Vanessa Arbuthnott

Guest Blog from Flora Arbuthnott – Natural Dyeing with Native Trees

Flora Arbuthnott, daughter of Vanessa explains the amazing natural dyes all which can be found right outside our front doors and why now is the perfect time to find them.

Dye your clothes with an autumn palette of colours extracted from woodland trees and hedgerow plants, and blend in to the woods. As the nights lengthen, the temperature drops, and the energy of trees and plants goes down into the roots and outward into the seeds. This is the time for gathering the bounty of fruits, nuts, roots, and barks for natural dyeing, as well as food and medicines.

Wild edges of hedges and woodlands are abundant with native berries. Drinking a stock of blackberries, elderberries, rowan, guelder rose, and hawthorn berries fortify our immune systems ready for the harsh winter months. Notice how they stain your skin. These berries dye fabric pink, purple, orange, and grey. Growing in amongst the hedge is lady’s bedstraw, a straggly plant that produces a red dye from the roots. Dig up one year old dock roots and dandelion roots for golden yellow colours, and a few burdock roots to roast for your dinner.

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Along the riverbank, find meadowsweet roots for a black dye, this could be confused with a young bramble if not for it’s distinctive red stem, alternate tiny leaves and large leaves, and the distinctive smell of antiseptic. Along the river, the Alder tree grows. When the tree is cut, the wood turns from white to red as if bleeding, this red dye can be extracted from the bark.

In the woods, look for trees rich with tannin. The mighty oak offers a golden brown dye obtained from the tannin filled galls and small pieces of bark. This can be transformed to a black ink with the addition of iron oxide. All parts of the walnut tree are used for dyeng. The outer green cases of the nuts produce deep browns and black. Apple and cherry barks offer soft pinks and oranges. Birch bark gives tan, brown and sometimes pink.

Curiously, many natural dye plants have healing properties for the skin. Meadowsweet and oak can be used as antiseptic. Alder leaves are put in the shoes of those walking great distances to ease their weary feet. Apple is a powerful cleanser of wounds as the juice restores skin tissue. Lay the internal side of Birch bark against the skin to relieve muscle pain. Dried Ladys bedstraw is stuffed in mattresses to repel insects, and the roots are used to dye sheets to prevent bedsores. By dyeing our clothes with these trees and plants, we are healing and protecting our skin with a rich aray of autumn colours that help us to blend into the season.

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Guest Blog from Flora Arbuthnott – Shibori Dyeing


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Flora Arbuthnott, daughter of Vanessa explains the ancient process of Shibori dyeing and the beautiful results you can achieve with this simple technique. Have a go yourself at home or book a course with Flora and get creating! 

Whether you choose to twist, stitch, scrumple, fold, turn, bind, or clamp the fabric, there are infinite possibilities of patterns with shibori.

Shibori is a traditional Japanese resist technique for creating patterns on fabric. Itajime is a quick and simple shibori technique of clamping folded fabric between two shaped blocks, fastening with a clamp, or string. The effect is satisfyingly immediate, enabling you to create dramatic geometric patterns in minutes. As well as using scrap wood to cut interesting shape blocks, it is also fun to use found objects. Buttons can be used for small circles, and jar lids are effective for large circles. Clothes pegs and bulldog clips can also make small marks with surprising effects. Bind thread around screws and baking beads for circular patterns, or simply tie the fabric in knots for a rippled effect. If you have nothing to hand, simply tying string around concertina folded fabric has beautiful effects.

In Japan, the shibori folded fabric is traditionally dipped in an indigo dye vat to create deep pure blue. The indigo is extracted from various plants that grow around the world, mainly Japanese indigo, Indigo Fera Tinctora, and Woad. The indigo is not water soluble, so a chemical or biological reaction is needed to extract the blue colour and set it in the cloth. Originally this was found through dipping fabric in a vat of indigo and stale urine (ammonia). The fabric would come out green and then oxidise in the air turning blue. Today, There are many different methods of creating an indigo vat. Michel Garcia has developed a natural method called the 1-2-3 vat combining an alkali (lime) and a reducing agent (fructose) with the indigo.

