Dye, Surfaces & Stitch

Hello and Happy New Year to all of you textile enthusiasts I thought I would tell you more a little more about myself….and let you know about an exciting new 3 day course I am running this year in Portugal.

I have been teaching textiles for 35 years and since leaving the state education system in the U.K. and moving to Europe in 2005, I set up Texatelier teaching small groups of students from all over the globe and in a variety of locations about the wonderful and diverse world of textiles.

I taught myself how to use plants to create colour on cloth as I wanted to create textiles with fabulous colours while using less polluting methods of colouration than with chemical dyes.

My textiles specialism is surface pattern and particularly natural dyeing with plant colour, indigo and shibori, botanical printing, print and paint on cloth and paper, batik, and mixed media collage and assemblage on cloth and paper.

Our current studio is high up overlooking the river, and is set in the foothills of the Serra dos Açors, 1 km from the lovely and lively schist village of Benfeita in Beira Literal, Central Portugal.

The village has a small local shop, two cafes and a restaurant and lots of affordable accommodation mostly in the form of Airbnb. 

Coja is the nearest small town 6kms away with everything that one could need.

The area is largely unspoilt and the landscape dramatic with wonderful walks and glorious mountains to explore. We are just on the edge of a natural park of chestnut forest called the “Mata de Margarança” and the extraordinary waterfalls of Fraga da Peña, where the wild swimming is thrilling! This is an area where many people live off grid (as we do) and use the earths natural resources for power, making for a highly sustainable lifestyle.

As you know I run all sorts of textiles courses including all the techniques mentioned above and more.

However this May (12th-14th) I am running a new and exciting, experimental 3 day mixed media collage and assemblage workshop. You can find all the details of that on the Website.

The reason I am so excited about this is because currently nearly all my art work is made using mixed media collage and I have never actually hosted a commercial workshop using this method! 

So alongside the more obvious ways to create collage and assemblage I hope to be able to share with you some of my special techniques and secrets.

As a sneak preview; It will include creating your own stock of papers, card, fabrics and threads to work with using all sorts of painting and printing techniques.

This collection of samples will be used to assemble using collage, small artworks, cards, and textile pieces with glue, stitch, staples and even screws and nails!

It will be a fun but challenging workshop focusing on colour, pattern and composItion.

It is a workshop for any level of student aiming to build confidence and of course art/textile skills.

I really hope this is of interest to you, thanks for reading and maybe see some of you in Portugal!



New courses in Beauville, France and Benfeita, Portugal. June and August 2022

So far for this year we have four courses scheduled – one in Beauville at a generously lent and rather wonderful studio just outside our village, and three at our new studios in Portugal. All the details and booking information can be found on the main website here .

After the most horrible two years for all of us and when all my
workshops were cancelled I am so very happy and excited to be teaching
textiles again!

As an artist my teaching informs my practice and vice versa, both are
intertwined and I really look forward to meeting and working with like
minded textile enthusiasts…..so now I am back in my element working
with people and really looking forward to this Summer.
Texatelier is offering a broad variety of courses all based around
surface pattern (the colouring and patterning of cloth and paper) and
we hope there will be something for everyone, whether it is fabric
collage, blockprinting, handpainting, natural dyeing with plant
colour, eco printing or indigo with shibori.

If you are interested to join us and are coming from abroad with need
of accomodation we can put you in touch with a variety of very
friendly and reasonably priced Air B&B’s, close to our studio in
Benfeita in Portugal.
It is a beautiful part of the country in the foothills of the Serra do
Acors. There is so much to see here with fabulous walks, cycling
possibilities and wild river swimming, combined with the enjoyment of
immersing yourself in exciting experimental textiles too.What could be
more fun?

Hoping to meet and work with you this Summer.
Let’s make it a good one and hope to see you soon.

We’re back – Covid be damned!

Everything was lost last year: all courses were cancelled and my major commission with Wilberforce Trust put on hold for lack of fund-raising opportunities and possibilities.

But this summer I will be running safe, socially distanced small workshop groups from my new facility in Lot et Garonne (dept. 47) France.

The courses will be located in a hill-top ancient Bastide village not far from Agen. The details will be published soon and will be available here and on the main website – link above.

Tony Baker’s contribution

Walking the dog, I spend most of my time looking at my feet. Today I noticed the blossom (which was not at my feet) and a daisy.

There’s something about a singular item that always draws my attention, as well as the incongruity of human debris, something that is on the decline in these current times – thankfully for the planet. 

