One of the first projects I made with yarn I dyed myself was Renaissance Crescent by Kieran Foley, the very creative Irish designer who writes vibrant colourwork patterns for shawls. This pattern was developed to use the wool from Renaissance Yarns in the South of France, who produce a range extraordinarily beautiful natural colours. So I felt confident it would be a good project to knit with yarns I had dyed myself.
This shawl was dyed using madder, indigo, weld and cochineal.
The terracotta shades are madder which is a plant that contains the red dye alizarin in its roots. Madder has been used as a dye for 5,000 years and fragments of linen dyed with madder were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Madder dyed wool has been found in Norse burial sites.
The blues are indigo. Blues are one of the hardest colours to obtain but the process seems like alchemy and I always treasure my blues. The indigo I used here came in powder form from Tamil Nadu as it is a plant that needs warmth.
The yellows are weld which is considered a wild flower or weed in the UK. I harvested some leaves and stems as the plants died back in late summer from the edges of fields left fallow just outside Oxford where I live.
The pinks are cochineal which is the only material I use that isn’t plant based. It is made from the female scale insects that live on the prickly pear plants. It is a traditional dye from South and Central America and in the 15th century was the most important export from Mexico after silver. Again, this was powder form as these insects and their prickly pear hosts live in warmer climes.
These 4 ancient dyes were all I used to create this shawl. Other shades were made from dyeing first with one colour and then overdyeing with another. The purples are cochineal overdyed with indigo. The greens are weld overdyed with indigo.
There are 18 shades in all but, as so often with natural dyes, they all sit together in an harmonious whole.