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21 The Colour Collaborative: April: Red

Portrait of Edward VI

Books on dyes and pigments, and on colour history, theory, and symbolism, spill from one shelf to another in my studio bookcase, and always there are more to add. Many, in whole or in part, are about red. I have so much information on the subject that when I came to write this post I struggled to find a focus for it. I found myself considering colour words - red, and its cousins, scarlet, crimson, and vermillion - and, as you do, the coronation of nine year old Edward VI, on February 20th 1547.

Edward wore crimson silk velvet that day; the Archbishop of Canterbury, the justices, and the gentlemen of his household wore scarlet; and his more lowly attendants wore red wool (probably dyed with madder). The distinction is an important one.

Scarlet was a costly woollen broadcloth, woven from the so-called March wools - fine wools from Shropshire and Herefordshire, the English counties bordering Wales - and was commonly dyed with kermes red, a substantive dye derived from the egg sacs of the female scale insect. The word described the cloth before it described the colour and in its beginnings as a colour adjective it was only applied to wool.

To avoid an ugly repetition scarlet-coloured scarlet was vermiglio in Italy and vermeil in France, from the Latin vermiculous, or 'little worm', giving us vermillion. Similarly the Sanskrit krmi-ja, 'red dye produced by worms', is at the root of both kermes, the dyestuff, and crimson, a colour name originally reserved for kermes dyed silk. But in English the desiccated Coccid egg sacs were named for the 'grain' they resembled, and the dye process descriptive 'scarlet in grain', gave us another word we're all familiar with, 'ingrained'.

To give you a notion of why kermes was such an expensive dyestuff, and crimson silks and scarlet wools so highly valued, imagine how many of those (pea-sized at best) 'grains' were in the fifteen or so kilograms of kermes used to dye just 40 ells (that's not quite 30 meters) of cloth. And remember that each 'grain' was plucked by hand from the evergreen Mediterranean oaks on which scale insects exclusively feed. Nuff said?

Kermes ... til lately believed to be a vegetable excrescence, but it is now known to be the body of a species of Coccus ... In Languedoc, about the middle of May, when this insect has attained to its proper size, the harvest commences and the peasants begin to gather it. The harvest continues to about the middle of June, or later, but one heavy storm of rain puts an end to the gathering for that year. The persons employed in this business are women, who set out early in the morning, with a lantern and a glazed earthen pot ... According as the winter has been more or less mild, the harvest of kermes is the more or less plentiful; and the people always presage themselves a fine season when the spring has been free from frosts and fogs ... When the kermes is dried there comes out of it an infinite number of insects so small that they are scarcely visible; insomuch, that the whole inward substance seems converted into them. The shell is nothing but the body of the mother, distended by the growth of the eggs.

The London Encyclopaedia, or Universal Dictionary of Science, 1829

Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below ...

Sandra at Cherry Heart       Gillian at Tales from a Happy House

CJ at Above the River       Jennifer at Thistlebear     

What is The Colour Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.


87 Must, should, could, would

If you've read my last two posts you'll know that life here's been a little manic lately. Now, with some semblance of normality restored, I'm attempting to catch up with myself. I made a list of everything I need to get done and it was so scarily long that I went for a walk instead of tackling anything on it. When I got home I added 'Go for a walk' to the list and struck it through ... one down!

I'd ambled past the village allotments to the river, camera in hand, so 'Take pics for the blog' was also crossed off (my original intention had been studio stills). Clearly sun-kissed Ruby chard and European black poplars bursting into leaf* have little to do with the content of this post, but hey, they're what I've got.

When there's an overabundance of tasks demanding my attention I look to Moscow, or rather, MoSCoW ... the project management tool not the Russian city, the o's are added to make it pronounceable. 'Must have', 'Should have', 'Could have', 'Would like' ... it's commonly used to prioritise stakeholders' requirements, but it works just fine as a means of prioritising anyone's workload ... 'Must do', 'Should do', 'Could do', 'Would like to do'.

