Denise: It’s late July and the sun is out, the breeze is distinctly warm (well for here!) and, more importantly for a spinner, there’s a wealth of plants in full-flower just waiting to be picked for the dye pot! Here’s a recipe especially for Sharon Blackie on Lewis to get her started colouring the recently obtained Blackface fleeces. Ragwort (Gaelic – Buaghallan)
Part 1, Making up the dye
Plenty of this around now – and until late August. It’s easy to pick. Produces a really impressive full-coloured yellow, for relatively little outlay.
To dye about 1lb of wool collect a couple of carrier bags of the fully-opened flowering heads (just 3-4″ in length). You’ll need a large dye bucket, pref. stainless steel with lid. You can of course try out the method with smaller quantities of plant material and an old saucepan. Pack the flowering heads into the bucket/pan and press down well. Cover with boiling water – my dye pot holds about 4 or 5 kettle-fulls. Bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour. Here’s the difficult bit… leave to cool over night!
Jonathan: D is right. So much done, but when, and what? It’s all a blur! Let’s think now: Indoors repairs, maintenance and decorating finished at Askernish, and some guests – ah yes the first night of their 4-night visit was spent in a B&B in Oban due to bad weather, and once they’d eventually arrived it was wet, grey and windy all the while – until they boarded the ferry back to the mainland! Coming off the same boat were guests for Carrick, who enjoyed a week of fine sunny days, with the daffodils in bloom and the birds and bees all a-stir with the excitement of spring. Before these guests arrived we’d completed all the indoors tidying up, re-decorating and deep-cleaning after all the work on the doors, but didn’t manage to get all the larch cladding back around the windows – there’s a few difficult ones still to do and then all the disturbed cladding to repaint. I’ve given the high hen house a ‘deep clean’ with pressure washer, and altered the layout so that the straw on the floor (and the nesting boxes over that) is now where the wind doesn’t drive rain through the rubble stone wall – so I won’t need to change the straw so often. In the same hen house I’ve added to the three-year occasional series of failed attempts to stop the birds perching in the roof trusses from where they can crap over anything and everything, including me – especially me!: a plastic mesh (ususally used to protect fruit bushes from birds) was simply torn to shreds. (The milestone in this case is that I’ve concluded finally the only way to deal with this is to modify the trusses so that there’s no horizontal perch rail to perch on at all!). The doors we removed from Carrick have been collected and gone back to the supplier – almost two years after Carrick was first ‘completed’! – and that frees up at long last a huge part of the workshop floor!). We’ve planted trees at Askernish, Carrick and our own garden: here we’ve also moved huge New Zealand flaxes to create a new planting layout around the new shop, I mean studio. We’ve cleared out the old shop ready for eventual demolition/dismantling for firewood. D has planted the first potatoes of this year, and we’ve been carrying trays of tomatoes seedlings evening and morning between greenhouse and the warmth of our own house. There’s more hens eggs in the incubators for hatching, and in other folks’ incubators as well, as we’ve continued selling hatching eggs on ebay, though this weekend will be the last of these for this year as demand has now all but fizzled out. At Askernish I’ve spent days picking away at loose masonry paint and render, and making good the render (the traditional form here is a single coat that is really just a fine-aggregate concrete. I’ve updated websites, refurbished all hive components, repaired a leaking exhaust pipe on my car, sawn up wood for the fire. Denise has finished my Eriskay gansey – and I’ve worn it to three public meetings in as many days (not that anyone took any notice); today she’ll finish her own also: photos will follow soon! In and amongst all this I’ve somehow found the time to continue working on the design of Burnt Mill Roundabout on the A414 in Harlow, Essex, advising on the condition of the bridge on the machair track at Kilpheder, and continuing discussions about getting involved in a major engineering project not far from here – but more on that in good time. Phew. All this in just a fortnight – and yet my back has got better, not worse (thanks in good measure to daughter Catherine’s remonstrations on good posture). My, I could do with a mug of coffee!
Denise: Here’s some of the colours I’ve been dyeing in the past few days. White sheeps wool – mostly Cheviot X – dyed with (clockwise from top left) Alkanet, Ragwort, Anatto, Cutch. Only the Ragwort required a mordant (alum in this case) to fix the colour. I shall soon start spinning these into yarn.