Sketchbook; MA in Academic practice

Drawings, colour research, snippets of fabrics, dyed samples, screen-print offcuts; accumulated, straying, intermingling, forging unplanned partnerships. Free range, awaiting the organisation and ruthless culling of the sketchbook. Designs are married to colours and fabrics, tests are written up in best handwriting, and experiments form logical sequences.

Dyeing small samples in local dyes;

Pomegranate skin (Brixton market)

Woad (Flo’s garden)

Red onion skin (Twickenham farmers market)

Testing dyeing techniques and fabrics with local dyes:

Pomegranate skin (Brixton market)

Red onion skin (Twickenham farmers market)

Madder (Nature’s rainbow)

Avocado pits (Brixton market)

Dye research using overlapping stripes

Day out with Sarah Burns of Pattermakers. Learning resist printing with River Adur mud, and block printing techniques.

Drawing to design development. Using collage to show shapes and patterns emerge from the drawings, and become natural dye-print ideas.

Dyes of known provenance.

Cut-paper stencil design representing the origins of the dye colour.

Researching overprints and modifiers on cotton, wool, silk, and linen.

Paper stencils used for screen-printing the booklets of dye provenance.

A year of provenance

The MA in Academic Practice prompts questions about the sustainability of screen printing onto both fabric and paper. As an experiment in mapping provenance and natural dye sources I designed and printed a booklet. Actually two; nitty-natty folding travel-happy ways of showing the colours.

Shapes inspired by the dye gardens, market stalls, and community spaces that plants were collected from; a stylised plan of dye provenance. Indigo from Wales, chalky-seams of madder from Hitchin, mulberries from Shepherds Bush, and bio-waste pomegranate skin from Peru, (thanks Brixton market).

Screen-printed cut-paper stencil designs made from recycled newsprint.

The distillation of colour is starch-thick with cornflour. Overlapping, casually haphazard, but oh so carefully manipulated print designs. Softest weld-yellow, creeping towards soda ash modifier, creating a blasting of gold. Several days of printing in the sunlit Ceres studio.

On cotton Khadi paper, textured watercolour Bockingford, and favourite Somerset satin.

Booklet 1. Sixteen segmented plant studies, folded into a finger-twirling library of colour acquaintances.

With an accompanying interlocking interpretation of the dyes drawn onto the trace paper.

Booklet 2. Pages of delight to be folded with attention to position and juxtaposition, and interspersed with dye notes on trace-paper.

Roots and Shoots

Volunteering day at Roots and Shoots; a haven for people and biodiversity

I first visited Roots and Shoots in the Autumn, as the walnuts dropped from a tree planted thirty-nine years earlier. In the post-industrial wasteland of Lambeth a plant riot of a community garden was carefully nurtured, greenhouses built, and an ethos of the regenerative power of nature grown.

I am mesmerised by how much productive greenery is fitted into the space, and by the beauty of the working environment. There is a centre for young adults with complex needs, and indoors-outdoors spaces for these students and local families to actively participate and learn skills. Trails lead to enticing vegetables, raised beds, architectural flowers, beehives, and wild rampant corners.

Roots and Shoots, is the work-place of Sarah, who came on a Ceres natural dye-print course laden with dye-bounty of surplus carrot tops, marigolds, and oak-galls. We discussed R&S and the community it represents, and I asked to spend a UAL charity volunteering day there. This September I was invited to do some natural dyeing with the younger children as part of a morning of drop-in family activities, followed by an afternoon art with the young adults.

The night before, I brewed up natural dye-inks from bio-waste and local ingredients; red cabbage, blackberry, red and yellow onion skins, and turmeric ends. Sarah added to this stash with dye made from coffee, and R&S red grapes and green walnuts. Modifiers to change and enhance the colours were made from iron-water, and food grade citric acid and baking powder.

The family activity was under the oak tree in the wild garden, an idyllic location, we set up tables and watched the rain not quite falling. Sun out, brushes dipped, the children enjoyed abstract and representative painting with the plant based colours.

