Come join our craft workshop weekender

Get yourself in the festive spirit, and perhaps also ahead on the pressie front, with our craft workshop weekender held in London on Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 December. 

We’re delighted to have teamed up with Birdsong and Beyond Retro to offer a weekend filled with sessions run by some of London’s most brilliant designers, illustrators and makers. 

Pop along to Beyond Retro’s Dalston Store, and you can join social enterprise Juta to make your own reclaimed leather or vegan shoes, have fun block stamping your own sustainable top with Gabi & Maya and learn more about natural dyeing with SALT Textiles. Get your fingers celebration ready by crafting party rings with accessory and prop maker Rosy Nicholas, while crochet queen Katie Jones will be sharing her pom pom tree decorations (pick up a copy of our forthcoming midwinter issue – out 13 December – for more Christmas treats from Katie).

Grab your friends or come along to make some new ones. Prices start at £10 and you can buy your tickets here. Look forward to seeing you there!

Mordant recipe: mineral-based mordant alum and cream of tartar

Photo: Kim Lightbody

Photo: Kim Lightbody

Turn to page 106 of the late summer issue of Oh Comely to read Babs Behan's tutorial on bundle dyeing with natural materials. But before you begin to dye, you'll need to mordant your fabric – this will help the colour stay on your fabric and not come off in the wash. This mordant recipe is also courtesy of Babs. 

Mineral-based mordant alum and cream of tartar

Alum (potassium aluminium sulphate) helps to improve the colourfastness of dyes, so they are less likely to fade from light and washing. It also helps to brighten colour tones. It is considered non-toxic in small quantities, so it is safe to use, but it should not be inhaled, ingested or come into contact with skin as it can cause irritation. You can buy it online or from Asian or South American food stores. Use the exact quantities of alum required for the weight of your fibre, so that it’s all absorbed by the fibre and not wasted. Always work in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves, dust mask and eye protectors when working with alum-based mordants. Safety bit over, let’s begin….

You will need:

  • Fibre (washed, scoured and dry – see the instructions in the magazine)
  • Scales
  • Alum
  • Cream of tartar
  • 2 large pots, with lids
  • Measuring spoons
  • Heatproof jar
  • Long-handled spoon
  • Small lid or plate (optional)
  • pH-neutral soap


1 Weigh the fibre after it has been washed, scoured and dried. Use 8% of the weight of the fibre in alum, and 7% of the weight of the fibre in cream of tartar. You should weigh the fibre and calculate the correct weight of alum and cream of tartar to use before you begin preparing the mordant.

2 Place the fibre in a large pot of water and allow it to soak for at least one hour, or ideally 8–12 hours/overnight, so that the fibre is pre-wetted.

3 Fill a pot with room-temperature water. The pot should be large enough to contain the fibre you want to mordant and allow enough water for it to be covered and move around freely.

4 Measure out the cream of tartar into a heatproof jar and add enough boiling water for it to dissolve completely when stirred. Then add this to the pot of water, stirring with a long-handled spoon to mix it in.

5 Measure out the alum into the heatproof jar and add enough boiling water for it to dissolve completely when stirred. Then add this to the pot of water, again stirring with a long-handled spoon to mix it in.

6 Add the pre-wetted fibre to the mordant solution. Bring the solution to a simmer, cover with a lid and simmer for one hour.

7 Stir gently and occasionally with a long-handled spoon. Be sure to tease out any air bubbles trapped under the fibre, as this can make it rise above the surface of the liquid where the mordant cannot reach it properly. Moving the fibre also helps to separate any areas that have been touching, or touching the side of the pot, where the mordant may not be able to reach them.

8 Turn off the heat and allow the fibre to cool in the pot overnight. Then remove the fibre from the pot and gently wring out any excess liquid.

9 Rinse the fibre with cool water, wash with pH-neutral soap and cool/lukewarm water, then rinse again to remove the soap.

