Dyer’s Takeover: Jane Ponsford

What is your favourite dye?

I associate warm sunny colours with Ethel Mairet but I most enjoy working with oak gall and iron for the sheer drama. Oak gall by itself produces a light sandy brown colour but the addition of iron solution immediately transforms the colour to a lively blue-black or grey depending on the proportions. This was also the basic recipe (with the addition of gum Arabic) of black ink historically. I use my dyes to colour my hand cast paper artworks so I appreciate using a colour with such a strong connection with paper, which is only slightly diminished by the knowledge that this particular dye is not only very permanent but more long lasting than the fibres it colours because it also starts a slow degenerative process within them.

How does Ethel Mairet inspire you?

Ethel Mairet had quite an extraordinary life, living and travelling in Germany, Ceylon, and India and not only helped to revive handloom weaving in this country but also (after Gandhi visited her in her studio, to consult with her), in India also. However, I think what inspired me the most was her clear and methodical approach to the natural dye processes as set out in her book, ‘Vegetable Dyes A Book of Recipes and Information Useful to the Dyer’. In Ditchling Museum there is a lovely photograph which I saw when I was on Jenny Dean’s Natural Dye course, of her team of apprentice dyers (all dressed rather smartly) dipping or washing cloth in buckets in the sunlight in the doorway of her studio and it seemed like a moment of connection with the way that we were that very day, working in a group learning together in the way that hand skills have always been passed on.

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