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.

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.

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