Sunday, 27 November 2011

Hand woven natural dyed cushions

This week I've had some time at home spinning and weaving up some of my natural dyed wool. I have a new country spinner spinning wheel with a massive 2lb bobbin, which is very impressive indeed, and has made me a very, very happy lady! Ha ha

My cushions are handspun, using natural plant dyed wool and hand woven on a small loom.

 Here are some picture of some cushions I've made which I sell from my Etsy Shop

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Woodland Arts - workshops for schools

Last week I spent three days doing woodlands arts workshops in two schools in Wordsley, Stourbridge, West Midlands. The schools had approached me to put on some woodland inspired workshops for children aged 7 - 8 and 8 - 9 as part of their Irresistible Learning education program.

Four classes of 25 at Belle Vue Primary spent an hour each learning a different weaving technique with natural materials and willow, making an individual item to take home. Their term had started with a letter from Lord Locksley asking for a band of men to join him. My half-term activity was to help them make something nice to give to Maid Marion, made from natural materials. Each class made different items so the teachers could swap techniques later on.

At Blandford Mere Primary School we had two consecutive days to work on a project. I was asked if the children could make things to put in their new school corridor, so I suggested making bug sculptures - insects, flies, bees.

After an introductory talk and questions at assembly, three classes of 30 pupils spent an hour on both days with me creating woodland insect sculptures using fresh willow and other natural materials including natural dyed sheep wool, leaves, sticks etc..

They learned how to strip the leaves off the willow and bend it to the shapes they needed to make wings and body shapes, decorating these on the second day. It was a learning curve for both me and the children, as they got to grips with the nature of the materials - and I raced about helping their sculptures take shape.

Most of the children were very excited about the activity and I think it was quite a challenge for them on many levels. I hope they got a lot out of it. It was great to be able to use my artistic and practical woodland knowledge with so many young people.

If you are interested in having a school workshop. I am happy to devise a suitable activity for your class. Please contact me to discuss details and costs. I am currently working across the Midlands. I'm hoping for pictures of the school displays to arrive for this blog post soon.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Colours from Nature - natural dyes, wool and weaving

I have been back at my spinning wheel again in readiness for the winter nights, a pleasure that seems to return every year when the weather changes. Over the last few years I have been learning to spin and to use natural dyes. The process of collecting colour from the wild, just like foraging is a lovely rewarding activity. It keeps you in contact with the seasons by collecting your own plant materials, leaves, flowers, berries or bark when the time is right.

Before this summer ended, I wanted to create some new natural colours to add to my wool stash for the winter.  I've totally avoided the synthetic dyes as they just seem so harsh and tend to shout so much. Natural colours always blend well with each other and I like having the direct link back to their natural source too.

1. Madder root red, 2nd dye madder root makes coral. 
2.Guelder rose berries - pink/yellow.
3. Cochineal beetle purple handspun.
4. Poplar leaves makes yellow and saddened with
iron makes green tinge.
5. Mohair dyed with buddleia leaf makes yellow.
Jacob dyed with cochineal beetle
Winter seems to be the natural time when the knitting and spinning really gets going for me. With all those long evenings what else would I be doing! (apart from whittling).. Anyway, a month or so ago I had mordanted some sheep wool with Alum at home. Alum and other mordants like Chrome, Iron and Oxalic Acid help to achieve stronger colour shades where the normal sheep fleece doesn't pick up the dye. I collected various plant materials that were available in the wood and had a few dying sessions with a pot over the fire.

Finally after a few years of trial and error I am happy to be getting much better and consistent results. It is a time consuming processing, so this is very satisfying progress indeed!

Wensleydale dyed with Onion Skins
People ask me 'Where do I get my sheep fleece?' - It's £5 per fleece from most farmers, is the answer. I brought 5 sheep fleece this summer from who were demonstrating  sheering at Letchworth Arts Festival. One fleece was a super coarse pure white Rams wool - a brilliant wiry contrasting wool to any of the soft lambs wool I'd also bought.

It took two solid days of skirting, washing and drying those five fleece plus a few other Zwartbles (black fleece) on a sunny weekend. This has given me plenty of cheap material to work with over the winter. Only problem is storage usually, but a shed or greenhouse to store the fleece in over winter is fine.

Coarse rams wool and alum
mordant dyed with Madder Root,
second dye makes coral.
After washing and drying the wool I either mordant and/ or dye it. Then comes the nice bit where I card it on my drum carder to clean out any further bits and start selecting colours to blend together. It's like creating a palette to work with.

