Spring Sewing Circle 1

Ah, Mansfield.  I was privileged to go to India Flint’s Spring Sewing Circle in this lovely Victorian town not so long ago.  I have been itching to write about it–but overcome by my day job.  Mansfield was full of fabulous plants for dyeing, including eucalypts that are hard to find in my dry, hot hometown. This is a stunning E Crenulata that was just hanging over the caravan park fence.

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There were catalpas and prunus trees that were so full of little plums that possums were harvesting all night, leaving leaves all over the ground for the enterprising dyer.  There were cotinus trees, and berberis plants, maples and E Polyanthemos… and there was St John’s Wort in quantity, which India harvested to share with us.

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I loved wandering the streets with enough time to admire the trees and expect to be able to use these leaves if I collected a few. I even found this one sunning itself at the edge of someone’s front fence!

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With all this bounty, people’s bundles were packed full of amazing windfalls and all kinds of leafy wonder.  I had come with some serviceable garment plans: I brought along a singlet with all its main seams machine stitched and hemmed it by hand, finishing all the edges.  It used up all my scraps of silky merino.  Then I made another one completely by hand.  I really didn’t think I could be converted to making garments by hand, but India has turned me round.  I still love my machine–but this is another pleasure altogether.  One of them got wrapped around a piece of copper and given a long, mild cook.

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Out came greens and purples and pinks and a little apricot.  The St John’s wort was a spectacular dye plant I have never had a chance to try before.  This dyeing process taught me that I’ve been reading and not understanding.  More experiments will surely follow as I try to consolidate all I learned from this bundle.

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I loved that St John’s wort!  If weeding has to be done, this is a rather glorious outcome.  Others had made wonderful silk bloomers and nighties that also got the St John’s wort treatment.

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The catalpa greens and maple leaves were fun too… and prunus leaf pink and purple… well, so much bounty.

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The other singlet had a hotter time in a dye bath that had already seen a lot of iron- and eucalypt-rich bundles, the things of which lovely string resist marks are made. I always love watching other people bundle up and unbundle.  This is a deceptively simple process that different people use to achieve gloriously different effects.  Finally I had E Polyanthemos I could be confident in, and E Crenulata, and so much more!

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Here’s the E Crenulata on the back, with some string marks on show and fresh from the dye pot.

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And here is the front, with those wonderful almost-round E Polyanthemos leaves. I am looking forward to wearing these come winter!

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Eucalyptus magic.  Sensational!  I see over on India’s blog that she is advertising a new Australian class for 2016 and some tips for the new leaf printer.  There is so much to learn from someone whose dye knowledge, love of plants and capacity for design are so extensive.  And so much pleasure in learning from someone so generous, creative and imaginative.  Do not get me started on the food…  I may have started out with plain and serviceable garments, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t be stopping there, and… I was right.  More instalments to come as time allows, my friends!




Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing

12 responses to “Spring Sewing Circle 1

  1. manja

    who would have thought: St John’s Wort! so beautiful…


    • It does have a long and strong reputation as a dye plant, but I had not understood that it could do this using India’s technique. And, I haven’t found it locally (sinse it is a weed here–this is good, really). Very special!


  2. Had Mansfield been at a different time of year I would of been there in a flash. I so love St Johns Wort too the little oil glands show up a treat !


  3. You lucky lucky thing. Oh bliss. What a wonderful learning and appreciating experience


  4. Rebecca

    I have just finished reading Second Skin. Flint really does have a very distinct technique and politics that you can watch rippling through the community. These are complex and subtle outcomes of very frugal ingredients. What a really wonderful experience. Did the workshop focus at all on yarn dyeing, is that where your stuff/steep/store practice comes from?


    • What a delectable turn of phrase, Rebecca, as always! I agree–India’s contribution is a really generative one that keeps rippling out. It does seem she has been a focus for controversy at times, but to me her central principles are spot on. Low energy use, conservation of plants and fabrics, wise and ingenious re-use. And so beautiful into the bargain! Her approach is spectacularly good at taking simple elements: leaves from the gutter, fabrics from thrifted garments… and turning them into marvels. And of course, the sky is the limit if you have access to a wider range of plants and fabrics. The sky might be the limit anyway! This workshop didn’t focus on yarn dyeing. I started out on that before Eco Colour came out but have altered what I do because India’s methods use less energy and invite experimentation. Since I’m in euc country, and I can spin, I can experiment widely, without worry–non toxic and freely available inputs lead to all kinds of wonderful outputs. India’s book Stuff, Steep and Store is the source of my using that practice to dye threads. That process could certainly be used to dye knitting yarns, but I haven’t done that yet–I am in a phase of dyeing before spinning for yarn. Stuff, Steep and Store has some common ground with some folks’ solar dyeing practices, but has the advantage of being mould free and capable of indefinte worry free storage. I love it for this time of year when hibiscus are dropping wilted flowers all around the neighbourhood, hollyhocks are falling off the stem, daylilies are out in abundance–and in general, there are small quantities of dyestuffs that I can easily gather but not in quantities for a big saucepan-ful or they are of the kind that would be better treated more kindly and with less heat. I commend it!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Susan

    St John’s Wort, I KNOW I have seen some around here somewhere in someone’s garden…come Spring I will find it! Your fabrics are lovely, yup, waiting to hear about the food 🙂


  6. When I read your blog I almost wish I’d chosen dyeing instead of spinning. Thank you so much for sharing what you do!


    • Goodness, Barbro! That is quite a compliment coming from someone so skilled! I only took up dyeing because I took up spinning first. Once I had spun a couple of fleeces I realised I would want colours other than natural fleece at some stage and started investigating. Fabric came later… Thanks for sharing the wonderful work that you do, and the places that you visit.

      Liked by 1 person

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