10 Use the fibre in its damp state and add it to your dye bath. Or hang out the fibre to air dry somewhere warm and dry, out of direct sunlight, for later use.

Now you're ready to dye! Turn to page 106 of the late summer issue to begin. We'd love to see the results: tag us @ohcomelymag. This recipe is taken from Botanical Inks: Plant-to-Print Dyes, Techniques and Projects by Babs Behan (Quadrille). 

Sunday Reading: Thread


words lydia higginson

photo janina fleckhaus


My inner seamstress has a way of putting the world to rights. Although I didn’t know it at the time, she was there, helping me carve out shapes and stitches as I sat in my freezing cold studio making a coat from heavy herringbone wool. It took me five days to cut and sew that coat and cover it in rich embellishment. In threads of forest green and maroon, shimmering ochre and gold, embroidery spans the length of my spine. At its centre is a golden cross. That cross marks the place behind my heart where fertile veins of creativity run deep. It also marks the point where the end of a gun was pressed up against my back during a brutal assault.

I made that coat in the depths of winter. Being stripped and sexually assaulted made me completely disconnect from my body – I wanted to re-dress myself. Over the cold days and nights, I created quilted jumpers, turquoise silk lingerie and jumpers from cashmere. When the spring came, I started making flowing skirts, denim jeans and softly tailored shirts. As spring turned to summer, I wanted to wear wild printed jumpsuits and sporty silk bomber jackets, so I made some of those too.

Then leaves started to fall and my sewing slowed down but never completely ground to a halt. I continued to create lace knickers, simple camisoles and wideleg culottes. As the year drew to a close and winter once again set in, I hunkered down in front of my sewing machine and made floral cords, a furry gilet, leggings printed with the beauty of the cosmos and another embroidered coat, this time with a dusty pink, cosy velvet hood. Over the year, my inner seamstress spent over 1,000 hours designing and creating the clothes I’ve always wanted to wear – over 60 garments. All the clothes I’d ever bought from shops have been given away and the only ones I wear are ones that I have made myself.

Making my own clothes was my way of feeling strong and alive again. It allowed my body to heal from five years of holding on to trauma. After being assaulted, I was desperately seeking a way to breathe colour, movement, texture and sensuality back in to my life and, when I wear garments that I have stitched from scratch, my body feels realigned on its natural creative compass. My healing armour made of silk and lace and cashmere.

Creating my wardrobe afresh – sleeves, collars, cuffs – wasn’t only a process of recovery. It was also one of discovery. Of my seamstress inside who had just been waiting to be given a needle and thread. Passionate, creative and tactile, I need my seamstress to face life. It feels like she has been stitching away since the beginning of time – I just drop into her rhythm for a while when I’m sat at my machine or have a thimble on my finger. She’s helped me to create beauty from brutality. When I’m in touch with my seamstress, I feel able to be the woman I want to be – dressed in a wardrobe I’ve stitched from energy, time and golden thread. 


Lydia has recently launched Threadworks in London – a space for fashion and textile artists in the week and a place to learn new sewing skills at the weekend. You can support their Crowdfunding project here. If you're a print designer, pattern cutter, embroiderer, weaver, seamstress, tailor, costume designer or small fashion brand that might be looking for space, get in touch via the Threadworks website


'Thread' was originally published in Oh Comely issue 37, featuring three more personal stories of touch. Pick up a copy here

Brighton Art Fair / MADE BRIGHTON 2016

Fancy some creative inspiration this weekend? Brighton Art Fair / MADE BRIGHTON is happening from Friday 23 to Sunday 25 September at Corn Exchange at the Dome, Church Street, Brighton.

Tutton and Young are hosting a joint art, craft and design fair, featuring fifty each of the best contemporary artists and designer/makers from the UK and abroad. Showing and selling their work directly to the public, they promise an inspiring balance between established and emerging artists and makers. 

Tickets are £7.50. Find out more and buy your tickets here