Dye Slow, Dye Happy

Thanks to Nicole Asselin, over on a too-fleeting stay from Brooklyn, we had a brilliant day on Saturday.  Nicole, Charlotte Head from Cordwainers, and I ran a natural dye workshop in the garden.  We did three techniques – bundling, folding/tying and rust and tea – and everyone produced something beautiful.  The hollyhocks and madder were the stars but co-stars were dock, coreposis, weld and other flowers we picked from the garden.

A tour of the garden to look at all the common plants that can be used for dyeing.

Leaves, stems and flowers are placed on the silk and then bundled up.

Leaves, stems and flowers are placed on the silk and then bundled up.
Hollyhock flowers and weld tops are placed on the silk and then wrapped round a stick.
Hollyhock flowers and weld tops are placed on the silk and then wrapped round a stick.
Hollyhock flowers and dyer's chamomile.
Hollyhock flowers and marigolds.
Using flowers and leaves from the garden we tied them in silk wrapped round sticks and then steamed.
Using flowers and leaves from the garden we tied them in silk wrapped round sticks and then steamed.
The bundles are steamed for about 20 minutes.
The bundles are steamed for about 20 minutes.
Wrapping the silk tightly with string means the colours are more defined. Looser and you get a kind of water colour effect.
By folding the silk and securing with pegs, card or wood you can create lovely patterns.   These were dyed in madder.
By folding the silk and securing with pegs, card or wood you can create lovely patterns. These were dyed in madder.
Bundle-dyed hollyhock and tie-dyed madder.
Bundle-dyed hollyhock and tie-dyed madder.
Dyed with hollyhock flowers and tied.
Dyed with hollyhock flowers and tied.

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Stripping the Willow

To protect and decorate the pallet shed, we’re planning to weave willow through it.  Pearl from Story Storey tracked down a source – right on our doorstep on Hackney Marshes.  The huge site is, incidentally, home to the biggest number of football pitches in the world – or at least that’s what the man at the cafe said.

The site is home to an amazing 82 pitches - mostly football.  Known as the spiritual home of Sunday league footie.
The site is home to an amazing 82 pitches – mostly football. Known as the spiritual home of Sunday league footie.

Len the Lop (that’s what we call him) from Hackney Council lent us some loppers from their depot, which is also home to a wonderful array of parks department gadgets, large and small: sit-on mowers, benches, recycling bins, piles of gravel, tractors, an ambulance – and loppers.

Len the Lop let us out of the back gate and we walked down to the River Lea – and into a peaceful, quiet world (apart from the steady hum of the A12 and the echo-y thudding of the Yahoo Wireless festival at the QE Park over the road.)  So while we were ambling down an almost rural woodland path by a gentle river, Justin Timberlake was warming up for adulation.

A quiet haven - humming distance from the busy A12.
A quiet haven – humming distance from the busy A12.

Willow (salix alba) is a wonderful tree.  Not only does it attract and support a variety of wildlife, but it is, of course the original source of aspirin.  It is also, because of its anticoagulant properties, a natural alternative to rooting hormone.  Just cut several 10cm lengths and soak them overnight in the fridge and use the water to root cuttings.

Salix Alba, the original source of aspirin - and cricket bats.
Salix Alba, the original source of aspirin – and cricket bats.
Jan doing some gentle lopping.
Jan doing some gentle lopping.
Second in Lopping Command.
Second in Lopping Command.
Willow Tree 2
Willow Tree 2

The willow trees along the Lea are ancient and giant.  Normally for weaving, we’d use coppiced willow, but we hope the branches have the same bendy properties.  We we tugged on their leafy extremities to get at the thicker branches.  Snip snip with the loppers and we soon had a large pile of leafy twigs and branches.

Future Willow Weave
Future Willow Weave

They may be too thin for our weaving but we will see… The wonderful Paul from the council is going to deliver them to us tomorrow.  Watch this space.

Water, water

After last year’s deluge, it’s come as a surprise (though it shouldn’t) that we have to water – after ten days of good weather.  My general practice is to water a lot, seldom, rather than little and often, as I want my plants’ roots to delve deep into the soil to find moisture, rather than be weakened by regular waterings, which keep the roots too near the surface.  Having said that, I have come across a wonderful irrigation system for those plants that really do need a lot of water – squashes and beans for example.  My friend Sara told me about it and I’ve been spreading the word ever since as, it’s so simple and perfect.  All you need is some old terracotta pots and corks.  You plug the hole in the bottom with the cork (the ease of this depends on the quality of the cork.  Denser is better for cutting to the right size) or my latest discovery – Sugru.  Then bury the pot near the root of your plant and fill with water.  The pot being porous will gradually – very gradually – allow the water to seep out providing constant moisture for the plants.

Terracotta pot with cork plug.
Terracotta pot plugged with cork.

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Pot buried next to plant.
Bury the flowerpot near the root of your plant.