After lunch I gathered inspirational materials for the students; an armful of trailing flowers, patterned leaves, and long stalky plants. The afternoon class had time to make dye-liquor from red cabbage, explore the decorations found in nature by painting with the botanical inks, and use the modifiers to transform colours.

I finished the day happy to have been a tiny part of a bigger vision. A swapping of colour, painting and pattern, for learning about Roots and Shoots traditions, rhythms of nature, and ways of doing.

Many thanks to the team at

Paper for Heals SS21

Playful explorations using local plant dye colours.

Prints for Heals SS21, gave a burst of zest to January-greyness.

Hand screen-printed onto Somerset satin paper with natural dyes in the Ceres studio in Brixton.

Paper collected from John Purcell, a shortish walk away (helpful hint; take an umbrella in January).

Designed in the heat of the summer, catching curving hills of Shropshire, stripy dresses in the park, and a shade-dappled chair.

Limited edition prints, each piece displaying the relationship between dye, paper, time, and the artist.

Natural dye scrolls

The research for my current MA in Academic Practice began in 2015 as I developed scrolls to creatively display natural dye experiments. I transposed prior knowledge of screen printing with synthetic dyes into natural dye patterns onto textiles.

Two meters long they explore concentrations and combinations of natural dye colour. Four fabric variations test and record the dyes on cotton, silk, wool, and viscose. Colour was made from Wild Colours extracts, and fabric was pre-mordanted.

Re-visiting the scrolls prompts new inquiry:

Fabric choice; should it be local, dead-stock, organic or recycled?

Mordants; which ones and when to use? Does pre-mordanting fabric make dyes more colour-fast than adding mordant to inks. Is this less sustainable?

Dyes; extracts, locally grown, foraged, or bio-waste? Are they readily available and colour-fast?

Dissemination of knowledge; who is benefiting and how? Could collaborations and Communities of practice be useful?

Should the potential for change in printed natural dye colours be celebrated or glossed over? The original scrolls attempted to replicate the longevity and predictability of synthetic dye colours. Do I shift stance and play with the ephemeral and metamorphosing colours of natural dyes; making designs that acknowledge and harness their capricious beauty?

Botanical Screenprinting in a home-kitchen workshop; cornflour or indulca?

I usually print botanical colours by making a cornstarch thickener on paper, and an indulca thickener on fabric. Cornflour is a safer and a more readily available ingredient that indulca. I want to test how well cornflour botanical pastes will print onto fabric.

I simmered the outer leaves of red cabbage for 30 minutes, and left to cool in the dye liquor. Next I strained the mixture through muslin, and then thickened it with cornstarch; approximately 8 g for every 100 g liquid.

I used common kitchen ingredients as modifiers; lemon juice for an acid, and baking powder for an alkali.

I steamed the prints to fix them, using an adapted burco-boiler. Steaming at home can also be done using a large pan of water.

To allow for comparisons, I screen-printed the three different red-cabbage colours onto a range of pre-mordanted fabric, and onto paper. Cotton and silk with soya mordant (kitchen safe), silk and wool with alum mordant (use with care), and leather with iron-water (use with care).

When I contrast these prints with previous research, I can see that the colour yield of indulca based thickener onto fabrics is better than the colour yield of cornflour.

In conclusion I continue to prefer cornflour on paper, and indulca on fabric.

Natural dye print paste for paper; made in the kitchen.

Gather materials that are in your locality. Try to use bio-waste and left over kitchen ingredients, or items that are foraged sustainably. Some of my favourite natural dye ingredients are; onion skins, red cabbage offcuts, turmeric peelings, carrot tops, buddleia, nettles, coffee grinds, and avocado pips.

Soak dried or tough materials overnight. Grind roots and berries. Chop plants into small pieces.

Simmer the prepared materials gently in a stainless steel container with a small amount of water for about half an hour. Leave dye material to cool down. Squeeze through a plastic sieve and/or using a clean tea towel or muslin.Collect the dye liquor. The used plant material can be put onto a compost heap.

The dye liquor can be thickened with common household starch. I like to use cornflour; 8g flour to 100ml dye liquor.