Wednesday, 31 December 2008


alternative to Procion (eg Remazol)

woad growing
indigo dyeing
carbon etc measuring

meaning... don't abandon everything from before. Some things must be retained or resurrected or re-energised. And I know what!
also meaning... lessen belongings. And I know what that means too!

move forward:
BWRT project
house on market

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

second woad harvest and process

On 14 October I cut and started processing the second woad crop. Possibly I could have left it for longer but with more bad weather forecast and as the plants had grown quite quickly since the last harvest in early September, I didn't want to risk losing them altogether.

In total from Helen's and my four pot plants I cut 625 grams of leaves, which is 125 g more than at the last harvest. However, I seem to have made only 1.4 grams of woad pigment, or as I should call it to be more correct, indigotin. Last time around it was about 2 grams. I have a couple of theories for this, some related to growing and the other to processing.

This time I didn't spend an hour beating the strained liquid trying to get the foam to go yellow. I beat it for only about ten minutes with the hand-wind whisk - thinking that as blue has come up into the foam that should be enough. I since have read somewhere that it's far better to whisk for much longer, even if your arms start aching (as mine did last September), because that way you get all the potential indigotin out. So, short cuts and laziness are not worth pursuing! I will beat until my arms go blue (again) next time.

On the growing side, the middle picture here shows two groups of short leaves and one of long leaves. The left hand ones I grew here, the right two groups Helen grew. Those on the far right came from one of several well-grown plants, grown on under an improvised cloche (a large plastic demijohn with base removed). These plants had begun to take on the expected shape and density of a woad plant, although were still smaller. But 'something' in or lacking in the soil has prevented the plants from taking up/creating blue pigment in their leaves - I believe they got more direct sunshine at Helen's than the plants outside my house (though being in front of a sun-trap wall may have made a difference to mine). But my woad plants also had an additional caffeine shot... topped up with more Rainforest Alliance coffee dregs. They also had orange street-light by night.

By chance, an official Met Office rainfall recorder lives in the village - he's been recording for over 40 years now. His recent article in the local newsletter gives July and August of this year as his wettest and fourth wettest ever. With the first week of September having a further 107 mm, those two months plus week gave the village around a third of our annual average, and in the usually drier months. So it was wet. Very wet. Luckily though, the rest of September was better - some very hot days (or was that in October?). Certainly I thought the drier sunnier days would help with 'bluing' the leaves. As they did - thankfully - with keeping the slugs at bay!

So I am surprised to have ended up with less indigotin from more leaf. I have some other thoughts about the growing process to go in another post later.

Monday, 1 December 2008

textiles now

Last Saturday this lovely book arrived in the post - Textiles Now by Drusilla Cole. I got so excited when I picked it up, thinking 'I can feel it! I can feel it!' and running my fingers across the textures while staring blankly into space. I'm not going to tell you any more about that so you can have the delight too if you get the book yourself or decide to hunt it out it in a bookshop or library. I do have a habit of feeling textures with the tips of my fingers. Sometimes it worries people! But texture is just wonderful, and touch/feeling an under-appreciated sense.

Textiles Now has around 250 pages of contemporary textile art. Gorgeous colour, form and texture in sections - 1 Constructed, 2 Dyed, printed and painted, and 3 Mixed media and stitched.

A couple of my river batiks are in the second section - Source of the Penpont and one with a long title that was abbreviated to De Lank Camel which will mean little to many but confuse North Cornwall folk who'll know it's the name of two major rivers (and yes, I am a little annoyed about the amendment). The full title is De Lank near the Confluence with the Camel. See them on my website here and here, but not here right now as the colours don't fit with those of the cover.

There are also batiks by Isabella Whitworth, Pat Hodson, Dorothy 'Bunny' Bowen, and Betsy Sterling Benjamin, and dyed felt pictures by Helen Melvin amongst other artists work or names I admire or recognise.

The book is not oriented to artists working sustainably or towards sustainability, but there are some included. For instance Helen Melvin's and India Flint's work is with natural dyes and Bunny Bowen has researched soy wax as substitute for paraffin wax in batik. At a stretch my river batiks also fall into the sustainable approach category by utilising whatever was around to apply wax for resist or, as I usually describe it, using scrap, found and home made tools.

It seems right to combine sustainable-approach art alongside - how to describe it? other art that hasn't deliberately incorporated such methods or materials, rather than keep 'eco-art' in an elitist niche. I know organic farmers who think this way... their approach is that it is just a different way of farming (though they obviously think it the better way!). By keeping in with the mainstream those others won't see organic as elitist so shouldn't feel 'threatened' or 'looked down on', and are more likely to be open-minded as to the benefits of organic and negatives of their own practice (and vice versa?). These farmers are good role models for me...

'Textiles Now' is published by Laurence King, where you can also view some pages. But you don't get to feel the cover!