Blackthorn flowers in April. Last year, hard frosts took the blossom, so come autumn, there weren't many sloes to pick. One shady bank was still covered with late flowering blackthorn right into May this year, which must be why that patch fruited better than the others in 2013.
I picked 25g blossom from there, though in all the sunnier hedgerows, the blossom is gone and vigorous shoots are well on their way. Just as happened with the hawthorn blossom, after a two hour simmer, the white flowers gave a warm yellow dye to thin strips of 100% merino prefelt. I'm still working on a plan to make a green and yellow felt rug. At the price of a few thorn stabs, I picked 400g blackthorn shoots and peeled 200g of bark, leaving the latter to soak.
The soft blackthorn shoots were simmered for one hour, then a large strip of prefelt, mordanted with 10% alum, was simmered for an hour and left to soak overnight. In the picture, the pale yellow strip was just blossom dyed, the stronger yellow had an alkali soak in soda ash before rinsing and drying. The bigger piece in the background is a greener yellow than the camera shows, dyed with the blackthorn shoots. All gentle, natural colours, just as I thought I wanted. Still, while waiting for the bark to soak, I was tempted to add a little pizzazz to the Blackthorn Dye Series.
Last autumn, I made sloe gin with blackthorn fruits, by adding a pint of cheap gin and 10oz sugar to a pint of sloes. The colour is fabulous, though the flavour is an acquired taste. Elinor Gotland caught me eyeing up the jar and divined my intention.
"You leave those sloes where they are, Beaut."
I didn't listen. The gin was decanted into a bottle, the sloes were mashed in water and another strip of mordanted prefelt got simmered up in the mix. Absolutely no effect whatsoever, even when I added a bit of iron water and simmered again.
"Duw, it's like teaching a dog to walk."
"I've saved you the gin, Elinor, though you'd be better off without it."
For a small sheep, Elinor can be massively irksome. Who wants to see her stash anyway? Like Patience on a monument, smiling at grief, I tried not to notice her rainbow braids of acid dyed roving. My failed sloe dye felt got put in for a simmer in the blackthorn shoot afterbath. Turned out pretty much the same yellow green and that was that. Later in the week, the soaked bark peelings were looking a promisingly strong brown. At the weekend, they were simmered for an hour or two, then sieved out. Some big strips of white and grey felt went into the dye bath.
Another disappointment. The books promise pinks and purples. I got beige. Growing wild with frustration, I poured a big slug of iron - that is, vinegar that has had rusty nails sitting in it for months - into the dye bath and put back a couple of pieces of prefelt for another half hour. Dark brown. Elinor made no comment, yet I discerned a certain froideur in her manner.
Saturday night, the ice was broken watching that grand circus, the Eurovision Song Contest. We drank the beers of many European countries, well lubricated and greatly entertained. Elinor backed Conchita all the way, shrieking as the last douze points rolled in.
"Total show biz pro, that Conchita. Fair play, real tears at the award ceremony and not a catch in her throat to spoil the encore. Class act."
My favourite came last.
Here are the results of the blackthorn dye baths.
From the left, bark with an iron afterbath on white, then grey prefelt strips. Bark without an iron afterbath on grey then white prefelt strips. Two greeny/yellow strips from young shoots and two small strips from the flowers.
Elinor agreed they are nice enough, in an unobtrusive way.
"If you're after glamour, maybe you should take a leaf out of Conchita's book and stop plucking your moustache, Beaut."