It is important to use natural fibres, such as linen, hemp, or organic cotton as the synthetic fibres will not bind with the indigo. Hand woven fabric lends itself well as the weave is looser allowing the dye to seep through the folds, achieving an even colour across the fabric, on the other hand, texture can really add to a design. Using this simple technique, of shibori and indigo, you can make yourself linen cushion covers, geometric scarves, and breathe new life in to old clothes.

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Autumn Inspiration

Now we’re in September, it’s really starting to feel Autumnal! With the evenings drawing in and hints of orange on the trees, a change of season is a perfect time to re think your interiors and redecorate.

This Autumn we are enjoying using rich, bold colours such as indigo blues, rusty oranges and reds.  These shades are particularly wonderful for adding warmth to your room. A rug and a cosy knitted throw (we love the Hebridean Classic Throw from Lauras Looms) will give your room some texture and are great for breaking up block colours.  Lighting is really important especially in the winter time so a statement lamp is a great addition or you could try your hand at designing your own lampshade to fit onto a base! We run classes next door to our shop and showroom which can be booked online here.

Folky patterns are very on trend at the moment as are florals and all over designs. These can add an eclectic, soft feel to your space which is especially good for bedrooms and dining areas. It is great to mix and match, I find that using three colours is always successful when keeping things looking coordinated.

What are your favourite colours and styles this Autumn? We love to see what you have been doing…..


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The amazing ways colour can alter your mind….

Colour is an amazing thing. It can make us feel motivated, fill us with confidence, calm us or even spark romance! It affects our moods and our minds and is an important thing to consider when making your decorating choices.

Here we have narrowed down to 8 of the most popular colours and looked at the science behind them….


Represents serenity, intelligence and protection.

It has been proven that students exposed to blue before undertaking an exam were more successful and achieved greater results making it the perfect colour to paint your bedroom or office. Too much blue however can make a room feel cold and people feel unwelcome – be sure to balance this colour with warm undertones such as yellows and creams.

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Represents nature, balance and wealth.

Green is often used in bedrooms due to it’s natural calming nature. It is also said that green can prevent nightmares! In large doses it has been shown to make us experience feelings of envy and jealousy – the infamous green monster!

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Represents energy, happiness and attention.

Yellow is the best colour to create enthusiasm and can awaken greater confidence and optimism. Too much yellow can cause distress and is best avoided in bedrooms, it is known that babies can cry more in yellow rooms. It is however perfect for creating sunny kitchens and bathrooms.

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Represents reassurance and warmth.

Orange is a social colour often used in gyms and active wear brands due to its motivational, get up and go qualities. It is however seen as a negative colour in America and is often related to prison uniforms and Halloween! It is a great colour to use in your living and dining rooms.

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Represents passion, optimism and adventure

Red is the colour of passion and is guaranteed to spark romance! It is also used a lot in food and drink branding across the world as it is known to stimulate appetite (think coca cola!) Works well in bedrooms and dining rooms.

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Represents calm, sweetness and love

A lovely colour to use in bedrooms, pink can counteract anger and violence. In fact, a study at a US state prison showed that inmates were significantly calmer when exposed to Baker Miller Pink. However, in society pink can also represent a sense of immaturity, a lack of will power and self worth. This can be easily balanced with an injection of black and grey which work well with the lighter colour.

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Represents creativity, spirituality and mystery

Lilac is proven to be the most spiritual colour, often linked with the area between earth and heaven and used a lot by spiritualists and mediums. Use it in your bathroom or bedroom for a calming space but remember to add in some other brighter tones as too much lilac can promote a feeling of depression in some.