Depending on what I want to do - either spin all one colour - or have a crazy mix of colours I create 'batts' of different colourways and textures with different types of fleece to create very different yarns. Mixing natural dyed wool with the natural sheep colours - grey, whites and blacks enables all sorts of variations to be achieved.
3 Zwartble batts

Spinning is more interesting when you see the colours and textures change through your fingers. Every piece of wool goes through my hands at least four times before it becomes a finished item - a knitted hat, a scarf, a blanket.  That really does make it handmade.

Close up of weave.

I usually make scarves from the softest Wensleydale yarns, and for most of the rest I'm putting it into handmade blankets, ponchos and shawls. It's a slow process, one blanket can take a week to make, but the whole process from sheep to shawl is a great process to know how to do and makes my final work feel like something truly special.

Some coloured wools go towards my 'Weaving with Nature' workshop stash - and this is great to show people at festivals just how beautiful natural colours are.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Oak garden planter

Here is a little commission I made recently of a garden planter.

I had some short lengths of green oak left over from another job -luckily just enough to finish this. All the joints are slotted and pegged together, following the rough design and size of the old planter it was to replace.

I made it a bit more rustic and freeform however - showing off the curves of the oak a little. It should last many years to come.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Garden structures - An oak and hazel panel

This summer, Martin and myself were asked to construct a hazel panel as part of a garden redesign. The hazel panel would attract the eye as you walked through the garden and screen a sloping section of wall behind it. It would also be used to support climbing plants.

We made a free standing 6ft x 6ft oak frame, bedded into the ground at a depth of 2ft. Martin had sourced a lovely straight green oak log just by chance for £50 from a local timber merchant and we set about splitting it with axes and wedges. It's a lot of fun and is surprisingly easy to do with a little welly!

We split the log into about eight sections, each sufficient for a post - or rail, choosing the lighter one for the top cross piece. By securing the pieces in the cleaving break we cleaned the faces of the oak posts up with a draw knife.

The frame was drilled and pegged together with dried oak wedges. Enough was left over for Martin to make a slatted bench too - albeit the most uncomfortable bench anyone could ever sit on (not my words!) and I made an oak planter.

The hazel for the panel came from Martins' new coppice at Manor Farm Burton Overy, Leicestershire. A yound wood planted only 11 years ago, - if you look back at previous blog posts you can see us coppicing the hazel last winter. I wove the hazel right to the top and we were done! What a nice job!

Around the rest of the garden I was asked to stake and bind a hedge planted around five years ago. The effect the owners wanted to achieve was to 'define' the garden with a boundary line. This worked well and set off the style of cottage planting. You can see this hedge on the right of this photo.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Hay hay hay rakes!

I learnt to make hay rakes this year, partly because of an order for 5 children sized hay rakes from the Great Glen Community Wildspace group in Leicester.

I made the handles from ash and sallow, all in slightly different designs because there is more sallow than usable ash in the new wood. Some have forked branches which I thought would be naturally strong, they seemed to work fine.

I used dried silver birch for the tines or teeth - bashing the roughed out dowels through a tine cutter of 11mm to make clean dowels. The tines are set in at approx 1.5" to 2" spacing across the green ash head and flats are put on the backs so the tines don't split.

The handles are drilled into the head at a 70 degree angle to make a good rake, making sure you get this the right way up! Wedges hold the handle onto the head so it was solid. After doing a set of rakes the process became easier, but like most things not tried before there was some head scratching at first.

All full test of the adult sized hay rakes proved they worked great. Martin spent many hours in the mornings mowing the rides with his scythe and the hay rakes did their job well.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Private View Invitation - Gateway, Gallery 3, Shrewsbury - 29th July 7.30pm

Please come and join me at 
The Gateway, Gallery 3, Shrewsbury 
for my first Private View at 7.30pm on Friday 29th July for free drinks and nibbles. 

This is my summer exhibition of contemporary plein air watercolour landscapes, some of which can be seen on my website at

The exhibition continues from 30th July - 12th September 2011. 
All welcome, it would be lovely to see you all!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Letchworth Arts Festival - 'Weave with Nature' workshop

Just spent a fab weekend at Letchworth Arts Festival doing a new workshop I've devised call 'Weave with Nature'. It ticks all my boxes - bringing greenwood, natural materials, colour and a good organic measure of creativity into the mix. The idea of this workshop is to encourage people to get into natural materials, and enjoy natural fibres, plants, textures and colours. I am basically providing a creative space for people to play and explore.

