The First Colours

Here they are, my first dyed yarns. It’s been an exciting time. I was lucky enough to find dyestuffs locally – acorns, a branch off a cherry tree, which I stripped to make bark chippings,

and, most unexpected of all, some privet berries. Most privet bushes are clipped within a inch of their lives, don’t flower, and therefore don’t get to produce berries, but we were a bit less vigilant this year because of nesting birds and so I got a jar full of a murky inky liquid that looked like this

Following instructions from Helen Melvin in a craft book by Kirsty Alsopp (because she works on the small amateur scale which is all I can cope with, I set up a dye bath

and eventually got this bunch of beautiful colours:

Left to right, they are privet berry on an alum mordant, which is a very pale duck egg blue, privet berry with an iron modifier, which is closer to a wedgewood colour, cherry bark on alum alone, a very pale apricot, cherry bark with added iron, a kind of oatmeal, and acorn , a surprisingly yellow straw, and acorns with iron, a greyer beige.

They are quite pale, almost ghost colours, which is probably because I got too excited to simmer them for the length of time required, but I’m very excited by them. Fortunately every experiment yields something I can use, even if it isn’t what I wanted or expected. Trying to describe the colours has been interesting, as they don’t reproduce on the screen very clearly, and trying to thinks of designs to use them in is quite productive too. I’m thinking sparrows and blue tits, which is sparking ideas for poems as much as embroidery. And I’m fascinated by seeing what happens when you add the iron liquor to the dye pot. It doesn’t just change the colour of the bath, like washing out a paintbrush – the yarn changes almost instantly, like alchemy.

I’m thinking about translations, as I often do, recklessly, because time is short, and I have too many ideas, but I had a conversation last summer with a friend who translates poems from German, which made me think about translations and transformations, and the gaps between, and what desn’t change. Only now, I have a whole cluster of new images to write about it. When you submit a manuscript you often have a fallow time after it where you don’t write and sometimes wonder if you’ll ever write again; it looks like this fallow time is going to be shorter than I imagined!

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