english girl at home

A Sewing & Knitting Blog, Made in Birmingham, England


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Sheepy Events

Harcourt Rare Breeds

In the last few weeks, I’ve had the chance to take part in a few sheep/wool related events due to being a member of the Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers.

Harcourt Rare Breeds

Harcourt Rare Breeds

A couple of weeks ago, I spent Bank Holiday Monday visiting Harcourt Rare Breeds. The Harcourt flock is split over two sites, with one of those sites relatively local to me in Market Bosworth, and the other in Harrogate. The Midlands flock is housed in the ‘back garden’ (fields behind the house) of owner Shaun, so it was very kind of Shaun to welcome some members of our Guild into his home for lunch, and into his garden to meet the sheep.

Harcourt Rare Breeds

Harcourt Rare Breeds

Harcourt Rare Breeds

Suitably enough, to reach Harcourt Rare Breeds we traveled through the parish of Sheepy, which contains the villages of Sheepy Magna and Sheepy Parva. As you can guess from their name, Harcourt specialise in rare breed British sheep, including Border Leicester, which look like overgrown rabbits due to their  upright ears, and Leicester Longwool, which have a beautiful long silky fleece.

Harcourt Rare Breeds

Harcourt Rare Breeds

Harcourt Rare Breeds sell both fleeces and prepared yarn. Since I still haven’t (nearly) finished preparing the last fleece I bought, I instead came away with three skeins of Leicester Longwool yarn. Shaun also gave each of us a goodie bag of fleece! I selected Leicester Longwool fleece, and you can see the before and after shot of the fleece and prepared yarn from the flock below.

Harcourt Rare Breeds

There are quite a few lambs in the flock currently, and one came into the house to visit us to our delight.

Harcourt Rare Breeds

The next outing we had as a Guild was to visit Wooly Week at Sandwell Park Farm. I wasn’t aware of the Farm before but will definitely visit again, it’s located in a restored Victorian farm, with lovely walled kitchen gardens, a tea room, and a number of rare breed animals.

Sandwell Park Farm Woolly Week

Sandwell Park Farm Woolly Week

Shearing demonstrations were taking place throughout the day, and my Guild were attending to demonstrate the process of preparing the fleece to produce yarn. The rare breed animals on the farm include a couple of sheep from a traditional breed (pictured below, the name of which I’ve forgotten) which malts its fleece, rather than requiring shearing.

Sandwell Park Farm Woolly Week

Sandwell Park Farm Woolly Week

Finally, last weekend my Guild ran a Back-to-Back Challenge at Lickey Hills Visitor Centre. My understanding of the history of the Back to Back Challenge, is that the initial inspiration for the challenge is the Newbury Coat. In 1811, in the village of Newbury, a Baronet allegedly made a large bet that a local mill owner could produce a tailored coat in one day. In thirteen hours and ten minutes, those involved sheared a sheep, washed, spun and wove the wool into cloth, the cloth was then scoured and dyed, and finally tailors cut and sewed the cloth into a formal hunting coat. The Baronet sat down to dinner wearing the coat at the end of the day.

Back to Back Challenge Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers at Lickey Hills Visitors Centre

The original Newbury Coat challenge celebrated contemporary developments in mill machinery, but in 1992 the Back to Back Challenge was created to raise funds for charity by producing a hand-knit sweater from a fleece in a day (I believe the World Record is less than 5 hours). Official Back to Back Challenge entries need to follow set rules, so our Guild Back to Back challenge was more informal. Rather than starting by shearing a sheep, we started with a local Romney fleece, unwashed but pre-sheared. Participation was open to all interested members of the Guild, with everyone contributing depending on their skills/preference, including carding, spinning, plying, and lots of knitting. My spinning skills are still very basic, so I carded until yarn was available and then mostly knitted.

Back to Back Challenge Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers at Lickey Hills Visitors Centre

Back to Back Challenge Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers at Lickey Hills Visitors Centre

We didn’t quite complete a full garment during the day (our event took place from roughly 09:30-05:15), but we got very close, with just a little knitting and seaming left to do to complete an adult’s oversized cardigan, from a pattern designed by a member of the Guild.

Back to Back Challenge Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers at Lickey Hills Visitors Centre

Back to Back Challenge Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers at Lickey Hills Visitors Centre

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A Year in Colour Exhibition

A Year of Colour Exhibition by Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

During 2015, my Guild ran a year-long natural dyeing project with Winterbourne House, a local museum.

