Healing Handcrafting

exploring process and healing through fiber arts and handcrafting

Marshfield School of Weaving- Plant Dyes for Wool

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I had the great fortune to take a class at the Marshfield School of Weaving yesterday. This class was about dyeing wool with plants and other natural dyestuffs. Our teacher was Joann Darling, who is a weaver, dyer, soap-maker and plant expert (what is the word for that?). When asked what certain plants were, or what plant give which colors, Joann knew the scientific name; let’s just put it that way. Better put, our small group of five students was in very good hands. I think the best way to tell the story of yesterday would be to comment on each picture.

I left my home kind of early on Sunday morning to head down to the school, about an hour drive from my home. The front seat was full of food to bring for our potluck lunch, my sunhat, bags with snacks, drinks, notebooks and other essentials. It was a beautiful morning- dewey, quiet and kind of fuzzy around the edges. I felt a little nervous as I left, but more excited and curious about what was going to happen in the day. As I got closer to the school, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by, and grateful for, the beautiful views and the quiet. These are definitely a perks to living in Vermont. Oftentimes, where one must go to learn a traditional craft or skill is a beautiful place, set out of the way. Craggy land, full cows and swaying trees were balm to my eyes as I wove up these country roads I’d never been on before.

And here is the entrance to the school. I did laugh out loud with joy as I saw where I’d be spending my day.

When I approached the building, our teacher Joann was busy outside getting things ready. She showed me into the studio and I felt immediately welcomed into the beautiful school. As I looked around, I was so happy to see yarn everywhere! And one whole wall was yarn dyed with natural dyestuffs. It was so beautiful. The light was soft and round, and every which way I looked, I saw things I wanted to touch, understand and look at.

I wasn’t sure where we were meeting at first. I am so used to classroomy types of learning environments, so I made the assumption that there must be a place where we’d sit for a long time and take notes and get really official. I went upstairs assuming I’d find this. Instead, I found the studio. There were many looms of all different sizes. One gentleman was weaving at a very large loom (I don’t weave, so I don’t know what the different looms are called). And there were two women walking about, looking at things. We started talking and they were there to take the class, too. They are both weavers and were so generous with advice and knowledge about looms. I’m hoping to get a small one soon, and here already were two beautiful guides into that world. 

We learned soon that no, we’d not be sitting at tables taking notes. We’d be outside getting right into it with guidance from Joann. The other participants in our group were a sheep farmer and an herbalist. Within a short time, we found our rhythm and got to the work of collecting goldenrod, sorting mini-yarn skeins to be used in all the dye pots, chopping other plants, picking flowers, washing, tending to pots and listening.

I just love this barn board. The colors and patterns are so strong. 

Below is a picture of goldenrod going into the pot.

Here is a picture of Joann stirring the BIG pot~ I’m not sure what’s in there in this picture. There was a lot of boiling and a lot of rotating dye stuffs in and out. I love this picture. 

This is a student chopping up some flowers.

Once we got several dye pots going, we took a walk up quiet roads to the gardens of someone willing to share madder root and dyer’s greenwood. I haven’t gardened much this summer because of contracting the dreaded Lyme disease, so to get my hands in soil with a sweet purpose was just what the doctor ordered. The views and the quiet were also incredible treats.

Once back to the pots, we broke for lunch in the shade, and then got to making more dyestuffs and hanging our wool to dry. We also did lots of overdyeing experiments with indigo. 

I wish I had taken better pictures of the yarn on the line, but you can see many of the colors we achieved in our efforts, and especially our teacher’s efforts, over the course of the day. Every dye pot had samples of yarn, half mordanted in alum and half in iron, so we got two color results from the same plant, plus a third if it was overdyed with indigo. As we got our books ready, Joann was available for questions and stories, and as each color was added to my book, I felt more and more proud and impressed by the outcome of our work. 

It was hard to leave this beautiful place. You know, the people going there to weave, to dye, to spin… I can only assume are not in a rush. Maybe I am projecting, but I think it must be true. Towards the end of the day, when I knew it was time to hit the road to get home to my family, I felt the first twinges of urgency, but that was only to do with my own inner need to reunite with my littles. There, in this extremely beautiful and entirely functional setting, I felt as if the sun and my stomach had become my clock. When the big beautiful tree covered us in lovely shade as we ate, it marked the natural passing of time, the pots simmering away with their unique and seasonally affected color potions.

On the way home, I could only daydream about following up on things I want to learn about, and experiment with. I think a forever student I’ll be.


Author: healinghandcrafting

I am a psychologist and a fiber enthusiast. I have a deep interest in the healing effects of handcrafting, and its place in our common histories.

One thought on “Marshfield School of Weaving- Plant Dyes for Wool

  1. Pingback: In the Presence of Masters | Healing Handcrafting

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