The Wool & The WaterOur first offering to the sustainable and naturally dyed Baby Bliss rage is the Bliss Blanket. It is hand knitted in England using super soft aran weight English Blue Faced Leicester wool, dyed with flowers and rinsed in pure Spring water from the Oare Marshes in East Kent.
Jetty at Oare Marshes near Faversham, East Kent.
We chose the wonderful Blue Faced Leicester wool for its soft fine fleece with a count of 24-28 microns, it’s lustrous shine and excellent drape. It was perfect for baby.
The Blue Faced Leicester, an ancient British breed that has evolved from the 1750s breeding schemes, gets its name from its blueish-black face which is scantly covered with white hairs. Known for being great personalities, inquisitive and friendly, the ewes are renowned as exceptionally protective mothers! We could not ask for more.
Foraging & Gathering
We wanted the blanket to be special for babies born in any season. So we collected dye stuff right round the year. The invitation from Amicia de Moubray to "take what we need" from Doddington Place Gardens with its abundance of dye plants, opened up the wonderful world of an Edwardian historic garden from where every year we have been deadheading daffodils and collecting generous quantities of red, purple and orange dahlias of all varieties.
For some years now it has become a spring tradition for us to go with various groups of family and friends to deadhead the spent daffodils. There is a collection of at least eighteen varieties in this splendid garden.
At the end of a morning's pickings we typically collect many baskets full of delicately fragranced daffodils.
Daffodils are a variety of narcissus, notably celebrated in the Greek Myth of the beautiful youth Narcissus and the lovestruck goddess Echo. Theophrastus, the Greek botanist and philosopher recorded many varieties of this flower and the Romans soldiers carried it with them to Britain. It is among the earliest spring flowers and Shakespeare referred to it as the flower that “comes before the swallow dares”. It is the national flower of Wales.
The dahlia was brought to Europe by the Spanish botanist and explorer Francisco Hernández following his 7 year stay in Mexico where he was sent in 1570 by King Phillip II to explore the natural resources of the conquered lands. In Nova plantarum, animalium et mineralium Mexicanorum historia, published in 1651, Francisco Hernández named his discoveries in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec. The dahlia was then first introduced to Europe as Acocotli and Cocoxochitl. It is thought that the Aztec people used the plant in food and also for medicinal purposes.
Francisco Hernández, Nova plantarum, animalium et mineralium Mexicanorum historia (Rome, 1651).
Not much was heard of the dahlia until 1789 when it was brought from Mexico to the Botanical Gardens in Madrid by the leading Spanish taxonomic botanist abbé Cavanille, who gave it the name by which we know it today, in honour of the Swedish scientist and environmentalist Andreas Dahl.
The National Dahlia Society tell us that the Genus Dahlia is a native of Mesoamerica, principally of the high plains of Mexico and also that some species can be found in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador & Costa Rica. It is the national flower of Mexico and grows prolifically throughout South America.
Since the 1800s thousands of new forms were bred, with 14,000 cultivars recognized by 1936. The 50,000 varieties named in the past century, all are thought to be hybridized from at least two, and possibly all three, of the original Dahlia species from Mexico.
The prolific varieties of these wonderful dye yielding flowers means that we are fortunate enough to get what we need from the gardens around us and among them Doddington Place Gardens has been a wonderful source.
Throughout the year our friends and family as well as local organic restaurants save their avocado skins and stones for us to produce dye for the baby blankets.
However, the outcome of natural dye is different every time and it is not possible to guarantee consistency as variations in water minerality and pH values affect the shades of plant-based dyes. Hard water, which is full of minerals like calcium and magnesium, can make colours more vibrant, while softer water produces more muted tones. Cellulose fibres like cotton or linen will typically mellow the dye, while protein fibres like wool or silk yield richer hues, which is why the pink of the baby blankets is so vibrant. The wool comes to us unbleached and takes the dye wonderfully well.
Bliss Blanket, hand knitted and plant dyed with daffodils, dahlias and avocados
Sustainable & Local
Having researched the effects of dye effluent on the soil, we took the decision not use any chemical or mineral additives like iron and copper in our practice as these are harmful to the soil. Instead, we follow an environmentally friendly and organic, albeit lengthy process to extract pigment. This way we can be sure that processes in our control are genuinely environmentally friendly and sustainable, from foraging to making.
The pastoral provenance of wool from the sheep in the dales, spring water from the marshes, flowers from elegant herbaceous borders, donations of kitchen waste and a community of local knitters were all the ingredients we needed to launch our sustainable baby range. It is pure and simple.
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