Each month, the gardeners at Winterbourne provided plant material (flower heads, bark, leaves, etc.) which the guild tested for their natural dye properties.

To explore the varied colours that can be achieved through the use of mordants and modifiers, eights small skeins of wool were treated with each dye (the first seven of which were pre-mordanted with alum):

  1. basic colour;
  2. light fastness test (kept by a window after dyeing);
  3. acid modifier (vinegar);
  4. alkaline modifier (diluted washing soda);
  5. iron modifier (created by soaking rusty nails in water & distilled vinegar);
  6. Over-dyed with madder;
  7. Over-dyed with woad;
  8. copper mordant (in place of alum).

A Year of Colour Exhibition by Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

A Year of Colour Exhibition by Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

The results of the project are on display in the Coach House Gallery at Winterbourne until 25th April.

Alongside skeins showcasing the colours achieved from each plant material, the exhibition contains a selection of projects created by talented members of my Guild. These projects showcase weaving, spinning, dyeing, knitting and felting – and the wool and silk used in the projects was also largely dyed with plants from Winterbourne garden.

A Year of Colour Exhibition by Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

A Year of Colour Exhibition by Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

I took part in a couple of the monthly dyeing sessions during 2015, and made a small contribution to the exhibition – a handful of knitted chamomile flowers included in the display below.

Winterbourne houses the national collection of anthemis (a genus which includes dyers chamomile). Yarn dyed with chamomile from the garden was used by Guild members to knit and crochet the flower heads below. The knitting and crochet patterns used were also designed by Guild members.

A Year of Colour Exhibition by Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

A Year of Colour Exhibition by Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

The exhibition is only small, but well worth a look if you’re local, and could be followed up with a visit to Winterbourne or to the neighboring Barber Institute of Fine Arts, which is a favourite of mine.

Carolyn, who led the project, blogged the results achieved each month on a dedicated blog.

A Year of Colour Exhibition by Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

A Year of Colour Exhibition by Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

P.S. If you live in the UK and are interested in trying weaving, spinning or dyeing, you can check if there’s a guild local to you using this online search.

A Year of Colour Exhibition by Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

A Year of Colour Exhibition by Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

A Year of Colour Exhibition by Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

A Year of Colour Exhibition by Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

A Year of Colour Exhibition by Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers


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Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Last Saturday was the annual Open Day of the Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers, where I am a member.

The open day includes an exhibition of items produced by Guild members which have been woven, spun or dyed. The Guild are a very talented group and I snapped a few photos of some of the items on display, in between helping out.

Dyeing

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Weaving

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Spinning

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

The open day also included a teacosy contest for guild members, with tea cosies needing to contain a woven, dyed or spun element. The first and second place winners are in the top two photos below. I didn’t enter anything this year, so will have to make up for it in next year’s competition.

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

As at all Guild meetings, there was plenty of homemade cake and tea available.

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

And, temptingly, there was a sale table where you could buy items made by Guild members, including dyed roving and yarn, knit and woven accessories, clay buttons and yarn bowls, and wooden looms. I was manning the stall in the afternoon which was pretty dangerous for my wallet, but was relatively restrained. I came home with some dyed DK yarn, and selected some lovely clay buttons and a yarn bowl which my Mom bought for my upcoming birthday.

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

Birmingham Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers Open Day 2015

If you live locally, the Birmingham Guild 2016 programme has been announced and is looking good, with upcoming spinning and weaving workshops, plus there are guilds across the UK.


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A Naturally Dyed Wardrobe: Dyer’s Picnic

Naturally Dyed Yarn

Last month, I became a member of my local guild of the Association of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. The guild meet once a month, with the June meeting dedicated to a dyeing day at the home of Sarah, one of the guild members.

During the day we dyed yarn and fleece with both natural and acid dyes. This post contains the results of dyeing with nine different natural dyes, I’ll post separately about acid dyeing.

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

All of the protein (animal-based) fibres I took to the dyeing day were pre-mordanted a few days in advance, with alum and cream of tartar (I’ll post the recipe on the blog soon). I also took along some skeins of cotton yarn and British aran wool (not mordanted in advance) to use with the substantive dyes. Unfortunately, all of the cotton yarn I dyed faded substantially once washed. Given that the dyes were substantive (e.g. indigo) I was surprised at the extent the colour did fade, so wonder if it was to do with how the yarn had been treated during production? I did dye a couple of squares of unbleached cotton fabric (also not mordanted in advance) and they retained their colour much more successfully, which suggests it is related to the treatment of the yarn.

