Foraged Colour collaboration III

My work with the Foraged Colour project from initial ideas to final cloth

Foraged Colour is an Arts Council funded project conceived by seam member Linda Row, which began in February 2020. I was one of four textile artists; seam member Gill Hewitt , Eve Kumari and Frances Westerduin, collaborating with Linda Row to create unique, handmade textiles from British wool and dyed with foraged colours.

Exploring my initial ideas for the project led to my decision to create two lengths of fabric, one depicting woods in spring, and the other woods in autumn, from the same warp. Sampling enabled me to try out different British wools and refine my ideas before weaving the final cloth.

Linda Row dyed over 50 colours from foraged materials, and British madder, weld and woad. On the right, the bright green, dyed from weld and woad, really stands out from the more subtle foraged greens, dyed from ivy berries, alder leaves, majoram and iron, and apple bark and iron.

The Final Cloth

The colour-graduated autumn cloth would highlight the subtle differences in colour that can be achieved when dyeing your own yarn, and the range of foraged colours available in Wiltshire and Somerset. We had yarn left over from sampling, a limited amount of undyed yarn and a strict budget. Whilst I wove the final samples, Linda was busy dyeing yarns for the final cloth. This all took place during the first lockdown

Cataloguing colours: a winding sent to Linda Row in the post

We worked together by sending yarns and windings back and forth through the post. Linda working on replicating some of the sample colours and filling in the colour gaps; with me using windings to check there was a smooth colour graduation, and crunching the numbwers to work out the quantities of each colour that I needed. The creams and yellows were dyed with ivy berry, hydrangea flowers, honey fungus, coreopsis and weld; the oranges and corals from madder.

Working out the numbers was nerve wracking. The wool yarn count – Nm (normal metric), the figure that tells you how many 1000m of yarn there are per kilogram is an average figure. I allowed a 10% error margin but in hindsight it should have been 20%, as I only just had enough dyed yarn for the final warp!

The weft yarn for the graduated cloth in autumn colours wound onto paper quills to ensure colours are used evenly on each of the two drops

I needed to weave two drops of the colour-graduated cloth. Now I was concerned about not having enough of one of the colours, resulting in the two pieces of cloth not matching when stitched together on the dress – potential disaster! So, before I started weaving, I wound all of the colours for the weft graduation onto paper quills, and then split the quills into two piles; a set for each drop. It worked perfectly (with a lot of measuring) when I wove the two pieces of cloth.

Weaving the graduated autumn colours on the loom with 1:3 and 3:1 contrasting twill blocks


The loom-state autumn cloth; two matching drops of graduated autumn colours

Only a single drop was needed for the spring green cloth. I tied three sets of brown yarn into the warp, to bring in the tree trunks idea, one for each of the three insets in the dress. To contrast with the uniformity of the colour graduation I wanted to suggest the randomness of the leaves and dappled light in early spring. Unfortunately, I only had one smallish skein of a fresh bright green. Once again, I wound the bright green onto quills, and portioned it out for the whole length of cloth.

I started  weaving the cloth intuitively, but found that for a production length (I am not a production weaver) it was very mentally tiring, it took a long time to keep making choices, and there were deadlines. To speed up, I wrote down the last 20cm of my pattern and repeated that for the rest of the length- – this worked, it was a long enough repeat so that there was no obviuos pattern.

Clockwise from top left, the final dress designed and made by Linda Row (photo by Linda Row); the finished spring green cloth; showcasing the hand-dyed British colours from all the artists

After finishing the lengths, Linda whisked them away  to cut and make a wonderful dress. I also created a panel of windings that showcased the different colours of yarn used by the five artists on the Foraged Colour project.

Penny Wheeler


Foraged Colour collaboration II

My work with the Foraged Colour project from initial ideas to final cloth

Foraged Colour is an Arts Council funded project conceived by seam member Linda Row, which began in February 2020. I was one of four textile artists; seam member Gill Hewitt , Eve Kumari and Frances Westerduin, collaborating with Linda to create unique, handmade textiles from British wool and dyed with foraged colours.

In my first post I described my intial ideas and my decision to create two lengths of fabric, one depicting woods in spring, and the other woods in autumn, all from the same warp.


As well as exploring whether my ideas would work in practice, sampling was about experimenting with British wool. Each weaver on the project had different British wool yarns to try that were new to them.

Left, my first sample warp on the loom looking more like drifting snow! Right I only managed one sample (shown here in loom-state and fluff) with this warp, experimenting with 1:3 and 3:1 twill (top) and broken twill (bottom) blocks.

