The dye­ing process

Landscape (UK) - - In the Home - ▯ Words: Angie Aspinall ▯ Pho­tog­ra­phy: Tanya Good­win; Richard Aspinall

Through­out the grow­ing sea­son, Paula and her as­sis­tant Anna spend two days a week mak­ing up the dye and dye­ing the silk. It is a long process, which starts with gather­ing the raw ma­te­ri­als. This can be as sim­ple as pick­ing berries from the gar­den, or as dif­fi­cult as pad­dling the ca­noe to the flag irises, dig­ging them out and clean­ing them. “When we moved here, there was a sin­gle patch, but over the years, I’ve taken the fleshy green seed­heads and spread them around the shal­low ar­eas of the pond, so we now have six or seven patches.” When mak­ing dye from the iris root, the soil is washed off out­side be­fore the root is chopped up and added to a large saucepan of wa­ter to boil for an hour. “To an ex­tent, it doesn’t mat­ter if there’s a bit of soil in the mix, as this won’t set when the silk has been dyed,” ex­plains Paula. Af­ter an hour’s ‘cook­ing’, the mix­ture is strained through a colan­der and the liq­uid set aside to cool. Next, a square of silk, which has been cut on the bias from a roll, is low­ered into the pan un­til it is cov­ered. The pan is gen­tly heated for a few min­utes, then al­lowed to cool. Some dye and fab­ric com­bi­na­tions can re­quire a mor­dant, a fix­a­tive that al­lows the dye mol­e­cules to bind to the fi­bre. A mor­dant can also brighten or darken the colour of a dye and make it colour­fast. Once the pan has cooled, the silk is hung to dry on the old kitchen maid pul­ley airer. “It’s im­por­tant not to dry it out­doors, as the sun­light af­fects the fin­ish,” says Paula. “Flag iris root makes a won­der­ful creamy-coloured dye. It’s one of our most pop­u­lar colours, al­though ev­ery time I use it, it’s dif­fer­ent. No two batches can be guar­an­teed to be ex­actly the same. It takes a while to learn how to ad­just the mix to get the colour you want. Iron, in the form of fer­rous sul­phate crys­tals, dark­ens colours; salt and bi­car­bon­ate of soda change the pH bal­ance, which will have an ef­fect on the colour.”

Mak­ing the rib­bon

Paula and Anna iron the silk squares be­fore cut­ting them into rib­bons with a ro­tary blade and re­peat­ing the iron­ing process. They make three dif­fer­ent widths of rib­bon: 2cm, 5cm and 8cm, and each strip is wound onto Paula’s hand­made dowel rods. These are made from sus­tain­able Scot­tish wood­land sources and hand-sanded by Paula. To at­tach the rib­bon to the rods, the end is slightly moist­ened to make it stick to the wood. The rib­bon is then wound by hand and se­cured by a la­bel made of sup­plied hand­made pa­per, which fea­tures pe­tals from her flow­ers. “This is a pop­u­lar month for wed­dings, and one of my busiest. The lupins are at their very best right now, and I en­joy see­ing them ev­ery day. I can’t imag­ine hav­ing a job I could en­joy more than this one, but even more so at this time of year.”

Flag irises are dug out with their roots in­tact and wheeled back to the work­shop. The roots are then chopped up and cleaned be­fore boil­ing in a saucepan to re­lease the dye.

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