleted most of the hogweed which likes to take over; it’s too big for the space.
and I’m in the process of making paths in the long grass
I love the way the fern and the spiral curves of the metal seat complement each other.
well of course it hasn’t taken long for me to start dyeing things again. the holme oaks at the top of the road are in leaf shedding mode, and I have been up there a couple of times in the dry weather to rake them up into black plastic bags for the dyebath. the a huge truck came down past here, wreaking havoc with the verges and the low branches. I picked up oak, sweet chestnut and field maple off the road after that, and rather than let them go to waste, rustled up a dyeing session. I had been wanting to try all these leaves anyway, as they are full of tannin and ought to print in contact with iron.
here is a piece of silk viscose velvet which has taken up colour well from those leaves after a quick soaking in a bath of rainwater and vinegar in a cast iron pot.
I have just made a jacket from a luxurious double-sided cotton jersey, using an overlocker for the first time. it isn’t quite finished, it is going to have a zip, a two way, heavy antiqued metal one, but that hasn’t arrived yet. also soaked in the iron water, it has taken prints well, and would have done even better if I had got enough pressure evenly over it. I also tried marigolds, the garden variety, which made yellowish blobs … need to try harder, there’s obviously potential there.
I am very pleased with the oak and sweet chestnut prints. I tried all these leaves last autumn and got very little from them, but the iron makes all the difference, for me.
there’s a big swag of sweet chestnut on the left front. the pockets are part of the sleeves from a shirt, thanks for the tip, India Flint in your Second Skin book – the rest of the shirt is presently being converted into a pinny, instructions for which are in said book one pocket is on the inside.
below the pocket is a print from some field maple leaves
and more oak leaves on the collar. there are also quite successful bramble stem and leaf prints on the inside -
I may, as a finishing touch wrap it up into a bundle to sop up the tiny bit of lichen purple dye I made in Spain, maybe a patch on the upper back.
I also discovered that the new leaves that the holme oaks are sprouting, print purple on wool. but the old brown leaves I swept up off the road are quite different from the old leaves of the encina (same tree) in Spain which dye dark purple grey and rich brown; a not very strong grey on cotton – and khaki green on wool was the result.
pursuing the colours I seem to be able to get with encina leaves (ilex oak) here in Spain and trying out more ..
a print of bramble leaves on fuiji silk soaked in iron water. this silk gives great contact prints and has a lovely handle.
the spotted prints are eucalyptus, and the yellowy colour is from corn marigold heads.
without iron silk is a little anaemic, though those green marks are from the corn marigold leaves.
but on this piece I have nice negative prints from the marigold stems anyway. I rolled it round a glass jar that had once held spanish chickpeas.
on the milky merino it was more subdued
but still very pleasing, I think.
so the obvious thing was to get sewing
I had another go at the dress cut across the silky merino tube, a lot less complicated, but with a pocket. I had to use some previously dyed material for the sleeves as I didn’t bring much un-dyed of this with me, I wanted to concentrate more on cotton and silk
it’s made a perky little dress, I think.
I also made a loose dress from the fuji silk, inspired by my old Katherine Hamnet top
it is cut much lower at the back and is revealing at the sides, but I reckon that’s fine for really hot weather if you are wearing a nice bra – or even a bikini – this is of course for the younger generation …
the holly shaped leaves from the ilex oak and the bramble leaves and the corn marigolds have all printed really well on this dress
and they even printed well on the viscose and silk velvet.
so now, I am dyeing up all the remaining fabric that I bought, some wool gauze lengths for big scarves/wraps, lots of organic cotton, and two of those japanese type horn bags, tsunobukuro, I just needed to work out how to make them, for some weird reason; one is made from a strip torn off an old sheet, and one is teeny, in the silk/viscose velvet. so still boiling up the dye pot for the next couple of days, in between cleaning the house, ready for departure next wednesday.
a very beautiful pair of grey mares have arrived in a finca just above mine – this girl is very friendly. no-one does anything about the flies here in Spain – at home you hardly see a horse outside without fly sheet, face mask, tail guard, neck protection ….. in fact here a lot of horses are put outside with no shelter and hogged manes and tails cut just short of the bone. not kind.
the giant thapsias are all in flower now - stupendous things
the bees like them too. they make great dried arrangements indoors …
these pretty variegated thistles are coming into flower now
small-tongue orchids in a wet spot
I need to ask an expert what this is, it’s not in my new book Common Wildflowers of Spain.
easy one, white campion
wild gladioli, growing in rocky places on the fincas below mine
a Spanish something-or-other butterfly – I can’t look it up as it appears someone has made off with my butterfly book. ah, a Spanish Festoon. complaining bitterly this year that someone stole the Iberian peninsular flora reference book, and the butterfly and moth book from my house. I won’t be leaving them out for house renters any more, I’m sad to say. a few people are so selfish.
my gate all flowery
more flowers – corn marigold, vipers bugloss, camomile …..
this little person is rather special, she’s a baby mule, a yearling by the look of her
mostly hiding behind mama. they were straying on the camino … talking to another horse which poor thing, is hobbled permanently.
peace and quiet amongst the rocks and flowers, listening to turtle doves purring, hoopoes hoopoeing, bee-eaters clanging, nightingales chanting, blackbirds just like at home, and crickets ringing.