Natural dyeing workshop with Cordwainers Garden

I’m still finding my feet with this eco printing lark. Results are slowly improving – here’s a cotton bag, mordanted with aluminium acetate, bundled with peony leaves, coreopsis flowers (only two – the slugs ate all the rest!), eucalyptus leaves and some sycamore “helicopter” seeds, and put into an onion skin dye bath.

peony bag1

I dipped the peony leaves and sycamore seeds into an iron mordant before bundling. The sycamore seeds didn’t show up at all, but the peony leaves worked quite well. The first picture below shows peony leaves with the head of a coreopsis flower in the foreground (damn those slugs!).

peony bag2 peony bag3

So off I headed to a workshop on natural dyeing run by Kate Poland of Cordwainers Garden, a community garden set up on a disused piece of land belonging to the London College of Fashion in Hackney. As well as growing fruit, vegetables and dye plants, they are also co-ordinating a project called Grow a London Garment – trying to grow, design, dye and sew a linen garment from scratch, using flax grown in various locations across London. They are currently on the lookout for flax spinners, so get in touch if you know anyone!

The workshop was held at the fantastic Surrey Docks Farm in Rotherhithe, right next to the river. It was slightly surreal to be picking leaves from the dye garden with Canary Wharf looming just across the Thames!

dye garden

We started with some itajime shibori – folding pieces of silk before clamping or tying them, wetting them and then putting them in a madder dye bath for a couple of hours. Kate had dug up the madder root came from the farm’s dye garden, and ground it in a coffee grinder before simmering it in water. She took the pot off the heat before we put in our fabric.

madder bathmadder shibori

Then we went on to bundling, using leaves and flowers from the dye garden as well as a selection Kate had brought with her. Rather than getting clear leaf prints, we were aiming for a watercolour effect, using more flowers than leaves.

kate bundling

We steamed the bundles for about 20 minutes before opening them – the results were very successful.

steamed bundles steamed bundles2 steamed bundles3

The dark purple comes from hollyhock flowers, the orange is onion skin, and the yellow is dyers’ camomile. Below you can see a close-up of the onion skin.

steamed bundles4 steamed bundles5

I also used woad leaves, which were’t very visible when the fabric was wet. You can see them more clearly in the picture below, when the fabric was dry and ironed – the stalks are sticking up on the left of the picture between the purple hollyhock petals.

steamed bundles6

While all this was going on we had a curious spectator peering in through the window – love the haircut! 🙂

rasta sheep

Finally, we set up some solar dyeing to take away with us. We each chose a single type of plant dye – hollyhocks, dyers’ camomile or Hopi sunflower seeds (which have to be boiled first to extract the kernels, from where the colour comes) – and put them in a jam jar with water and fabric to take home.

Here’s my jar of hollyhock solar dye – you’ll have to wait for a few weeks for the results!

solar hollyhock


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Flextiles uses shibori, ecoprinting and felting to create original, one-off upcycled pieces. Extending the life of a garment by an extra nine months reduces its environmental impact by 20-30%.

9 thoughts on “Natural dyeing workshop with Cordwainers Garden”

    1. Me too! But I don’t think we’re alone.

      Of course most people post pictures of their most successful prints, not the disappointing ones. 🙂 But judging by comments in this Facebook group, there are other people out there who are having problems getting good prints.

      Keep trying – you learn best from your own mistakes! 🙂

  1. Natural dyeing certainly seems challenging! But the leaf prints on the bag came out well–they have such a quiet, subtle, understated beauty. I’m also extremely curious about what’s brewing in that hollyhock jar and will look forward to seeing the results in a few weeks!

  2. I think your bag is beautiful. I do like the understated results. Looks like the class was great in a beautiful setting. Looking forward to the hollyhock results.

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