The exact yarns I used were (from left to right below):

♥ 100% cotton (Rowan handknit cotton) (unmordanted)

♥ 75% merino / 20% silk / 5% cashmere DK (Sublime)

♥ 100% wool DK (TOFT Alpaca, in Oatmeal)

♥ 100% merino wool chunky (Rowan Big Wool)

♥ 100% wool aran (Jarol) (unmordanted) not pictured

I got especially excellent results with the chunky merino wool, so would definitely recommend that for future dye projects.

Yarn for Dyeing

In addition to lots of dyeing, everyone that attended the dyeing day brought along something for a shared buffet lunch, so there was endless food, tea and coffee to sustain us.

The dyeing itself took place in Sarah’s garden on three separate camping stoves, and in an assortment of metal bowls which included pet bowls.

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

There were also some nice things to buy. I came home with a large pile of vintage knitting patterns and magazines, plus a small skien of yarn (below) hand dyed by Sarah Cage, whose home we were at for the dyeing day.

Hand dyed yarn by Sarah Cage

The nine natural dyes we tried are listed below, with photos of the colours I obtained.

Dyer’s Coreopsis 

Coreopsis typically produces a yellow dye, but we achieved a lovely yellow-brown.

With my yarns, the colour leaned towards yellow in the case of my chunky merino, and a dark brown with my merino, silk, and cashmere blend.

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Coreopsis

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Coreopsis

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Coreopsis

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Coreopsis

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Coreopsis

Walnut

Walnut is a substantive dye and produced a pale brown on my yarns. My aran wool (unmordanted) held it’s colour, but the cotton yarn faded once washed. I added a square of unbleached cotton fabric late, just before the pot was removed from the heat, so it didn’t get chance to take on much dye.

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Walnut

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Walnut

Brazilwood

We achieved a lovely range of pinks using Brazilwood, and paler pinks with Woodruff.

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Brazilwood

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Brazilwood

Woodruff

Woodruff (the roots are the section used for dye) was one of the plants we used for dyeing which was grown in Sarah’s garden, where the dyeing day was held. The plant was growing right alongside where we were stood.

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Woodruff

Privet

I was really impressed with the bright yellows we achieved with privet. The privet we used has just been trimmed off a hedge in Sarah’s garden, so we put the offcuts to good use.

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Privet

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Privet

Feverfew

We achieved a paler yellow with fresh feverfew.

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Feverfew

Indigo

We achieved a pale blue using indigo extract, due to the volume of extract used and/or number of projects in the pot. My aran yarn (unmordanted) held it’s colour, unlike the cotton. The two aran yarns pictured below achieved slightly different shades of blue, as one spent slightly longer in the dye pot at a higher temperature.

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Indigo

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Indigo

Lichen

Lichen produced a pale brown with my aran yarn (unmordanted), although the colour faded with my cotton yarn. There are ethical issues around using lichen for dyeing as they grow very slowly and may be protected species, so shouldn’t be foraged. However, the dryed lichen we were using had been in the possession of members of the guild for many years, and passed on to Sarah.

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Lichen

Logwood

Perhaps my very favourite result was achieved with Logwood, which produced a range of purples with my wools and cotton. I was given the remaining logwood to bring home, so need to decide what I want to dye with it.

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Dyer's Picnic, Birmingham & District Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Logwood

Yarn Naturally Dyed with Logwood

After getting home from the dyeing day, and before photographing my yarns, I left them overnight to fully dry. The next morning I rinsed each yarn in cool water to remove any excess dye, and then washed them in warm water and wool soak.

Naturally Dyed Yarn

The dyeing day was a great opportunity to try a range of natural dyes, in good company. If you’re interested in natural dyeing, spinning and/or weaving I’d recommend the association as a good way to learn from others and at very little cost (after the membership fee, it’s £2 each session to cover unlimited tea and cake). There are guilds across the UK, and I’m sure there are similar organisations worldwide.

My collection of small dyed yarn oddments is growing – I’m thinking a weaving, but it’s still in the plotting stage at the moment.

The photos below show the yarns drying in my garden after being washed, along with my acid dyed yarn which I’ll post about soon.

Naturally Dyed Yarn

Naturally Dyed Yarn