Archive for the ‘Natural Dyeing’ Category

At In The Stitch Zone, the weekly embroidery class I run locally (information in the tab at the top) we’re working on a longer project based on my avocado dyed long cloth which I began back in 2011 and am still stitching into on an occasional basis.

Avocado long cloth 1

Time to make up packs of natural dyed fabrics, threads, lace, ribbon etc. for everyone. I found some avocado, red cabbage and walnut dyed fabrics from sessions I’d done before, which was a good start.  I’d only even dyed with red cabbage and a touch of vinegar, so hearing that you could get an amazing range of greens with bicarbonate of soda I decided to experiment. The greens really are gorgeous – especially against some avocado and red cabbage (with vinegar) dyed pieces!


DSCN7529 As I dye everything in the kitchen using my ordinary utensils, I don’t mordant and only use food stuffs as dyes. I know red cabbage is supposed to be fugitive, but some of the pieces I found (admittedly in a drawer) from the last lot of dyeing I did are eight or nine years old and are still a lovely colour.

I also bought some annatto seeds from our local oriental grocer and they were an complete revelation! Bright orange initially with golden yellow as the dye bath became exhausted and they even dyed a piece of nylon lace (which I unfortunately forgot to get a photo of…) No filter needed on these silk samples.


As the annatto seeds are incredibly hard and I didn’t want to stain the coffee grinder bright orange, I crushed some in a pestle and mortar and when that got too difficult, just put the whole lot into the slow cooker to create the dye bath. Then, of course, they were nice and soft, so after I’d done the first lot of dyeing, I whizzed them up in the food processor (didn’t stain it, I’m glad to report!) and got a second dye bath out of the pulverised seeds. A softer golden yellow, but still lovely.


Packs for everyone plus some spares.


They are slowly turning into some gorgeous pieces of work!

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October’s Scunthorpe Embroiderers’ Guild meeting was a brilliantly packed full day workshop with Fran Holmes based on teabags.


Fran brought along loads of samples she had stitched using a base of dyed, opened out and ironed teabags with added lace and hand and machine embroidery for inspiration.



Then it was our turn. We had been asked to bring some tea bags of our own, and I was quite pleased with the effect where a fruit tea bag had leaned up against an ordinary one and they two had bled into each other, but mine were nothing compared with the amazing patterns Fran had got on the ones she had done for us in our kits.

We experimented with all sorts of things, including various iron on products, foils, printing, inks, paints and stamps and so busy was the day that I didn’t actually add any stitching until the afternoon!

We ended up with four different bases for further stitching.

The first two were a mixture of lace, tea bags and net.


I added some watercolour detailing on the lace flowers of this one.


Then a base for stamping in acrylics.

IMG_20191026_125851 cropped.jpg

And lastly one with a subtle shimmery foil underlay which I layered with torn silk ribbon and a stamp.


All four lovely backgrounds, ready for stitching.


I finally managed a few french knots…


Great workshop and lovely to do something outside my usual range.

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There is more ongoing in my Cornwall Holiday journal but things are impossibly busy at the moment and I’ve a sea glass commission on the go so the journal pages have stalled.

Towards the end of the holiday I took the girls to visit my parents in Suffolk and incidentally scored the biggest piece of blue sea glass I’ve ever found on Southwold beach. Very pleased with that!

Southwold beach glass 8.13

On the way home we decided to visit Oxburgh Hall.

Oxburgh Hall

I’ve been before but not with the girls…


…and after they had posed as sunflowers, we had a lovely time exploring this gorgeous house. On the way through the wooded area to the loos I found some green walnuts and collected a handful to try some natural dyeing.

Back home, chopped small and boiling in my dye pan.

walnut dyeing 1

And after straining the liquid, this was the result on a range of fabrics.

walnut dyeing 2

I clamped, tied and knotted a few of them before I put them in the pot.

walnut dyeing 3

walnut dyeing 4

Knotted silk.

walnut dyeing 5

Silk French lace over silk mix velvet.

walnut dyeing 5

I’d been clearing out the freezer and found some avocado skins and stones so I added them to the first walnut dye bath and went for another batch. There’s not much difference in the colour but I think the brown is a bit warmer and pinkier with the avocado added.

walnut and avocado 1

walnut and avocado 2

Some threads.

walnut and avocado 3

A bigger piece of silk dupion dyed in walnut first and then overdyed in walnut and avocado. There is a subtle difference but it’s not very clear in the photo.

walnut and avocado 4

Glad I spotted them on the floor among the vegetation and leaves!

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The completed cover boards, backed with some purple hand dyed fabric.

Finished red cabbage journal 1

Finished red cabbage journal 2

I decided to increase the number of french link stitches across the spine even though it’s a smaller book than the previous two I’ve made .

