We hosted our first Natural Dye Symposium on the 26th June and what a treat it was! We were joined by Aviva Leigh, Isabella Whitworth, Luisa Uribe and Susan Dye who all shared their passion and research into different areas of this subject. I don’t know about anyone else in the audience, but the day has left me mulling over several different thoughts.

The first arose in Isabella’s talk about purple dyes, how friends had asked her to investigate some family trunks that had languished in a barn for a generation. This led her through the world of Orchil and Perkin’s Purple, through lichen, shellfish and synthetic dyes. What stuck with me was our decimation of orchil across the world. Our desire, at whatever cost, for this colour has led to the destruction of a specific plant. Very little is known about the way lichens grow and multiply, so without expert knowledge, it’s an area I will never venture into exploring. But what impact has our lives today on the planet? How do we know what plants are OK to use and what we should leave behind? I don’t have the answer, but I will endeavour to learn more about my local area and try to grow what I can.

Talking of which, Susan and Ashley from Nature’s Rainbow gave us a wonderful talk from their house and garden with a parade of plants that produce beautiful colour. I was scribbling down lots of notes to see what we can grow at The Loom Shed and at home. My wee back garden has a lot demanded of it – a race track for my toddler, as many fruit and veg as I can squeeze in, a haven for insects and small invertebrates (we have a frog and a slow worm) and to look beautful too. But perhaps I could squeeze in some Lady’s bedstraw, woad or marigolds to give me some lovely coloured yarn.

Liz and I are no strangers to the passion project, pursuing our dream of The Loom Shed to reality. This passion was mirrored in Luisa’s talk about her life with Indigo. Her pursuit of knowledge has taken her to Japan, India and Africa by way of Bristol. She has painted paper, fabric and her hands in a wat that is as safe as possible for her and her young family. She has made vats, extracts and paints, even tea, and her passion has now taken her to a partnership in London Indigo fields. This is a community garden where people can grow different varieties of indigo and learn to use it as a colour.

Aviva’s talk about her recreation of a piece of 18th fabric, tapped into my love of historic fabric with its lost language. She talked about the colourful fabrics found in Norwich museum and the history of the craft in Norfolk. Like Susan and Ashley, she touched on growing dye plants in pots on a patio outside her studio, which makes me more certain it’s possible at The Loom Shed. Intriguingly, she painted her warp to recreate the blurring of the colours in the original swatch. I’d love to try that!

So inevitably, our thoughts turn to next year. Wouldn’t it be incredible to run this event in person? To have discussions about dyeing over tea and cake, to listen to fascinating speakers and maybe even a tour of our own dye garden? I need to get on with it! Where’s my trowel?