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Jane’s Journal

Collecting acorns at Loch Lomond

Collecting acorns at Loch Lomond



This is a video taken on a trip to the Eastern shore of Loch Lomond where I collected acorns to dye some wool to make socks. The full tutorial is in the Exploring Trees course which is also available as part of Studio Club membership.

The transcript is below and you can also set the video to show subtitles

"I live in the middle of Scotland within the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, around about five minutes drive from the Eastern Shore of Loch Lomond.

It is a glorious place to live, there are sheltering hills that surround us and rolling green fields of sheep, and right in the middle there is this great body of water, and Loch Lomond is immense, it is fringed by these very beautiful oak woods that I think are at their best in October and November.

I have lived here about 21/22 years and this stretch is my favourite place to come if I just need to connect back into the natural world, have some peaceful time, this is where I come.

And incorporating this idea of place and connection into my creativity is really important to me. And acorns, which fall from these trees are one of my favourite things to dye wool with.

There is just something about collecting and spending that time, and then taking the acorns back to my studio and pulverising those acorns, really pulverising them, it's all part of the process - and making what is actually just a very strong tea to put the mordanted wool in.

And then letting time play its part, for time is very important when you are dyeing things. You get such a beautiful rich brown colour from the acorns - which is very colour fast as it is full of tannins - and you can make things.

These hanks here are destined to be socks and that idea of wearing something that is just part of the natural scenery and world that surrounds me.

That's what I really love."

Natural Dyes: Fig leaves

Dyeing wool with fig leaves

The scent of warm fig leaves is one of my favourites.

It could be a hot day, sun baking down into a courtyard of figs growing in a climate where they are at home.

It could be simmering leaves in cream to make fig leaf ice cream in my kitchen.

It also turns out that it could be dyeing soft woolly yarns in the Studio.

The leaves that I used for this were what I had about - very much end of season, slightly yellowing, certainly not in their prime.

The colours are beautifully gentle but also deep and the scent in The Studio . . . . . just bliss.

"Birch leaves in a bottle" embroidery part two

embroidery made with plant dyed and vintage fabrics, slow stitching

I finished the first of the embroideries that will eventually go onto the wall behind the kitchen table and it is now packed away in paper waiting for its eight companions.

I find that my creativity responds well to limits, to working within set edges. The edges for this project are mainly to do with materials - a mix of the pieces salvaged from the original tattered wool quilt and pieces of fabric dyed with plants from the garden here. There is also the possibility of adding in plant material - like the stem here - and maybe some bits and pieces like buttons I have inherited.

Nothing new though.

Start where you are, use what you have *

There is also a restraint in the size. As this is to be one of eight or nine embroideries to hang in a grid behind my kitchen table, though they don't have to be alike, they do need to fit into the same size frame.

The size of each piece of backing fabric is A4 (21 x 29 cm).

plant dyed fabrics and threads

The fabrics are a striped flannel which was the backing of the quilt, wool pieces in various states of decrepitude which were the patchwork, a wool batting that was the padding for the quilt which is beautifully stained blue by the colour running at some point. Then I have a selection of linens and threads dyed with plants from the garden here - in the photo you can see threads dyed with birch, sweet cicely and alder cones.

Natural Dyes: Dyeing wool with Plum bark

dyeing wool with tree bark plums

Next to the airstream caravan is an orchard of plum trees. It is a small orchard, there are only five trees, but it is a beautiful space, especially in the spring with white narcissi and snakehead fritillaries flowering under plum blossom.

Four or five years ago there was a bumper crop of plums, far more than I could pick, and the birds feasted, dropping the stones on the ground. There must have been some animal gossiping about the bounty available for a red squirrel arrived and spent her days in the tree tops picking out the best, throwing the rest to the ground.

The result has been a thicket of saplings, joining the suckers that huddle at the bases of the trees to provide perfect material for the dye pot.

I simply had to chop them up into pieces, soak for a few days, and then simmer gently to get beautiful colours.

Plum is a dye which will give different colours depending on the pH of the original dye pot so it is great if you want four colours from a single collection of dye material.

In the photo the yellow and the pale green are from pH neutral dye extraction. The orange and dark grey are from pH alkali extraction.

"Birch leaves in a bottle" embroidery part one

applique embroidery mindful stitching

Earlier this year I went to the Louise Bourgeois exhibition at the Hayward Gallery with my friend Rebecca . It was an amazing exhibition, one of those exhibitions that change the way you think and I came away with my head buzzing.

Buzzing loudest was the desire to embroider a set of pictures and hang them as a grid to fill a wall.

This is inspired totally by the amazing Ode a l'Oubli (Ode to Forgetting), a fabric book of appliqués and embroideries which Bourgeois made in 2004 from fabrics that she had either worn or been carrying about in her stash for decades.

In the Hayward, the 35 pages were deconstructed, unbuttoned from their book form, mounted floating gently in white frames and hung floor to ceiling.

louise bourgeois ode a l'oubli

And so the idea was planted and I have been prowling around the house for a blank wall. We live in a 1980s bungalow so there are no exhibition like soaring spaces, but the wall behind the kitchen table is currently blank. Perfect for eight or nine white frames hung in a grid.