I had problems with my first sample warp, a worsted yarn, on my eight shaft countermarch loom. The warp quickly became an unmanageable fluff-ball! I tried using spray starch, but it wasn’t enough – perhaps sizing the warp would have helped? A quick search for a new warp yarn was successful, it was thicker, but thankfully, it wove well.

Finished samples. Left to right: the only sample from the first warp, with my first two samples using the second, heavier warp yarn. Central sample 1:3 and 3:1 twill blocks; right sample broken 1:3 and 3:1 twill blocks.

Based on the colours in my photos of autumn and spring trees, Linda dyed a selection of British yarns for the weft, using her store of foraged dyestuffs, and some British-grown madder, indigo and weld. I wanted to suggest the dappled light of a forest, so I experimented with contrasting 3:1, 1:3 twill and broken twill blocks. Linda loved the colour graduation for the main autumn colour way, with the contrast of a broken twill in spring greens. The path idea was jettisoned – too complicated.

The same sample showing how colours dyed with madder can change after washing. On the left loom-state cloth and on the right finished (washed and pinned out). Notice how the lovely bright orange has become a coral.

I was stunned at the range of colours Linda got from madder, from orange to corals, just by adjusting the acid or alkalinity of the dye bath. However, the downside was when finishing my first samples I didn’t realise that I should use a pH neutral soap. All the madder colours became a little bit bluer and my gorgeous oranges changed to coral.

Sample showing the difference that reversing the contrasting 1:3 and 3:1 twills makes. When the diagonals of both twills go in the same direction there are bulges in the warp yarns at the transition (lower half of cloth), reversing one of the twills, as shown in the top half of the cloth stops this happening.

However, I still wasn’t happy. I wanted more contrast between the 3:1 and 1:3 twills – so I widened the warp ends per inch from 21 to 24, to make the cloth more weft facing. I also had to reverse the contrasting 3:1 and 1:3 twills to stop the warp thread movements, the bulges, where the two twills met.

A set of finished samples for Foraged Colour. If you compare the far right sample with the sample two to the left of it, you can see that widening the warp has increased the contrast between the two alternating blocks of twill.

The end of the sample warp. Left: experiments with stripes of different textured and hand-spun British wools, and at the top stripes of waste warp still containing the knots used to tie it on, at the very beginning of the warp. Right: experimenting with extra weft as a path, inspired by Annie Albers.

The end of the sample warp was pure experimentation; making more textural pieces and investigating how I could use waste warp yarn.

The last step was weaving the final cloth with a strict yarn budget that was only just enough! Find out how it went in my final blog post.

Penny Wheeler


Foraged Colour Collaboration 1 of 3

My work with the Foraged Colour project from initial ideas to final cloth
“I was one of the four textile artists collaborating with Linda Row on the Foraged Colour project. My role was to conceive and hand-weave cloth from British wool that had been dyed with foraged colours. Linda designed and constructed a dress from the cloth that I wove, and dyed all the wool for my cloth.”

Initial ideas
I love the research phase of a project, especially when working with other people; the energy increases, we bounce ideas off one another, connections are found and our ideas move forward.

I was inspired by the definition of forage that Linda put on the front page of

Search for provisions
To wander in search of forage or food
To make a search

Discussing ideas with Linda Row’s sketches and range of colours from foraged dyestuff at our initial meeting.

Wandering has a timelessness; making me think of the folk/fairy tales set in a forest; Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood.

My sketchbook with my initial ideas and some of my inspiration; clockwise from top left Shaun Tan illustration from Grimus Märchen; Anni Albers Dotted 1959, detail; Lorenzo Mattoti illustration from Hansel & Gretel; ibid; Anni Albers Dotted 1959; Anni Albers Under Way 1963; photo by author.


Sketches for cloth to be made into a dress for Foraged Colour



My initial ideas were to create a wandering path through a forest; referencing Annie Albers Under Way, 1963, using recycled silk fabric dyed red. A forest depicted with tree trunk verticals and leafy green horizontals, but then I saw Linda’s fashion sketch. The colours were beautiful; reminding me of autumns past, and the contrasts between autumn and spring.

Clockwise from top left: Linda Row’s fashion sketches for Foraged Colour, which inspired me to look through my photographs from autumns and springs past, images from Bath, Tucking Mill and Stourhead.


