Art textiles

A dip into natural dyes – a practical introduction with Sarah Burns

Ref: SWE10360


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About this course

Gain a practical introduction to natural dyes and their rich history. Use weld, madder, cutch and indigo on silk and calico to create a starter sample library to continue dyeing at home.

Course Description

This course offers a hands-on introduction to the world of natural dyes and their rich and ancient history. Weld, madder, cutch and indigo will be used - all of these derive from plant material. You can expect to use raw dyestuff as well as natural dyes available in extract form, and learn vital essentials of preparing materials before dyeing. There will be a practical session on mordanting with alum, and other mordants will be explained. The tutor will also introduce the basics of making an indigo vat and you will have the opportunity to experiment with a series of afterbaths to modify your natural dye colours.

You will dye a selection of reference samples on silk and cotton using the four dyestuffs. Overdyeing, and the use of different mordants and dye concentrations, will result in a wide range of colours. The historical aspects of natural dyes will be presented in short talks and during practical work.

As well as developing your own recipe books, you will have the additional option of producing a natural-dyed silk scarf or small individual samples.


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 course fee includes the cost of dyes, mordant, one silk scarf and silk and cotton samples.

What students need to bring

  • An apron or cover-all shirt
  • A pair of kitchen-type gloves
  • A box of dressmakers’ pins
  • A small pair of sharp scissors

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • Additional fabric or silk blanks if required
  • Available from tutor:
  • Any additional materials you may purchase from the tutor should be paid to her before the end of the course, by cash or cheque.


Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a pattern-maker and textile printer. She teaches natural dying and printing in her West Sussex studio as well at Ditchling Museum and Hand Printed in Bognor Regis. Her designs can be seen at the Guy Goodfellow Collection in Chelsea, at Dartington Hall and as part of the Virginia White Collection. 


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

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