Natural dyeing with plants, rust dyeing and Eco-printing


‘Playing with Nature’s Colours’ : my course title for workshops in natural dyeing with plants, (leaves, flowers, roots and fruit), rust, (not only from iron/steel but other metalic oxidations as well) and eco-printing, (applying plants to textiles and paper to alter colour)

[A week-long residential course at a restored chateau in SW France – This course will appeal to textile lovers and gardeners alike. Participants will be patterning and colouring cloth and fibres using a range of natural techniques, creating bespoke samples and lengths. The course includes natural plant dyeing with different mordants, indigo dyeing with Japanese shibori resist, eco printing, rust dyeing,
15th-21st July 2020, see link below for more details]

Natural dyeing

Natural dyes are dyes or colourants derived from plants, invertebrates, or minerals. The majority of natural dyes are vegetable dyes from plant sources—roots, berries, bark, leaves, and wood—and other biological sources such as fungi and lichens.

Archaeologists have found evidence of textile dyeing dating back to the Neolithic period. In China, dyeing with plants, barks and insects has been traced back more than 5,000 years. The essential process of dyeing changed little over time. Typically, the dye material is put in a pot of water and then the textiles to be dyed are added to the pot, which is heated and stirred until the color is transferred. Many natural dyes require the use of chemicals called mordants to bind the dye to the textile fibres; tannin from oak galls, salt, natural alum, vinegar, and ammonia from stale urine were used by early dyers. Many mordants, and some dyes themselves, produce strong odors, and large-scale dyeworks were often isolated in their own districts.

“Dyed in the wool” then spun.

Textile fibres may be dyed before spinning (“dyed in the wool”), but most textiles are “yarn-dyed” or “piece-dyed” after weaving.

Rust Dyeing/Printing

Indigo silk scarf over-dyed with rust transfer [N.O.]

Rust dyeing is a surface pattern method that adds depth to your fabrics and fibres.  I use the technique mostly on cotton or silk fabrics also on wool although this can become a little brittle if rusted for too long. I also use cotton rag watercolour paper (for use in collage/bookmaking projects.) Natural fibres take the rust colours better than synthetic fibres. You can place or wrap rusty objects with wet fabric and develop rust patterns over time.  However, vinegar and salt will speed up the rusting process, as it aids in the oxidation process. Rusting occurs normally due to oxidation, i.e. contact with the air. Rust dyeing with just water takes about a week and requires patience Whilst using vinegar and salt produces colour in less time usually twenty-four hours. Cloth and fibres must be washed thoroughly in detergent to remove the iron residue.

Eco Printing

At its root, eco contact printing refers to the act of directly applying plants to textiles to alter colour, apply colour and create interesting designs. “ Natural dyeing” is a component, as everything used is natural, such as flowers, leaves, bark, bugs, roots etc. and the use of different mordants to obtain different colours from the plants is also involved. It is straightforwardly a method of bundling leaves and other plants in fabric, and steaming the bundle(s) to print their natural pigments onto the fabric. The bundles must be tightly wrapped and tied so the fabric is in direct contact with the vegetable matter, using a piece of dowel can aid this process. The bundles can be simply steamed dyed in a dye bath to give extra colour. Using an iron blanket as a mordant (or another mordant) between the leaves etc. and the cloth to be dyed can create extraordinary and vibrant designs on the cloth. Bundles are steamed for up to an hour and best left unwrapped for at least 24 hours so the colour has a chance to penetrate the cloth fully.

If you want more details about my course Contact Gertrude and friends, all the information on this and other courses as well as the chateau are to be found there.


A kimono style jacket that has references to Boro cloth, using Shibori patterned and Indigo dyed pieces created in previous indigo workshops.

This summer ‘Gertrude and Friends’, a Crafts retreat with residential facilities at a restored chateau in, Aquitaine SW France, have invited me to teach some courses. One of the three courses I will lead is Magical blue and Gold ; Indigo, shibori and rust dyeing. It will be a combination course week looking at three related techniques that at least have one major connection in that they are all historic natural dyeing processes. The Kimono jacket is one of the ideas for something that the students may make as a way of contextualising their indigo, shibori and rust samples and experiments. Such an item, in other words, is the ‘walk-away-with’ product.

The Japanese term Boro can be roughly translated as ‘tattered’ and defines a genre of indigo dyed textiles ingeniously patched, pieced and mended throughout Japan from late C18 until the middle of the C20. It’s message of re-use and re-purposing aligns very much with what we, at Texatelier, are about.

Shibori “The inventive Art of Japanese shaped resist dyeing” Wada, Rice & Barton. The patterns which resist the dye when dipped in the dye vat are usually made on white cloth. The exquisite nature of the patterns are akin to an individual’s handwriting as no two hands can recreate the same pattern. Basic methods to create resist patterning include stitch, wrapping, clamping and knotting which can then be dyed in the natural indigo vat, after which they are untied or unstitched to reveal beautiful, intricate and inividual shibori resist patterns.

