November : Susan Kay-Williams

Our November meeting started with member Barbara Shepherd taking the morning session on Blackwork. An enthusiastic gathering of members learnt some of the history of blackwork and then under Barbara’s calm and expert stewardship they had a go themselves. We look forward to seeing some results next month.

At this point I have to confess to a bad camera day – quite a few members brought in their work arising out of the October meeting’s  workshop run by Liz Ellis, “A stitch in time, making waves“, but unfortunately I have only one image to share with you. Apologies because they were all amazing!


The results of the Kim Thittichai workshop were also on display (& here I had a little more luck with the camera!). Everyone seems to have had a very enjoyable day and judging by the results a very productive one too :-




The afternoon session was a talk by Dr. Susan Kay-Williams, chief executive of the Royal School of Needlework, entitled from Imperial Purple to Denim, the story of colour and textiles

It was a beautifully illustrated and carefully constructed talk. We learnt how the colour and shade of dyed textiles were once as much an indicator of social class or position as the fabric itself and for centuries the recipes used by dyers were closely guarded secrets.

Dr Kay-Williams took us right back to the start with the invention of imperial purple. Considered imperial as it was the colour which only European regents and the papacy could afford to wear. She enthusiastically went through the painstaking dying process workers had to go through to transfer small amounts of colour onto large materials to be sold by merchants. That wasn’t all, Dr Kay-Williams went through each of the major colours during her talk, including:

  • how Venetian scarlet, which adorned the walls of the Royalty soon after purple,was made
  • White, popular in Elizabethan times, and the difficulties of making and keeping it white using natural bleaching processes
  • The paradox of the ubiquity of green in the natural world contrasted with the difficulties of the early dyers in producing a green that was a colour fast and long lasting dye.
  • Blue: the most popular colour in the world. Blue, famous for adorning the Virgin Mary in paintings for centuries, later became the staple it is now when Levi picked it up to use on denim jeans.

And as they say the rest is history!

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