Ditchling Dyeing Project

December 2016
Took part in the Ditching Dyeing Project (see below)

Over four days experimented dyeing various fibers and fabrics with Alder bark and Madder. The museum sent samples of cotton, linen, silk and wool which were dyed for them along with a few fibers and samples of our own.
Some of the fibers before dyeing

Fibers dyed and soaking post cleaning
(Alder Bark with Copperas, Madder, Alder Bark)

The finished skeins
(1 Alder Bark with Copperas double dyed, 2 Alder Bark with Copperas, 3-5 Alder Bark 6-10 Madder)


Use of  copperas with alder bark to create black 

The black/ grey wool is noticeably more brittle after the first use of  copperas. A double dye bath in alder did not have the same effect so it has to be the use of  copperas that impacts the strength of the wool.

When first taken out of the dye bath it appeared absolute black and lightened as it dried; producing, in day light, a dark grey. The repeat darkened the colour and worsened the texture of the wool; producing in daylight,  a very dark grey, black.  Given the wool was wanted for a weaving project a third bath to deepen the colour was not attempted. Given the the rate of colour change we suspect it would need a further 2 baths to create a definate black.

Use of Alder bark 

When first taken out the dye bath the colour was consistent across the linen, wool and silk fibres. As they dried the colour of the silk and linen lightened compared to the wool. However, the linen and silk colours were indistinguishable .

Use of the Madder

The madder produced a range of colours that appeared to be impacted by the fibres (and hence how well the dye was taken up) Wool and linen took a colour easily on one dye bath. However,  cotton and silk needed a triple dye bath. What was notable was the triple dye bath did not deepen the colour to match the wool and linen.


Ditchling Museum are attempting to catalogue every natural dye recipe from Ethel Mairet’s influential publication with the help of artists, craftspeople and students from across the country and beyond. So

Ethel Mairet was an enthusiastic teacher, dedicated to ensuring that her lifetime of experimentation with natural dyes and textiles was passed on to future generations. A pioneer of the 20th-century modern craft revival in Britain, Mairet’s arts and crafts affiliations began alongside her first husband, Ananda Coomaraswamy, at C R Ashbee’s community in Chipping Campden, before moving to Ditchling and befriending the Guild of St Joseph & St Dominic. She was visited by Gandhi in 1914 and became the first woman Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) in 1939.