Sashiko is a form of decorative reinforcement stitching that started out of practical need during the Edo era. (The Edo period or Tokugawa period is the period between 1603 and 1868 in the history of Japan, when Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate and the country’s 300 regional daimyō. [wikipedia])

Tattered or repaired

Derived from the Japanese boroboro, meaning something tattered or repaired, boro refers to the practice of reworking and repairing textiles (often clothes or bedding) through piecing, patching and stitching, in order to extend their use. It is associated with the indigo-dyed hemp clothing traditional in Japan before the introduction of cotton. Worn areas of cloth are patched over or older garments cut up and joined, with running stitches or areas of sashiko (running stitches sewn through layers of fabric), used for reinforcement and to quilt layers of cloth together. This historical spirit informs the contemporary trend for ‘distressed’ or repaired-looking clothes. [From V&A]

Thrift and creativity

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, boro garments might be handed down through many generations of impoverished rural families, their making an expression of mottainai – conveying a sense of regret concerning waste. This is an extreme example of patchwork’s association with thrift, but, as in other textile traditions, the joining of pre-existing materials to create a new fabric has generated a highly distinctive cultural product. Today, boro textiles, often futon covers, are regarded as works of art and a cultural record of homespun cloths, dyes and techniques. The most heavily patched side of a boro panel, prized for its spontaneous and abstract qualities today, is often the back or inside of the piece, as more care was taken to arrange fabrics on the side that would be seen. [From V&A]


An “arashi” (polewrapped) shibori patterned and indigo dyed Thai silk scarf overdyed with rust.

The two dye stuffs, indigo and rust, represent what I describe as the “Magical Blue and Gold” that can be achieved on cloth. Beautiful and individual scarves are another of the “walk away with” outcomes that students on my courses will be able to create.

If you want more details about this course Contact Gertrude and friends, all the information on this and other courses as well as the chateau are to be found there.

Living colour on cloth 2019 UK Tour

I am happy to announce that my recent UK tour of Living Colour on
Cloth, went really well.
All the participants in workshops achieved some stunning results using
Eco Printing and shibori resist with Indigo. It is always so good to
meet and work with new people and hear their stories too.
I am planning to hold some more UK workshops in the Autumn, details to follow.

Bull Dog Clip Shibori

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and our specific Texatelier Facebook

The Oxfordshire group April 2019
eco dyeing
Eco Dyeing Bundles
Shibori twists

New Spring Eco Dyeing Courses from Nikola Orpen in UK. Dorset, Suffolk and Oxfordshire. March/April 2019

Eco Colour on Cloth – UK Tour 2019

Three weekends of Eco Textile Workshops with Nikola Orpen M.A.

Sat & Sun 23/24 March 2019 Chapel in the Garden – Bridport 

Sat & Sun 30/31 March 2019 Mettingham Village Hall – Suffolk

Sat & Sun 6/7 April 2019 St. James Centre, Stonesfield (near Witney and Woodstock) and “Hillcrest”, Islip road, Bletchingdon, OX 53DP


Day one
Indigo and Shibori (Japanese resist)
Students will learn how to make up an ORGANIC INDIGO SUGAR VAT (no
nasty chemicals) and using Japanese shibori techniques will create
exquisite and unique samples on cloth.

eco colour on cloth image email

Day two
A day of Eco Printing using flowers and leaves.
Students will learn how to make beautiful prints and patterns on cloth
and paper by capturing colours directly from nature using contact
printing and steam.
There will also be an opportunity to purchase some ‘special’ cloth
and plain silk scarves to dyes.
Please bring an apron, rubber gloves, fabric scissors, notebook and
pen and any special (not synthetic) yarns or cloth of a neutral colour
that you may like to use.
Refreshments are provided all day, please bring something for lunch to share.

It is not necessary to attend both days but will be more
fulfilling if you do. Both courses are suitable for all levels.
A reservation is necessary as courses tend to book up quickly.
For more information and to secure your place with a £20 deposit per
day please ** email me** Nikola

What you paid for: My African accomplishments


By public subscription, your subscriptions, I have completed my three months of voluntary service in Ghana.

Thanks to your generous support for my ‘Out to Africa’ and ‘FaceBook musical challenge’ appeals, much, much, much … has been accomplished. I want to share it here with you and let you all know what you have really contributed to, for it wasn’t ‘me’, it was for the hope and direct development of real people with real fear and loathings …. real need and, in the end: real gratitude, that I am asked to pass on.



I’m going to lay it out as a simple list for ease of speedy reading – I’ll follow up with some pictures and minuté in later blogs.

