Master paint-maker David Coles shares the stories behind popular pigments

The history of colour has stories to thrill in every hue — from lead white through Indian yellow and from mummy’s brown to bone black — from toxic pigments that killed thousands in their making, to paints that act as miniature black holes, the stories of the world’s most popular pigments go far beyond our wildest imagination.

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Tyrian Purple: The disgusting origins of the colour purple

Purple is a paradox, a contradiction of a colour. Associated since antiquity with regality, luxuriance, and the loftiness of intellectual and spiritual ideals, purple was, for many millennia, chiefly distilled from a dehydrated mucous gland of molluscs that lies just behind the rectum: the bottom of the bottom-feeders. That insalubrious process, undertaken since at least the 16th Century BC (and perhaps first in Phoenicia, a name that means, literally, ‘purple land’), was notoriously malodorous and required an impervious sniffer and a strong stomach. Though purple may have symbolised a higher order, it reeked of a lower ordure.

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July Guest Speaker: Peter Clark

Peter Clark came to the July general meeting of the Guild to tell us about his father’s role in the establishment of guilds in Sydney in the 1930s. At the end of the article are links to some historic documents.

My Journey into the World of Spinning, Weaving and Dyeing in the 1930s and 40s

Good afternoon Guild members. Thank you Jenny for your kind invitation to address members of the guild today. I have termed the talk as my journey into the world of spinning, weaving and dyeing in the 1930s and 40s.
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International Back to Back Wool Challenge story

In 1811 at Newbury in Berkshire, UK, a £1,000 wager was made to make a coat from the sheep’s back to a man’s back in one day. Watched by 5,000 people, the coat was completed in thirteen hours. The sheep was eaten with much quaffing of beer to celebrate.
Today’s challenge began in 1992 when Richard Snow, a keen young spinner at the Scottish Wool Centre at Aberfoyle in Scotland, developed thyroid cancer. His desire to raise funds for cancer research sparked off their Back to Back Challenge, a competition very similar to that run almost two hundred years before. The event created enormous interest in the UK, not only because of the clever wool promotion but because of the funds raised for cancer research.

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Beulah Ogle: 1933


November 1933. Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Beulah Ogle preparing warp for weaving at the Pi Beta Phi School. She is a new weaver at the school and lives on a mountain farm. Another example of Lewis Hine’s post-newsie oeuvre. Large format nitrate negative, National Archives.

Beulah Ogle: 1933SHORPY

Jacquard Loom: Early Computer Programing

Developed in 1801 by Joseph Jacquard — this loom used punch cards to structure a series of operations. This loom is considered to be an important to the development toward computer programming.

Lia Cook’s Jacquard Loom

Fibre artist Lia Cook talks about her jacquard loom. Lia is a featured artist in the Crossroads episode, premiering on PBS starting 16 November 2012.
Lia Cook has been at the forefront of the intersection of craft and art, where she has recently melded techniques of 18th c. Jacquard weaving with an inquiry into brain functioning, thus combining the most basic manual technology with contemporary technology and scientific practice. Her unusual mix of old and new has garnered her international recognition.
For more information, see Craft in America.

Cocoon: 1915


Washington, DC, 1915. Silkworms in the National (Smithsonian) Museum. Helen Stuart.. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative.

Cocoon: 1915SHORPY

Threads: They wore what!

History Week was initiated by the History Council of NSW to showcase the rich, diverse history being produced by organisations and individuals across the state. With over 100 events across NSW, History Week is about celebrating the best in community and professional history, highlighting its role in our cultural life and inviting people to get involved.
The theme this year is Threads: They wore what?!
Long before the fashionistas of today decided the look, dress was an important element of human expression. From status to style, culture to professional identity, clothes have defined us. History Week 2012 will explore the history of threads to unpick the meaning behind the past’s wardrobes.
When: 8-16 September

Mulberry Time for Dyers

This article was first published in the Guild News of November 1965:
Mrs Anderson has had a most successful time with her mulberries this year and has sent her note to encourage others to use this prolific fruit.
Mulberries have given me the following colours:

  • Dark purplish plum with iron sulphate
  • Pinky cinnamon with tannic acid
  • Geranium leaf green with bichromate of potash
  • Rust with cream of tartar
  • Varying shades of cinnamon pink with tannic acid and cream of tartar
  • Pink from boiling unmordanted wool for 2 hours
  • Blue lavender from mordanting with oxalic acid and stannous chloride.

General proportions are 1.5 cups berries to 1lb wool
By using wool which has been only lightly washed so that the dirt but not the yolk is removed from the wool, heather-fleck dyes are obtained because where the yolk remains the shade is darker
Border Leicester or other tippy wools give interesting colour variations when dyed because the weathered tips do not absorb the dye at the same rate as the undamaged wool and result in darker flecks.
The first experiment mordanting mulberries with cream of tartar happened to be with berries which had been picked after a warm dry period. This gave the rust colour. The next experiment with cream of tartar as mordant was with berries which had been picked after good rain. The result was an unusual and attractive shade of rust-pink.
The amount of water used in relation to the quantity of wool effects the shades obtained
To extract full value from plant dyes, it is important to bring the wool and mordant to the boil slowly. Likewise when introducing the dye material, the pot should be heated slowly.