'Weave with Nature'

It's a 'hands on' activity for all kids and adults of all ages using natural materials to weave a 'freeform' weaving. This informal activity encourages people to engage with natural materials in a creative way.

I provide a few free standing upright panels which I warp to provide weaving spaces for a communal artwork. Into these people can weave sticks, leaves, flowers, herbs, grasses, washed sheep wools (some dyed with natural dyes), seed pods and anything that I have collected that morning from the surrounding area.

It makes a very nice seasonal activity which grows into an artwork over the day as people add to it. People can join in and stay for however long they like.Alternatively people can make their own natural weaving on a forked stick frame to take away with them.

It is a useful educational tool to discuss where things like wool comes from, or what plants make a natural dye colour, what plants smell and feel like well as playing with colour and pattern. Many people said they were inspired by the idea to go away and try this at home (which is what I was hoping for), and the effect with the natural materials was also delightful. It was great to see the kids walking around the festival with their own natural weaving artwork, which brought other kids in looking to make their own.

It is suitable for country fairs, festivals, shows or school workshops - indoors or outdoors and will reflect the seasons.

If you are interested in booking this workshop or would like me to devise another similar activity, please contact me at

Tel 07583635994.

I am based near Ellesmere, North Shropshire and can travel.

There is a flat rate charge to the organizer per day to cover all materials that might be used. If you wish to keep the panels of artworks as a legacy of the day they can also be purchased for a small fee - this primarily covers the cost of making the rustic frames.

Do get in touch, I am very excited about how this workshop can inspire people!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Ooh, new stools sir!

Here are a couple of stools I recently made in Leicestershire. One of different cherry woods with a cherry plum seat. The other stool is very light with an oak seat and sweet chestnut legs/ stretchers.

Both are for sale plus other items like my bowls, handspun yarns, weavings and blanket in my Etsy shop at

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Weaving the The Armadillo Hut & Clissett Wood Development Week 2011

Willow panels woven around hazel rods
drilled into the chestnut posts make great
shapes, and look good on both sides.

The Armadillo Hut
The 'Armadillo' is a woodland hut, it was built by volunteers at Clissett Wood in Herefordshire, England for people to stay in when greenwood chair making courses are running.

The frame of the hut is built from sweet chestnut in the round and is dug into the clay bank. It has a shingle roof and a larch sleeping platform inside. In April 2011 Sheila Wynter, a basket maker from Stroud and myself (artist Elizabeth Cadd) worked on re-fronting the structure with coloured willows. Instead of doing traditional rectangle woven panels we decided to go a bit freeform to make use of the organic shapes.

We used coppiced materials from the sustainably managed surrounding woodland. Hazel poles create the framework to weave through, and different willows created contrasting panels of colour and texture.

We will be building a similar 'play hut in Sheilas garden this spring for her grandchildren (she is 80 this year)!

Me with Sheila and Gary (cherub like in the centre
window) working on the Armadillo hut April 2011).
Willow panels of the Armadillo

Rod working on the firey willow panel

This is a picture of the Armadillo roof going on in 2009. I think there were over 2000 larch shingles, because the roof shape was so difficult to cover -it being a cone shaped.

There was also the renovation of 'The Whale' hut. This has a lovely whale shape. A massive 3 pronged sweet chestnut fork which lies on the ground gives the framework to the entire structure. We used fresh hazel rods again , bending them to create curved sides, then wove fairly thick wills along the length of the sides and roof. A long job! It creates a beautiful dappled light inside. We were hoping to cover this with a clear polythene so the structure could still be seen. The bed platform is made of oak boards, and a hazel panel stands at the entrance.

More photos of this  Development Week 2011
at Clissett Wood, Herefordshire on the 
Clissett Wood Facebook Group

Rebuilding the surround for the cooking stove.
Tarp going on..

Peter on the roof.

Richard and Peter unfurl the tarp on the new kitchen.

Erecting the new larch frame kitchen

New posts.. about old news ...

An article about Tool Forging with Ben Orford I did back in November 2010 HERE (just about when my blogging started to slip...I'm catching up now!.)

Turning a few bowls

Some more bowls since Christmas.

Three small bowls from 1 apple log

Bottoms of three small bowls from 1 apple log

Spalted silver birch
Silver birch burr bowl, turned on a pole lathe

Silver birch burr bowl, turned on a pole lathe