As an overarching instrument I created a named initiative under the ‘INCOME’ and ‘Procom’ projects of the Ghanian NGO TradeAid, namely: “Procom Organic Vegetable Initiative” (POVI)

My role and aims were to educate and assist local farmers into organic farming methods and transitions ; the main reasons, simply stated,

  • increase income, and thus abrogate poverty
  • desist in detrimental and polluting activities with over use of costly synthetic farming chemicals


In three months I have, (but not without assistance):

  • set up two small test farms
  • conducted more than 20 ‘Farmer Field-school’ trainings – reaching four separate communities, thereby touching up-to 100 farming families, possibly as many as 400-450 individuals by DIRECT INTERVENTION.Delivery of key components by practical demonstration:
  • Natural and ‘fast’ composting methodologies
  • large volume composting pit methods
  • soil building
  • crop-specific compost and soil adjustment
  • non-chemical integrated pest management and
  • natural liquid pesticide manufacture and application
  • design, overseeing and monitoring of 6 large scale, triple pit composting chambers for the manufacture of up-to 3.000 liters per chamber-set per season of mature compost
  • manufacture of three free-standing compost ‘cubes’
  • membership and contribution to CAOF, an upper-east region organic farming coalition
  • production and sharing of more than 25 self-penned locally-aimed illustrated training documents, with the commencement of some translated into local dialect and language
  • networking
  • outreach and community liaison
  • 4 detailed training films
  • all work photographically and film recorded and shared
  • creation of ‘dropboxes’ and web-sites and facebook pageshot berkley compost pile

POVI farmers are: Anti Agri-Chem, Anti poison and Pollution, we are: ‘Forward and Towards Organacism’

Towards a cleaner, healthier, more valuable, non-polluting cropping methodology

Towards greater soil health, fertility and productivity

Towards a new ‘ethical’, sustainable farming practice

Towards a more fullfilling working practice for jobbing farmers

Towards greater and better quality yields for enhanced income, therefore: greater food security and decresed poverty for farming families.


Unlike some African countries Ghana does not have a particularly aggressive road-side sales culture. Then one meets the irresistible Melody whose charms had me smock-wearing in about 2 seconds, fully documented and the live-fed on FaceBook, to prove it.

I did look as good as she claimed in the traditional Ghanaian smock, but I didn’t buy. She was fine.


The real find of the day was in fact new friend Melody – She’s a real blast!

More Compost/Less Agri-Chems

hot berkley compost pile

Another demonstration of 1 cubic meter of fast compost (30 days then ready for application)

I am encouraging these to be built everywhere as free-standing, readily available soil nutrition. The farmers are being taught to make them, and the take-up for the training is most frequently the women, who make them fast – 2 hours tops.

This is a ‘direct-action, lightening-strike’ intervention that has captured the imagination … compost can do that!


In some of the villages and farming communities that I am working with, we have constructed 6, three ‘tank’ , deep compost-pits from block work.  Each chamber will hold upto 1,000L of finished compost – but compost that is a year in the making and maturing.

With the two types of compost generation we will be able to sustain huge annual land coverage and soil-building.

They call me ‘Compost-Man’ – I say fine …. but shouldn’t that be MR. Compost-Man?

Soil-regeneration by compost = Greater fertility, Higher yields, Decreased plant disease, Enhanced water-retention, Erosion eradication and Pollution abrogation … Where’s the down-side?

The Field-School Trainings continue: NPK ….

It’s all very well to get farmers, who didn’t really know how in the first place, to make all-organic general compost from the ‘wastes’ of their harvests and land clearing …. but to to transfer the fine-tunings of NPK, (Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium), took some very complex translation into Fra-Fra and, as such … one hell of a long afternoon!

Sean and Asuah

Needed – heritage seeds

I am struggling to plant up in the organic demonstration gardens in our Ghana P.O.V.I. Initiative –  because …..

We can not gain easy access to heritage seed – we can find treated, hybrid, GMO anything and I can grow it organically but it won’t be ‘organic’ produce!

I am appealing to all and any who might have some supplies to help us out – ideally, of course, I need a West African source as the mailing and importation issues are somewhat of a challenge.

We are interested in growing any variety of the following crops: Tomato, carrot, chili pepper, okra and cabbage.


Farmer Field school – Novrongo

Ad-lib dance to the Compost – in Novrongo – Upper east region – Ghana. October 2016.

The first field school training for local farmers in our attempt to lure them towards sustainable organic farming experimentation and away from costly dependency on chemical fertilizers.

Since I arrived in September the progress is that:

I have made five site visits in the field, supervised two composting station layouts and the initial construction of one, visited and observed/recorded our two demonstration Farm/Garden sites and started all the planning and educational materials for the now defined and ‘plotted’ : Procom Organic Vegetable Initiative (P.O.V.I.)

I have also visited old friends at the basket-makers co-operative and gotten dragged into building cobbed rocket-stove cookers in one nearby village.

Thanks to the support from you all