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9 Waysides

If you've been visiting here for any length of time you'll know that I do relish a collaboration. Having someone to bounce ideas off, someone not afraid to question what you do, is a boon in any creative endeavour. Home ground, my plan to reveal some of the hidden colours that local dye plants hold, was in the doldrums when I 'met' Rebecca through her fascinating blog and we began to exchange excited emails about natural dyes. One of us lives in North Wales and the other in Melbourne, Australia but that wasn't going to stop us egging each other on when we'd both found someone who 'got it'. So we hatched a plan.

'What if?', we said. What if we each aim to discover, perhaps literally unearth, three or four distinct local colours each month, perhaps all from the same plant, perhaps from three or four, perhaps from many in combination? What if we dye any fibre by any method using any mordant or modifier but always in rain water or river water we've collected locally? What will be different and what the same?

Although my 'local' is a pasture-rich river valley bounded by woodland and moorland and Rebecca's is a city's urban sprawl, for each of us it is the paths we habitually follow through those landscapes that describe our local's limits. Our local colour, or rather the plants that will yield it, is to be found where our feet always take us. We may be separated by 148 degrees of longitude, 90 degrees of latitude, 11,000 miles (17,000 km), and our opposite seasons, but we're united by our wayside foraging for dye stuffs - be that along the way to run the whippets on the hill/take the children to the park, or merely along the way to the washing line - and from that simple shared-across-oceans act of walking and gathering something of significance to us both is growing.

I'm struggling to articulate exactly why it has become important to us that we do this in tandem but I'll give it a go. We're both knitters and (newbie in Rebecca's case) natural dyers; we're both academics, or have been, one a social historian and ethnographer, one (me) an arts and humanities interdisciplinarian; and we're both preoccupied with connections (and making is connecting). One definition of interdisciplinary is "thinking across boundaries" and we are most definitely doing that ... we have already each enabled the other to see the familiar with new eyes. We are both focussed on process, both open minded about outcome, both alert to the curatorial nature of our joint venture (more on that latter another time). Rebecca expresses it thus ...
So far, it has been an unexpectedly seamless thing, a small creature nurtured into largeness as our ideas intertwined. One person’s thought would be expanded by the other which would then provoke entirely new considerations and insights.
Waysides, a collaboration ... we'll be blogging about it*.

Will we create value by collaborating in this way? We think so, although whether our endeavour has value for anyone other than ourselves remains to be seen. What is your take on such 'crafty' collaborations, I wonder? If the collaborators never meet can it be considered a collaboration at all? Is parallel practice, fed by the exchange of ideas - a reciprocal illumination** if you will - sufficient to qualify or should there be a material exchange as well? And must a collaboration end in a joint body of work?

What is your 'local' like? What kind of paths do you walk? We'd be interested to know.

A note re. the images. The bark of berberis, or barberry, a naturalised plant in parts of Wales, gives a yellow dye, as do (Welsh) daffodils - Happy St. David's day! - as can be seen from the jam jar. Both dyestuffs are available in the wild here in February. And ditto the purple orchil dyes from lichens. The pic top left is from an image library, the other three photographs are my own.

* With links to each other's blog posts but mostly posting to our own schedules ... today we have both posted at the same time.

** The phrase is Roger Kneebones's not mine.


60 Fire and ice

Snow on winter moorland grasses, in sunshine.Ice crystals on the branches of a hawthorn tree.

Up on the hill it's still winter - when it rains here in the valley it snows up there - and at day's end, as the sun dips, for a few brief moments all is fire and ice.

I had headed out to the lower slopes to pick gorse flowers for the dye pot*, but my feet carried me further, away from the first bright colours of spring and on, back, to the neutral hues of winter. To the palette of whites and greys and browns and tans I'm always drawn to. To the colours of undyed yarns, when I stop to think about it.

When I'm dyeing I mostly like to work with the whitest unbleached yarns as they showcase the dye colours best. Poll Dorset is a favourite and it's Poll Dorset that I'll be dunking into the gorse dye bath later this week. This early in the season I don't expect to achieve the same intensity of colour as I did last May, but I am hoping for a pale primrose.

Might primrose look good in combination with a natural undyed grey? In a pair of stripy fingerless mitts? Something woolly to keep my hands warm is a necessity well into April when I walk the whippets on the tops. The more mitts I have the better. Which is why, inspired by these images of today's walk, I've also just cast on a pair in undyed Shetland, in white, Shaela (a steely grey), and Sholmit (a mid brown). Lists of the dialect names for Shetland fleece colours are fairly easy to come by, but pondering what exactly Shaela meant I dug deeper and found the delightfully apposite 'like black frost'.

A hawthorn tree in winter.

* The yellow gorse flowers are among the earliest to bloom, and in such abundance that there's no harm in picking a few handfuls.

** I've featured a very different hawthorn here before, in a May Eve post.

Thank you so much for all the fourth 'birthday' wishes, and for all your comments and emails regarding my problems with the blog's feed. Apologies for not having responded to any of them yet, but every spare minute has been spent on trying to fix the blog. The jury is still out on whether it's fixed or not, I'll let you know. Edit an hour after posting. It's looking like not :(


57 Four

Chinese Witch Hazel in bloom."

The colour of this particular Chinese witch hazel (exact cultivar unknown) reminds me of the raspberry and pineapple Fruit Salads I sometimes bought in the sweetshop at the bottom of the hill that my grandmother lived atop. Were you a fan? Or perhaps you preferred the white paper bags of yellow sherbert with the pink lolly dippers? I liked those too! What were your favourites? If I'd invited you to a birthday party what sweet treats would you have hoped to find in your party bag?

Four years, hundreds of posts, thousands of readers every day. (I'm stunned by that last number, and slightly discombobulated by it.) Four years of making connections with like minded people, every one of you a beaut. Four years of losing my way here and of finding it again, repeatedly. Four years today.

I had planned to launch another giveaway, by way of a thank you for your continued interest, your oft exercised patience, and your friendship. But the blog's feed seems to have developed a glitch ... blogrolls aren't updating properly and comments and incoming emails are full of references to missed posts. A fix has been attempted but only when I publish this post will I know if it's worked. So I'm sure you'll understand if I postpone the giveaway until I can be certain that everyone who might want to enter it actually has the chance to.

If the problem can't be solved - and I wouldn't be the first to have a feed break irreparably - I will be forced to consider a move to a different blogging platform. I understand why my previous comment to that effect worried many of you - I too like Blogger, coding the template is easy for me and commenting is easy for you - but a feed that isn't functioning properly can rapidly become a feed that isn't functioning at all, and if that happens I really would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

And perhaps, after four years, a bit of a shakeup wouldn't be such a bad thing? Sometimes I even think I'd like to start again. To take the confident blogger I've become and challenge her a little, knock any complacency out of her, push her down a few new paths. We'll see. But meanwhile your thoughts on Wordpress, Squarespace, et al., whether as a writer of blogs or a reader of them, would be most welcome, just in case I ultimately have no choice but to leave Blogger.

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