In 2008, friends invited me to look at a collection of family documents relating to dye manufacture in 19th and 20th century Leeds. As a professional artist and tutor working with textiles I had considerable practical experience using natural dyes and was interested in their individual histories, but had never taken it further. An invitation to view an archive changed the course of my life.
A dozen or so trunks emerged from the friends’ attic before a house move. From first glance it was exceptionally interesting and I recognised the urgency to assess and list the contents, because its immediate future was storage in a Devon cob barn. The work took me six dusty weeks. One result was that the major part of the collection has found a home with the West Yorkshire Archive Service.
The other was that I had become an unfunded, independent scholar. In the initial sorting period I became passionately absorbed by documents relating to a natural dye called orchil, a purple dyestuff derived from various lichens. The samples, documents, patents and letters offered fascinating insights into aspects of 19th century trade. I was utterly hooked. Continue reading »