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Grey & Black

Represents protection, formality and strength

Although it might not be the first colour that comes to mind, black implies self control and discipline. It also symbolises independence and a strong will and gives an impression of authority and power. However, it is worth remembering that too much black can cause depression and a negative environment so be sure to use in moderation! Grey is a very popular choice at the moment due to it’s versatility and works well in any room.  Yellow work particularly well with grey as a contrasting bright.

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New products in the shop

Some exciting news for this week are our new products available in our shop and to order online!

Our Tote Shoppers are made from our lovely oil cloth fabric which is fully wipe-able, meaning fully practical! Available in 3 different colour-ways of our Pretty Maids fabric, they are handmade to a very high standard right here in The Cotswolds!


Our fabric Peg Bags are also handmade and are generously sized. They too come in a range of designs….we’d love to know which one is your favourite!

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The Toes and Peg Bags are both priced at £22 each and make a lovely gift for a friend or perhaps a treat for yourself….!

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Competition Time! Most Beautiful Room…

We love hearing from customers and are always thrilled to receive photographs of your newly decorated rooms showing how you have used my fabrics and wallpapers etc.

This has inspired me to run a competition for the ‘Most Beautiful Room’ starting today which will be judged on August 1st by myself and my artist and designer daughters Rose and Flora. All qualities of photographs are fine so get snapping with your iphone! The winner will receive £250 in Vanessa Arbuthnott vouchers and 2 runners up will receive £100 in vouchers. I will share all of the photographs in the Happy Customers section on our website so keep an eye out for yours!

Please email your pics to [email protected] or post them to us at 12 Ashcroft Road, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL7 1QX

Here is an example we’ve been sent to give you some ideas…we can’t wait to see yours!

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Do it Yourself

Here at VA we are always looking for ways to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary and give much loved items a new lease of life.

A great way to do this is to upcycle your vintage and classic furniture pieces with a piece of bright and beautiful new fabric and even better, a lot of the time this is something you can do yourself with a little bit of patience and determination!

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Something like a stool or a dining chair is fairly straight forward to re-cover, all you will need is your fabric of choice and a good quality staple gun. You can then measure how much you need, cut out your template and staple your fabric tightly from the underneath. To finish off with a really professional look, you could attach another piece of fabric over the top to hide your edges.

You can also get creative with co-ordinating home accessories such as napkins and covered boxes – our Home Sewn Home book has some ideas to get you started from simple cushions to something more challenging such as a padded headboard!

If you have a larger piece of furniture that requires some TLC seek out your local upholsterer – they really can work wonders! We have had our beloved Ercol Daybed covered in Scandi Stripe Warm to give it a contemporary and fresh feel.

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If you fancy a smaller project to start you off, we now have a Scrap Basket here in our showroom – perfect for picking up smaller bits of fabric for putting together bunting, patchwork bags, hot water bottle covers, napkins….

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Decorating for Spring!

With the new season approaching us fast, I am very excited to be unveiling my new spring showroom! Bright colours, bold patterns and lots of inspiration for decorating your own home.

I have a passion for natural forms and organic shapes – spring is a time of new growth and new life and this is what we have tried to capture in our front window display.

I have used the beautiful Songbirds fabric for our curtain in buttercup, clay and charcoal colours for a sunny welcome to the showroom and teamed it with a playful leading edge in French Ticking – buttercup and clay. Pretty Maids in Lime introuduces elements of green which has long been used to represent the hope and joy of spring, dating back even to the ancient Egyptians who painted the floors of their sacred temples green to do just this.

Along with the yellows and greens I have used Tweed in Sky to give a fresh and airy contrast – mixing textures and patterns is a great way to keep things looking homely but still sophisticated. You could even try a DIY project to further co-ordinate using fabric to cover a candle jar or a tissue box. Spring is a great time to try out new things and there is nothing more rewarding than thinking ‘I made that!’

