Seasonally inspired things to Make, Learn & Do.


Scotch broom as a dye plant

simmering scotch broom flowers

We have a problem with Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) in the area around the workshop - it is an invasive plant, short lived, hardy, yet prone to die off. It is the main pioneer plant that appeared (in hundreds) after the landslip a few years ago took away the trees. It is a nice bright flower in May - though rarely seems to attract insects - but the rest of the year it is just spiky and dull, possibly a physical habitat but not obviously useful in a wildlife context. It is classed as a noxious weed in many countries.

For a few years we left it to do its own thing, but I now want to extend the meadow area, plant some native fruit trees and cowslips, so we took the decision to push it back to the fence line of the bit where we used to keep pigs.

It seemed the perfect opportunity to try it out as a natural dye plant - google and old books said it gave a great yellow, like gorse which its flowers resemble. I collected half a 10 gallon pan load of flowers and simmered them for an hour. No dye, it looked like a dirty puddle.

At this point I felt it was a failed experiment - always useful in their own right - but a bit disappointing.

It started to rain. I put the pan under my dye bench and went away. I went away for 4 days.

residue of broom flowers

When I came back the whole pan had gone that musty way - almost mouldy, definitely bletted - but as I sieved and squashed the flowers out I thought I should try a bit of wool in it - just to record the process. And the wool turned acid yellow - a strong, bright colour from the murk.

wool from broom dye

I kept it at a point just below simmer for about 40 minutes, let it cool and steep overnight.

This was the result - a glowing acid yellow which I am experimenting with as a base for layering up over-dyed colours as part of a Studio Members course on plant dying basics.

hank of wool dyed with broom

400g Cytisus scoparius flowers
3 litres tap water
Simmered for 1 hour and left to steep for 4 days, then drained.
100g Bluefaced Leicester double knitting wool.
Mordanted with alum then added to dye pot
Kept at just under simmer for 40 minuted and left to steep for 18 hours.
Drained, washed and dried.

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Between the plum trees and the studio is a sloping space that was created when we flattened a patch of land to build. It is a mix of subsoil, rocks and odd seams of rich pasture land. ⠀
As grass began to grow there about 7 years ago,  I sowed a perennial meadow mix, I planted lots of random plants from the cutting beds, I worked without a plan, without knowing what would thrive and what would gently vanish. ⠀
Now there is minimal gardening involvement - I try and keep the nettles from taking over, we dig out brambles - and in the autumn and winter I lure the chickens there to scratch out patches of bare soil for the wildflower seeds. ⠀
It’s a patchy space, caught on the cusp of abandonment - but it is the most beautiful space in the garden, buzzing with insects, rustling with birds. ⠀
Low light, bright petals, setting sun. ⠀
A couple of days ago I got a message from a friend asking what I thought about all the 'picking wild flowers' photos on here and the fact that a country style magazine was promoting it as a
My Gran had hangers like these.  Knitted from odds and ends of wool, hanging softly squashed together in the big dark wardrobe in her bedroom.⁠⠀
My cousin and I would take the fancy silky 1960s dresses from them and transform ourselves into glamorous detectives, spying on passers-by from behind the net curtains, making notes.⁠⠀
Now the hangers are my favourite things to make from wool scraps - each takes 37 grams of wool and you only need to be able to do a plain stitch to make it. ⁠⠀
As well as being chock full of nostalgia for me, they are also the most practical kind of hanger, as the garter stitch keeps even the flimsiest of straps in place so clothes don’t end up on the floor.
This week's business improvement was deciding to make the postcards that go in with orders more useful, getting Kate Stockwell to turn them into activity cards for me. ⁠⠀
This is the first, going out with orders from today.⁠⠀
I’m always amazed at how many plants from sunnier climes take to the garden. ⠀
Sicilian honey garlic - Nectaroscordum siculum - is one of the plants that grow in rows in the orchard - ghosts of the flower field, buzzing with bees, happy in grass, a strong whiff of onion as I pass. ⠀
This month I’ve been experimenting with solar dyeing- using plants and sunlight and a jar to dye wool on the windowsill. 
I was amazed at what bright shades were possible and at how easy and self contained it turned out to be. 
It was part of the Studio Membership mini “Introduction to plant dyes” course but I’ve also put together a kit in the shop with full instructions and everything you need to get started with solar dyeing wool (there are mini skeins in the kit). The photo is my drying rack on the dye deck - part of the studio where I used to prep flowers when I sold them. 
The wood rack used to be for shoes and wellies.
Inspired by @josephinepbrooks I’m still using this time for some serious decluttering of my business - looking hard at which parts have descended over the years into one of those drawers stuffed full of things.  Which bits are muddled, useless, impossible to open without everything falling out. 
Last week was the turn of the blog - so many out of date things, so many broken links, pretty much impossible to browse. 
Now it’s been sorted out - David and @fuzzyjill at Fuzzy Lime helped me divide it into sections and now it’s all easily accessible from the navigation bar.

So if you are looking for tutorials, nature notes, gardening, recipes or musings on life you can find them without scrolling through hundreds of pages. 
And - as always seems to happen when you  declutter - I’m suddenly full of ideas for things to write about, so that I can fit them nicely into my new space! 
The poppies are from Friday’s blog about how they make wonderful cut flowers.
Another week. Another new morning 
I was chatting to a friend yesterday about what was the best thing about running my own business - and I decided that it was probably being excited about each day and all the things I want to do. ⠀
That I now rarely need to force myself. ⠀

Today it’s finishing off this week’s Studio Members lesson about solar dyeing and putting together these activity postcards which I am getting printed to go out with orders. ⠀
What are you looking forward to doing today?

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At Snapdragon we gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

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