Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


  • Birch catkins, dandelion nettle and rhubarb leaf

    In the recent good weather (which seems to have deserted us today) I finally started dyeing again. Here are the pots I was running yesterday, with rhubarb leaf and birch catkinsI was moving on to cotton, which is notoriously more difficult than the wool I’d had so much fun with in the autumn. I cut up an old fitted sheet – which I couldn’t get to fit our bed – and scoured it according to instructions, or at least I thought I did. I followed it up with a tanning process, which I learned about here, and mordanting, and finally simmered the cloth in the strained dyepot. The smell was a bit off-putting, but the weather was warm and sunny and I did a bit of useful weeding.

    I don’t think I did the preparation very well, because the results were a bit uneven.

    This is the birch catkin cloth, which is a lovely old gold colour, but rather streaky and uneven. The rhubarb leaf didn’t take at all, but I added some skeins of wooland they came up beautifully. The darker one had a slug of iron water added, and the lighter one was as it came.

    I’ve also tried some solar dyeing in the greenhouse. I filled up jars with dandelion heads and nettles with some water, and added prepared skeins of wool. They were left there for a week, until I decided they weren’t getting any darker. Here are the results:They are paler than I expected, but the nettle one is a lovely woody colour, just a bit darker than maple. The dandelion is a very pale primrose shade. There’s a jar of red onion skins in the greenhouse cooking now. They have had added iron, and so far it looks as if the wool is going to be a dark grey.

    I wasn’t going to get so involved in dyeing. I was going to write some colour poems, and wanted the experience of creating colours from my territory, and to understand how the process worked. But then I started to think about using the colours to make different kinds of art, and record the territory in new ways – and then I got distracted by the thought of textile art, and particularly women’s work at large. Now I think I’m hooked. There will be many more dye posts, I think. But I hope they’ll lead me into new ways of writing, some new poems, and new thoughts about the place where I live and how I live there.

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