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Bracken, Birch, and Willow: Morag Macpherson Blog 7

Artist in Residence for Peatland Connections (a Crichton Carbon Centre project), Morag Macpherson, writes more about her work and discovery of eco-dyeing using bog plants.


Befriending Bracken


Bracken is everywhere! It’s not surprising it’s found in abundance on the Outskirt. I think I like it most when it turns in autumn forming brown and deep red blankets, rippling around the periphery of the bog in vast swathes. It looks crumpled and trampled as its fern structures curl with the colder air of October and November. I love to appreciate and see beauty in plants that are seen as common and over-abundant. 




Bracken I see you

A swarm of leafy lush mass

When summer is high


I hear you rustle

Your beautiful brown ferns

When autumn arrives 


Biscuit brown linens

Camel-coloured cotton

Turning cloth oatmeal


Poor peasant pleasure 

Hiding joyful mysteries 

In your ecru hues 



Birch boulevard 


Silver birch bark is a particularly beautiful sight on the bog Outskirt which I refrained from disturbing…in awe of its beauty as multiple trees lined up like a wild boulevard and interspersed with interesting bark formations on an otherwise predominantly green palette.


The leaves of the birch have a serrated edge and pointy shape that I enjoyed drawing. Their leaves eco-print well in contrast to other plants on the Outskirt. I deliberately chose to eco-print them to give the appearance of antique textiles, on mordanted cotton which turned a sludgy beige in the process. The result wasn’t strong which looked faded and old.


Dye baths of leaves gave light browns and ochres however when twigs were included the hues deepened. I decided to leave the tree bark alone. 


Bracken and Birch swatches.

Birch boulevard


Linear rows of your beautiful bark

Create a sheen of something special

A twinkle in the matt

A light in the wild darkness

A brightness Interspersing dull

A special beauty only found

In birch’s domain

Populated by your small perfect leaves

Dappled across landscapes 

Of your repetitive stumps

All glowing their birch essence

Enhancing my life

To know you 

Beautiful birch

Keep sparkling

Your inner radiance

Towards me


Willow and broom swatches.

Stripping the willow


Gathering lots of willow, and processing it for a dye bath, I wondered on times gone by…the act of taking the leaves from the branches felt like stripping them off. This led me to hum the tune to the famous ceilidh dance ‘Strip the Willow’ as I was performing this act…is this where the songs name comes from? 


There are historical records that prove how highland women would sing songs as they went about their duties which would include dyeing, spinning and weaving textiles. When I’m sewing and patchworking at my machine (sometimes late at night), listening to my radio or vinyl…is this the modern-day equivalent? Something is definitely missing…the sense of community and doing these tasks together.


Willow gave strong browns fading to beige as the dyebath exhausted or when the season changed. Using the twigs with the leaves, as with birch, gave another hue. The colour palette from any plant seems endless and is predominantly based on these factors:

·         the amount of dyestuff

·         Leaves alone or mixed with twig and bark or bark alone

·         Seasonal variations

·         First dip or when the bath has exhausted for paler hues

After the dyeing process there are countless ways to modify colours such as a dip in iron solution (ferrous sulphate); titanium oxide; vinegar etc and these processes can work differently on various fabric types (usually differentiating between cellulose fabric that is plant-based such as linen, cotton, hemp, bamboo or protein fabrics which are animal-based such as wool and silk).


I enjoyed recording these findings in what has now become a vast sample book which I hope to make into an artist’s book in the near future.


Morag's artist in residency is funded by Peatland Connections (a Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation funded project) and Creative Scotland. The project and residency are now complete.

You can find Morag on instagram or her website.


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