The 'musts' are time critical and non-negotiable, the 'if I don't do that today the sky will fall in' stuff - I must take those hanks of wool out of the mordant bath before they rot! The 'shoulds' are necessary but not as pressing - I should publish a blog post today. The 'coulds' are desirable but can wait - I could look for the 2mm knitting needles I've mislaid because I'll need them tomorrow. The 'woulds' (sometimes inaccurately described as 'wants') are gratifying but highly postponable, or they are if one bans procrastination and gets a grip - I'd like to reorganise my Pinterest boards some time soon.

If I was a different kind of blogger this is where I'd share a shot of my iPad screen - I use Evernote - or even share a Printable with you. But jeez, you're intelligent people, I'm quite sure that telling you how I do things will suffice. And it really is quite simple. Today's 'work' list currently looks like this ...
M - Rinse and dry mordanted yarn / Continue research re. alternative blogging platforms**

S - Take pics for upcoming blog posts / Write and publish blog post / Catch up with other folk's blogs

C - Find 2mm/UK14 aluminium knitting needles / Order 1.8mm/UK15 and 1.5mm/UK 16 knitting needles / Knit up (tiny) experimental stitch samples

W - Untangle nettle dyed DK yarn / Reorganise Pinterest boards / Go for a walk
And of course I have an April 21st 'home' list too, and no doubt abandoned tasks from both lists will be carried forward to April 22nd, new tasks will be added (many from the much longer to-do lists that exist in my head) and so the week will roll on.

My best advice ... write your to-do lists at the start of your day. Jot down everything that comes to mind, then prioritise it. Do so while your coffee's brewing or your tea's steeping and achieving something, anything, before sundown still feels possible. Then cross your fingers in a probably futile attempt - if your life's anything like mine - to avert your family's/friends'/dogs' all too determined efforts to derail you!

Are you a list maker? A time-management system user? And do you have any good recipes for Ruby Chard? My allotmenteering chum just dropped off a bagful, having chatted to me this morning about why I was photographing her crop.

* European black poplars (Populus nigra subsp. nigra) display a 'brief bronze flushing period' before the bright green leaves fully unfold in late April (

** A 'must' because I'm concerned that this increasingly glitchy Blogger blog is going to simply give up the ghost one day soon ... some posts are taking all day to turn up in blog rolls, comments often appear twice or don't appear at all, and any attempt to add a new widget is met with an error message. Eek!


82 Soon ...

Bracken fronds just beginning to unfurl.Hanks of yarn ready to be dyed.

Soon the bracken will be waist high again. Walking less travelled paths I'll find myself wading through it, trying not to trample it, inhaling its earthy, sour green scent when I do.

Soon more yarn will be mordanted and made ready for the dye pot. Small sample skeins of limited yardage, just enough to showcase whatever colours I can squeeze from locally gathered wild plants.

Soon normal service will be resumed here, honest. We've been all at sea this week chez nous, more 'life' as before, mostly short term stuff that's now behind us, small storms that we've weathered.

When it comes to making art, life has a habit of getting in the way ... How the hell with the emotional and physical demands, the financial responsibilities and the sheer domestic chaos that are part of having a family - do you keep creativity anywhere near the top of your 'to do' list?
Rachel Power

I wish I had the answer, not least because I'm trying to become again the artist and maker* I once was, before 'life' derailed me some years ago. It could all end in tears but I'm going to give it my best shot.

Are you struggling to sustain your creative self while also sustaining your family - your children if you have any, your partner, perhaps your elderly parents?

I realised the world, everyone in it practically, will give more and more responsibility to any woman who will continue to accept it. And when the other responsibilites are too great, her responsibility to herself must go. Or she has to take a thoroughly selfish position and refuse the world, and then acccept whatever guilt there is.
Kate Wilhelm

I wonder, does that sound familiar? Except I'm refusing to feel guilty or consider myself selfish. How about you?

(I'm thinking this is a topic I will return to in more depth.)

* I'm trained in textiles, print, and photography.

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