My direction was set, two lengths of fabric, one depicting woods in spring and the other woods in autumn, from the same warp.
How could I give an idea of trees? I experimented with ikat to create blocks of colour in the warp with Linda, stripes in browns and purples; using the colours to suggest trunks, some closer and some further away. The next step was sampling, which involved some failures and changes to my ideas… read how it went in my next blog post.

Penny Wheeler

Working with foraged colour

I have been involved with sustainable clothing and textile design since the late nineteen nineties and within my practice as a designer, I have used the ‘Grande Teinte’ favoured by dyers in the past. These include Madder, one of the oldest known dyestuffs of which there are many different varieties, yielding red from their prolific roots system. Evidence of Madder has been found in Mohendro Daro in the Indus valley, thought to have been created circa 1750 BC. Herodotus found madder in Egypt 450 BC and Pliny described  a Madder type plant (Sandberg, 1994).

Other plants that contain red dye in their roots belong to the Gallium family and include:

Ladies Bedstraw
Hedge Bedstraw
Common Cleavers
Sweet Woodruff
Dyers Woodruff
Marsh Bedstraw

Some of these plants have been identified in textiles from medieval Germany and it is thought that they were used where professional dyeing had not developed or the climate was unsuitable for Madder (Brunello, 1973).
Note: picking wild plants in moderation is acceptable but not removing roots. Should you wish to try some of these plants, Emorsgate have a selection of native wild plant seeds

This project is a culmination of research that I have carried out during  the past year, looking at the myriad of natural sources to obtain colour from, some of which are documented and others pure experimentation. I started with Brunello’s (1973) comprehensive list of plants that he recorded from historical dye documents and I identified the ones that could be found locally. This led to a fascination with the colours that could be achieved  simply walking outside the front door, such as Marjoram, Hollyhock, Gunnera, Beech, Oak and Mahonia. I started to trial leaves, barks, fungi and flowers and to create a collection, turning into boxes and boxes of dried materials.

As a sustainable designer in 2020, I have decided to confront the issue of endless air-miles that current clothing production involves and set a challenge to limit fiber, colour and making to the UK.  Working with four professional textile artists, creating unique pieces for me to work with, is a dream come true and we have been lucky to have support from The Arts Council to create the exhibition ‘Foraged Colour’.

The Dunstan family kindly gave me a studio to work in. Without running water this is akin to a medieval workshop but surprisingly it has been easy to adapt and it is a lovely space.

Supplying the artists with their yarns has been a demanding job because the natural plant materials are not uniform and yield slightly different colours, depending on the location and time that they were foraged. For example the ivy berries are picked from a wide range of locations, in order to leave enough for the birds. Some are ripe and other green, so the results vary. Ivy berries can yield colours ranging from purple to pale green , grey and teal, depending on modifiers such as the alkalinity of dye bath.

Ivy berries and sumac

All the artists have developed their own palettes to work with and this includes:

Ivy berries and flowers
Alder leaves and cones
Cherry plum leaves
Honey fungus (see below)
False turkey tail
Willow bark
Beech leaves
Eucalyptus leaves
Apple heartwood
Red onion skins
Oak leaves
Beefsteak fungus

and we have been lucky to source from   home grown


The initial stage of the project is underway but we are now having to reschedule the launch due to the current global situation. Updates will be posted on the website. We are working in partnership with a number of organisations such as Oxfam and have extended the concept of foraging to include reused materials, for linings and up-cycling workshops. New dates for these and other Foraged Colour workshops are to be be confirmed.

Woven textiles, sustainable textiles, natural dyes, hand woven
Weave by Eve Kumari .Colours used: Beech, Birch, Honey fungus, Madder, Woad.

Textile by Gill Hewitt. Colours used: Eucalyptus, Onion skin, Red Cabbage, Apple bark and Woad.

Linda Row

Brunello, F. (1973) The Art of Dyeing in the history of mankind. Phoenix Dye Works, Ohio.
De Graff, H. (2004) The Colourful Past. Archetype Publications, London.
Sandberg, G. (1994) The Red Dyes. Tidens Forlag, Stockholm.

Honey fungus: this is potentially damaging to your garden, so I advise that if you collect this from a wood, put it under water immediately to extract colour and only reserve the water; return the waste fungus to the place you found it.

Introduction to Foraged Colour


Introducing Foraged Colour

Foraged Colour is a new Arts Council funded project conceived by Linda Row. The project will investigate local, sustainable, and contemporary garment production and culminate in a touring exhibition.

Linda, a sustainable clothing designer, has been researching traditional dye recipes using foraged plants and lichens from her garden and nearby countryside.

Continue reading “Introduction to Foraged Colour”