A visit to the Weald & Downland Living Museum takes us on a journey through 950 years of English rural history.
There are 50 historical buildings which were carefully rebuilt within the 40 acre site, demonstrations and exhibits, plus an extensive artefact collection housed in the award-winning Downland Gridshell Building. Throughout the year, the Museum also hosts event days inspired by the collections, plus a programme of adult education courses in traditional rural trades and crafts.
Natural Dyed Fabrics, Yarns and Thread
Amongst the many exhibits is this glass topped cabinet displaying items dyed using natural dyes. The dyes and mordants used were bought from George Weil in October 2016 and it’s great to see the the wonderful range of colours achieved.
Some the dyes used for the natural dyeing display include Madder, Weld, Walnut Husks, Tansy, Marigold and Safflower. Our images below show the dried dye-stuff prior to dyeing.
Colours from Natural Dyes
The final colours of natural dyes will depend on the method and the type of mordant or fixative used. Some natural dyes, such as Walnut Husks and Lichens, do not require a mordant. These are classed as Substantive dyes. Adjective dyes, however, do need a mordant to combine with the dye and fix it to the material.
The roots of Madder (Rubia Tinctoria) produce a colour range from bright red (Turkey Red) through to purple. Both the crimson Alizarin and rich pink Rose Madder pigment are made from Madder and are used in water colour paints. A purple can be achieved by using a copper or iron mordant.
Our image shows Madder root ground into a powder.
Weld (or Dyer’s Rocket) was introduced into the UK in ancient times possibly due to the bright yellow colour it can yield when used as a dye. It was used in combination with Woad (which produces a blue) to create Lincoln Green which is famously associated with the fictional Robin Hood.
Walnut Husks (or Walnut Hulls) come from the outer green husk that contains the shell. The husks produce varying shades of brown and do not require a mordant. Walnut Husks can also be used to make an excellent deep brown ink by boiling and reducing the solution for 6-8 hours.
Walnut Leaves can also be used and will produce slightly lighter browns.
The Tansy plant has a strong aromatic scent which repels flies, ants and even moths. It is also said to help with bruising, rheumatism and other medical conditions. For the natural dyer, it produces a useful yellow.
Marigold – the clue is in the name – is not only a very pleasant garden plant but also a very effective source of golden yellow. The dye colour can be altered to a greeny olive by using an iron or copper mordant.
The Safflower is generally used for the production of vegetable oil but was traditionally used for colouring and flavouring. When used as a natural dye, the dried flowers produce shades of yellow through to red.
This page on expert dyer Jenny Dean’s Wild Colour website explains how to extract both yellow and red from Safflower petals.
Other historically important dye-stuff includes indigo, henna, logwood and oak bark. Browse the range of natural dyes and mordants from George Weil for further information.
Wool yarns dyed using natural dyes. Top left, Cochineal,
Top right, Indigo, Bottom left, Saunderswood , Bottom right, Fustic Chips