Art textiles

Natural dyeing using common plants with Penny Walsh

Ref: SWE08850

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About this course

Learn about dyeing with ecologically sound, low impact sources of colour from plants and household ingredients. Use historic recipes to obtain brilliant colours. Woad, saffron, madder and tansy are among the dye plants used to colour samples of wool, silk and linen. Some plants are gathered from West Dean Gardens.

Course Description

Ancient and modern recipes will be used to obtain brilliant colours that are light and washfast.

You will learn individual recipes and techniques as well as generic methods that can be used for a wide variety of natural materials. This will include how to achieve a particular predicted colour and how to create ranges of matching shades from one dyestuff by using different mordants and after baths.

Skeins and fabric pieces will be provided by the tutor for dyeing and making into a sample and recipe book. You may bring limited quantities of materials for experimentation and piece dyeing.

The dyestuffs covered will be:

Woad and Indigo for blues, using an organic fermentation recipe.

Madder Safflower and Sappan (Brazil) for reds and pinks.

Weld, Buckthorn, Saffron and Goldenrod for yellows.

Alkanet and Logwood for greys and purples.

Plus easily grown garden plants and some household food waste and compost.

The group will make up concentrates and decoctions - then dyebaths, under supervision. You will first dye the sample pieces provided which will make up the dye recipe book (you should expect to keep your own notes and label samples during this session). Following this some time will be spent overdyeing for secondary and tertiary colours. You will then experiment with your own samples and pieces, shibori or tie dye, shaded or staged dyeing. Simplified versions of these techniques will be used and some of the colour will be experimental with unpredictable results.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • The cost of dyes and mordants supplied by the tutor for use by the group.

What students need to bring

  • Source samples of undyed wool, silk or cotton yarns or fabrics (items under 50gms) to dye in the indigo bath. These can be pre-prepared by stitching or clamping if you wish.
  • Also bring any unusual dye plants you have access to try out.
  • Overall/apron to protect clothes
  • Covered footwear
  • Notebook and pen
  • Gloves if you are allergic or uncomfortable with ordinary kitchen gloves

Available to buy

  • Additional fabric and yarn samples may be purchased in small quantities from the tutor during the course. Any items purchased should be paid to the tutor before the end of the course, by cash or cheque.


Penny Walsh

Penny Walsh trained at the Royal College of Art and travelled to Norway and Poland on British Council scholarships to study tapestry weaving and dyeing. After returning she worked in tapestry studios and subsequently for fashion and textile companies. Penny is part of the design group 'AO Textiles' which has the aim of producing environmentally conscious ecologically sound furnishing fabrics dyed with natural colour. She has published work including; Yarn and Self Sufficiency in Weaving Spinning and Dyeing.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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