Author Archive

Gathering and Using Natural Dyes on the Island of Colours

Naturally dyed fabric with bark

Natural dyeing can become a passion.  Unlocking the magic of nature’s colours is food for the creative soul and fuel for the sustainability movement.

As a screen printer, all of the paints and inks and printing mediums that I use to print are imported into Greece.  Don’t get me wrong, I love them all… but what would I do if I couldn’t import anything,  such as when Greece had strict capital controls in place.  I mean…yikes!!!

So let’s accept the challenge…let’s see what can be created using only, or *mostly, what can be found close by!  In my case, Milos!   This new project will be a challenge … and it will be long term!

(*alas cotton and silk is no produced on the island)

The history of natural dyes and pigments and how they have influenced and changed world history is absolutely fascinating, if you are interested I can personally recommend this little book   Colour – Making and Using Natural Dyes and Pigments     Besides the useful information it gives about the history and use of natural dyes and pigments, it also has interesting little snippets of history relating to natural dyes.  My favorite is definitely how dependent Napoleon’s “Grande Armee” became on Indian Indigo to dye the uniforms of his 600.000 soldiers.

I print using only ecological water-based inks which are wonderful, but I’m surrounded by beautiful natural colours,  Milos has been called “The Island of colours”  …. surely those colours could be harnessed!  So, depending on the season, every now and again I go walking around the island to observe and gather various plants with which I make brews and potions that will hopefully dye and print onto fabric.  Before I dig anything up or even pick flowers I always check to make sure the plant isn’t a threatened species – the site  The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  is a good place to check and it also makes for very interesting reading as well.   It’s important to be conscious of the fragility of the Eco-system here on the island, but so far I’ve been lucky as most of the plants I’m searching for are considered weeds, and even pests in many other countries.

I have found a few plants though, that although not endangered, they seemed to be a “lonely few” so I just took photos and noted down where they were situated.   One such plant I believe to be  alkanet.  The botanical name is Alkanna tinctoria but is also called Anchusa which is derived from the Greek anchousa = paint from the use of the root as a dye.  It has been cultivated for centuries in Europe for various uses beside medicinal, from colouring port wine to staining marble.  Hopefully there will be more plants the coming spring and I will keep you posted.  The dye is apparently easier to extract with alcohol, rather than water, so I have this crazy idea to try and dry the root and then extract it with ouzo or raki.  Let’s see!



I took the weekend off to go gather some Autumn goodies, including pomegranates from a nearby tree.

Shame I got there a bit late as most of the fruit had fallen, but I managed to gather a large bowl of inedible fruit that I’m now drying.

I also gathered various other plant-samples to test their dyeing potential.

I test dyed cotton-silk mix fabric bound with ordinary cotton string (Shibori or tie-dieing) and some white cotton lace,   Only the fabric was “scoured” (cleaned in hot water) but it was not mordanted.

The dusky maroons and soft forest greens are gorgeous!!!

One of the most important substances in natural dyeing is alum, in the past wars have been fought over the ownership of alum mines as it was such an important commodity….just imagine the world without any colourful clothes!  The famous Florintine bankers, the Medicis, built their vast fortune on Alum. It’s not only needed for the dye process but it helps make the dye light and wash fast.   There are a few different types that can be used , but as Milos is incredibly mineral rich there is a chance that I’ll actually find some here.

More soon.

Carpe diem – as Antidote to Forced Wanderlust


These luxury pencil cases will soon be winging their way to some young Greek people who are living-working-studying abroad.  They have been personalised with the initials on one side, and “carpe diem – Seize the day” on the other.  It’s my personal message to them and all the other young, and not so young, people who have left their homes in search of a better future.

As you probably all know Greece is going through tough times, and I won’t bore you too much with that, but I just want to skim over two of the most talked about problems…. the “brain drain” and the “refugee” crisis.

The brain drain is twisting  that wonderful yearning for travel and adventure called  WANDERLUST because many don’t want to leave their homes and families to find a job outside Greece.  And as for the poor souls trudging through Europe in search of a future…what can be said?  They, who are at the mercy of cold, inhuman monsters who take thousands of dollars and think nothing of piling men, women, children and babies into unseaworthy vessels (30 people in an inflatable dinghy that should hold 4!)  to cross the Aegean, if they are lucky, to reach the outskirts of Europe…the Greek islands.   They are most definitely NOT traveling because they have WANDERLUST, they’re escaping the ravages of war, traveling to and through Europe that is POLITICALLY not welcoming them with open arms.

