About this blog space

This blog space is a place for me to primarily put all my wool gatherings, adventures, experiments. I am now a mum of two astounding daughters, and I used to be a DIY musician and co-ran a tiny independent label (Slampt), so this punk can-do attitude plus feminist analysis and Art school experience somehow informs my wool work! I am also deeply moved by GREEN, trees, weather, colour combinations in nature, and texture. I aim to source wool from round the corner or at the very least UK grown and processed, and to create no toxic waste. This means I get to see sheep as often as I can, sometimes at wool fests.
I am on Ravelry and Etsy as FatHenWildWool and Facebook as Rachel Holborow.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Ethics and natural dyeing; complexity

Top: Cumbrian Blue Faced Leicester wool locks, cleaned with eco washing powder, by me, then dyed with wild harvested Horseradish, onion skins from the wholefood shop, and madder from?
Bottom: Blue Fcaed Leicester, some commercially processed, some by me, as above, dyed with black beans from? onion skins, goldenrod from UK, and indigo from?

Recently received "Eco Colour" by India Flint in the post: Sustaining soul food for the natural dyer who is trying to pick the most ethical way through to coloured fibres. Afferming and at times eye opening, it's wonderful to come accross a person who makes an ethical approach into an Art via spirit and joi de vivre.
Helped me to focus thoughts feelings actions I've been having about my dyeing works in that I've realised using "findings of the forest floor" is the most comfortable path for me to amble on. Whether I can "give it up" to my results being entirely happenstance remains to be seen.
Methods I question as to being comfortable for myself which India uses: Uses of found metals as mordants/resists: I'm happy with copper (probably beneficial to a body), and possibly iron if dye dregs are thoughtfully treated, but I'm seriously unkeen on Aluminium (surely a link to alzheimer's?):The use of a microwave: I'm never happy with irradiating anything, it's a crime against life itself! Not to mention the high probablity of leaks right into your living space. And then there's Microwave disposal when it's done, it's all too much!
What was really useful was her critiquing of the Logwood and Indigo industries: I guiltily admit to uninformed use of Logwood!(see earlier blog). It is nourishing for me for someone to turn the ethical spotlight onto the natural dye industry, and then prove it's how unnecessary compromised ethics are so eloquently with her wonderful colours. I also love that she questions the use of synthetic dyes so completely: You've probably heard the discussion: Q:Plant dyes are not permenant, so why waste your time using them? A: Some are very long lasting, but ALL dyes fade anyway, as we know from experience (and indeed on my own pootles around Ravelry etc I've certainly noticed complaints of synthethic dyes running, fading and even changing colour!)
Regionalism is also an approach close to my heart: blues from local cabbages just seems so much kinder than indigo from who knows where flown accross the world to my dye pot. 

Sometimes, if you talk about the "ethics" of something people will start pointing the finger at you, and try to prove that you are unethical because of some crime once commited. I write this blog post in the spirit of one searching out a path less travelled, who does so because that feels the most sound path to travel. I'm sure there will be many false turnings, and perhaps some unforseen difficulties ahead, but the path of Adventurer in Ethical Colours for Wool I claim as mine to tread! I aim to get better at it one step at a time...


  1. Very interesting, a lady after my own heart :)

    I never ever ever use a microwave either, not even to re-heat food!!

    The trouble with the word "Ethics" is, it can mean such a vast variety to each individual person you ask what it means to them.

    Carry on the path you are on, its amazing, the discovery, the connection with nature and the universe, it feels very completing, well to me anyway :)

  2. Thanks for the support, Helen, I could've guessed that you shared similar concerns! And yes it is true that "ethics" is variable depending on whose using the term: I was v tired when I wrote this post and definitely could've elaborated further, but wanted to get the jist of my feelings off my chest before they lost their edge! I feel I may have to write some sort of rolling and ever evolving "manifesto", defining the ethics I dye wool by at some point, but that will require some serious headspace!

  3. This is really interesting. I experiment with natural dyes and unbleached cotton, with sludgy results! I'm trying to grow things like sumac and a friend sent me woad seeds, some of which are doing well.

    You make valid points though, some of which have occurred to me, and some not. I'll be back for more of your view point!

  4. Yep dyeing cotton can be hardedr than wool. India Flint suggested lots of biodegradable mordants in her book, including, soya milk, which work better if you leave them on the fabric to dry for sometime, at least days, pref weeks...
    Thanks for the support. Ethics is such a minefield and synthetic (petrol derived)dyeing so straight forward that it's very hard to talk about...

  5. Very impressed with what you say, thank goodness there are people like you in this increasingly threatened planet, keep up the good work.