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I will be dressing my showroom with a different colour scheme in each ‘room’ to show the exciting looks we are championing this year and will be using coordinating cushions, headboards, wall papers, sofas and more to complete the look. I’d love to know what you think and what colours you will be using in your homes this year, so do pop into our show room and say hello!


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Patchwork Packs!

 Our patchwork packs, now available in our shop, are the perfect New Year project! Whether you are just starting out or are already a seasoned crafter, we’re sure you’ll have a great time giving these snippets a new lease of life.

In each pack you will find a selection of fabrics in complementing colours and styles, with enough pieces to sew together and invent a patchwork creation! You could even have a look at Vanessa’s book ‘The Home Sewn Home’ for some extra inspiration and advice.

Whether it’s a Teddy Bear, a Lavender Heart, some double sided napkins or even a patchwork peg bag, we can’t wait to see what you create! Please share your snaps on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #VApatchwork2016 or email us at [email protected]

We will be running a competition up until Easter 2016, to give you plenty of time, and my favourite Patchwork project will win some Vanessa Arbuthnott goodies!

Good luck and happy patch working!


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Gifts that give more

I have always believed in trying to give back to both my local community and to vulnerable women’s projects in other countries. Through my work, I have been fortunate to meet three very inspiring organisations that support the well-being and growth of people in difficult situations and you can help them too this Christmas by buying my Christmas cards, knitted toys and duvet sets. All the profits go directly to these wonderful organisations.


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This year, all the proceeds of my first Christmas cards featuring Rose’s Wild and Free fabric design are going to a charity called CHYP that’s very close to my shop. Cirencester Housing for Young People provides supported accommodation for vulnerable young people aged 16-25 in Cirencester and the surrounding area who find themselves homeless through no fault of their own. Its aim is not just to offer these young people a roof over their heads but to give them the care and support a family would normally provide. CHYP helps them to learn how to look after themselves, gain confidence and live a more fulfilling life independently.

I used to teach art at CHYP and know they provide a wonderful home for many young people, so PLEASE BUY THEM…there are 6 different cards in a pack for £5.


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When I was in Kenya last year, I found an amazing women’s knitting project that provides a livelihood for so many impoverished people.  Kenana Knitters is a self-supporting knitting co-operative that pays a fair wage and funds a range of welfare projects providing education, eye tests, health and HIV/Aids counselling in the agricultural town of Njoro. Kerry, who runs the project, says: “Through the sale of Kenana products, we contribute towards significant social impact in rural Kenya by empowering women to take charge of their lives through dignified work. Our Kenana Knitters and its partners pride themselves by operating within the cultural context of rural, Kenyan women and with respect to the environmental challenges. Knitting is ideal, as it requires minimal equipment and can be done in small amounts of time, allowing the knitters to tend to their children and work around their family farming duties. Knitting can be done on the long walks that are required in rural areas, as well as in the dark, since most of the women live without electricity.”

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The Kenana monkeys and zebras are very traditional and endearing toys that measure approximately 42cm from head to toe and are very soft and cuddly! Each distinctive design is a hand-crafted Kenyan creation and bears the signature of the woman who made it. The wool for the Kenana range is purchased locally in Kenya from another artisan group that spins its own wool and dyes it using vegetable dyes from their gardens.

Kenana toys are priced at £20 or £25 each






My vibrant blue or pink Batik Spot Duvet and Pillowcase Sets are made by the Xavier Project in Nairobi, Kenya exclusively for Vanessa Arbuthnott Fabrics. The Xavier Project aims to increase access to a relevant and good formal education for refugee children and deliver it in a safe environment. It also aims to make vocational and life-long learning available to all refugees even in emergency situations, primarily through the use of ICT.





The duvet covers are hand-made with beautiful African cotton. The wax resist process, the dyeing and the sewing of these duvets and pillowcases is done entirely by Congolese refugees who are creating a new life for themselves and their children.

Single batik duvet sets are £30 and double are £46

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