Now I don’t know the answer to these problems (although I do have a few ideas I mostly wish for a very strong wind to blow a few Richard Heads off their high pedestals…but that whole other story!) but I’m trying to think of ways that I can do something as well as donating.

So I just want to send  CARPE DIEM – SEIZE THE DAY-   to each and every person who has left both their home, and WANDERLUST,  behind, in the dust and rubble of their old peaceful lives.

Pencil case

Personalised luxury waxed leather pencil case with nickel silver hardware and zip. It’s embossed and silver foiled with initials and Latin quote and is fully lined. L: 21cm X H: 8 cm X W: 8 cm.

Further to the refugee crisis.   Here are a few suggestions and I’ll keep the list updated.

Philotimo. Philanthropy. Humanity.    

a wonderful article from and their INDEGOGO campaign 

Helping Those Who Are Helping Refugees in Greece

See also:

OXFAM INTERNATIONAL – Syria refugee crisis – How you can help during the refugee crisis in Europe



HOW TO HELP REFUGEES – further suggestions

An updated list of organizations to donate to help victims of the refugee crisis


Thank you for reading!


Working Outside En Plein Air


I’m working with black leather today and decided to push my cutting table outside as sometimes it’s difficult to see the cutting lines that have been scored around the pattern onto the surface of the leather.  Natural light is the best,  and now that it’s not so hot, but not yet cold, outside if perfect for work!

The cutting table has wheels so it’s pushed around the studio as needed.

 Cutting lines are scored onto the leather with an awl using the card pattern as a guide, then the pattern piece is cut with a leather knife and steel ruler.

Black leatherI have often been asked to post videos and information outlining  what I do,  so I have made and remade this this particular pattern, and little bag, a few times to find the easiest construction method.   Hopefully soon I’ll be able to post a fun, straight forward tutorial, which will be as simple as possible.  It would be truly wonderful to help inspire other peoples creativity.

The tutorial will be suitable for beginners and will be for a small pencil case/ storage bag.

Bag Making from Pattern to Sample

Small Denim Bag with Leather Accents

I’m keeping busy drafting patterns for a collection of personalised accessories and bags, and finally started making a few samples.  The collection will range from small organiser bags to back packs, totes and weekender bags, in denim with leather accents.  The bags can be personalised with quotes, or a personal message and a name, or address or even the favorite words of a poem or song, embossed or gold/silver foiled onto a leather tag and sewn onto the bag.

Here is the first sample in the all time classic combination, and my personal favorite…..denim and veg tan leather with an embossed and silver foiled personalised name tag.


Small Pencil Case

Here are some of the stages involved in making this little bag (pencil case), but eventually I’ll post a video with patterns and instructions  as requested.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pattern Drafting

Pattern cutting

So, here I am again back at the drawing board, as they say.

Now, I enjoy the challenge of making patterns for bags and accessories, but I find the hard work is getting the pattern to actually match what I  visualised in the first place.  Even after going through all the design stages, making the pattern is often like solving a 3-D puzzle…and it’s amazing how deceptively complicated the design of a seemingly simple square shaped bag can be.   I usually end up making lots of samples until I’m happy with the final pattern.

Pattern cutting

Here is a good example of often deceptive bag patterns from Don Morin’s blog Bag’n-telle.  

Designer and educator Don Morin  is incredibly generous with his expertise and advice, it’s a blog worth following for anyone interested in making bags and accessories.

One of his posts is especially interesting, entitled  DEVELOP YOUR SPATIAL SKILLS .

It’s about how he uses his “mind’s eye” to see in 3-dimensions, visualising pattern shapes, and he offers tips and advice about how it’s possible to develop spatial skills to help you make bag patterns.

As well as offering  a lot of great bag patterns absolutely free on his blog, Don Moran also does a online Craftsy class called MAKING LEATHER BAGS  which is definitely worth a look!

In fact Craftsy have lots of great online classes… check out their free mini-classes HERE

Ok, now back to the drawing board!


The Bad Kitty Tote



Lining the “Bad Kitty” Suede Tote


Almost done sewing the lining for the embossed suede “Bad Kitty” Totes.  This was definitely inspired by the island cats….they get everywhere!

kitty tote bag 1


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 68 other followers