Finished red cabbage journal 3

I like the stitch smaller. I think it’s neater and shows its herringbone nature more clearly. The slightly darker toned variegated perle works well too, with enough of a difference to make it visible but not bright enough to fight with the subtle tones of the cabbage.

Finished red cabbage journal 4

This was the first time I’d used silk pages and they were a bit more frisky than the soft cotton! I didn’t want to iron them flat but I think in future I may need to as the silk moved around so much that the pages aren’t level. I like that you can see the spine stitching between the cover and the first page.

Finished red cabbage journal 5

Finished red cabbage journal 6

Silk on the left and cotton (behaving…) on the right.

Finished red cabbage journal 7

Finished red cabbage journal 8

Only three signatures in this book, partly because that’s all the red cabbage dyed fabric I had left and partly because any more would have made the book too thick for the size of the covers (about 2″ by 3″).

Finished red cabbage journal 9

Finished red cabbage journal 10

Finished red cabbage journal 11

Finished red cabbage journal 12

Completed. But I can feel at least one more coming on…

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I’m teaching a one day workshop (details still to be finalised) on natural dyeing  using safe dyestuffs  here in the summer. I’d already decided to use the old favourites of onion skins and avocado skins and pits but I wanted another option and yesterday I finally managed to get round to testing out the possibilities of red cabbage.

I researched it on the internet and as recommended in a few places, decided to preboil the fabrics in a 4:1 water vinegar solution before I added the water drained from the cabbage leaves and heated the whole lot up together again.

It definitely does have possibilities!

From left to right: polycotton damask modern napkin, polycotton calico, heavy weight cotton drill, embroidered bridal silk dupion, habotai silk, pale gold silk dupion, lightweight silk, polycotton and a silk satin.

It gives a wonderful depth and richness of colour on silk and cotton and doesn’t really take at all on anything with any sort of manmade fibre.

The silks are fabulous.

As you can see, I did a bit of knotting and rubber banding on some of the pieces to experiment. Classic rubber band up the middle starburst for this one…

…knots for this offcut of pale gold silk dupion…

… and knotted corners and rubber banded middle for this piece of silk habotai.

I  also added some trims to the pot.

From left to right: modern wide lace, vintage pink bias binding – knotted, vintage lace, wide grosgrain ribbon and vintage crocheted lace.

Lovely lavenders and lilacs.

The light wasn’t brilliant this morning when I photographed them. The purples aren’t vibrant – after all, this is natural dyeing – but the colours are much stronger in real life.

Wish I’d dyed some thread too while I was at it!



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…because I’ve been stupidly busy and not done much sewing for the last fortnight. This is another shot of the end I’ve already blogged about.

And this is one of the central sections. Modern and vintage lace and scraps of plain, embroidered and damasked silks.

I love the central fragment of lightweight silk and the way it’s fraying over the handmade lace at the top, held down almost invisibly with french knots stitched in one of the threads I dyed with the fabrics. Some more of the spotty voile is layered in underneath.

The running stitch stabilises and alters it. This section is still unfinished.

Commercially embroidered silk with extra stem stitch tendrils.

Machine made lace dating from the 1970s embroidered over with french knots, back stitch and straight stitches.

One of the last pieces of a yard of this lace I bought as a little girl. Buttons, ribbons and lace were some of the few things on which I was allowed to spend my pocket money. I suppose it’s lasted longer and done me more good than a packet of Spangles.

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The first ever dyeing I did with avocado skins and pits I pretty much made up as I went along, so the wonderful shades of coppery pink I got were doubly pleasing.

I decided to put all the bits I’d dyed – antique and modern lace, ribbon, scraps of silk and cotton, aida, grosgrain ribbon, ricrac braid, hand made crochet lace etc. all together into one long cloth, embroidered with the threads I’d dyed at the same time and some wonderful toning stranded silk threads I’d bought.

That was eighteen months ago.

Jacobean laid work in silk on silk matka, which takes on the dye so intensely.

 Perle thread dyed at the same time on ricrac braid.

Another offcut of the spotted voile I used for Miss Murdstone’s house cap. The spots turned into a diapering pattern with french knots and lazy daisy stitches in stranded silk.

Heavier avocado dyed perle-type thread couched down onto silk matka with silk stranded thread.

In the centre, a scrap of vintage broderie anglaise trim with eyelets for a contrasting ribbon – in this case a synthetic modern one which didn’t really pick up much of the dye.

I love the way the perle continues to dance across the fraying edges.

I keep working on it a bit at a time, on and off, between other projects. It’s about three times the size of the pieces I normally work in my hand without a hoop which can make it a bit awkward but it’s good to keep coming back to.


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As you do, I went looking for some fabric the other day and in the process discovered several loads of fabric, threads, trims etc that I’d dyed with natural dyes over the last year.


There was a lot more than I thought…

…elderberries, lichen and onion skins.

So I decided to sort out what I actually wanted to keep and made the rest into little inspiration packs which I’ve listed here on eBay.

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