First adventures with woad

Well, I’ve finally bitten the bullet.

I’ve read dire warnings about the importance of being patient with woad harvesting, because:

  • you need a lot of leaves to get a decent amount of dye, and
  • the chemicals that provide the blue dye take time to develop in the plant.

I only have a few plants, and they don’t look very big. However, on the whole people who write about natural dyes are working in larger quantities than I am. They need enough yarn to knit a jumper, or the fabric to make a tablecloth. I’m working with light weight scarves that weigh 7-8g each.

I decided this week that I needed to make a start and see what happened. I used the vinegar method, which tends to extract less pigment, but it is quicker, so I thought it would be a good guide as to how things were going. After all, I didn’t even know how much a woad leaf weighed, so I didn’t know how much I needed.

Woad is a member of the cabbage family, so I wasn’t surprised that as I chopped it up there was a smell of overcooked cabbage. It got quite strong, so I was pleased to mask that smell by covering the chopped leaves with a mixture of cold water and white vinegar. I kneaded it for 5 minutes, strained off the liquid, and repeated the process. That produced a bright green liquid, which I reckoned would be enough for 5 scarves.

I thought I would play safe, in case it is too early in the season to get a lot of colour. I put in two white scarves, one of a pale mustard that comes from buddleia, and one that had been dyed a golden orange with dahlias. I tied them all up in various ways to make patterns.

The scarves soaked in the dye bath for about an hour, and then oxidised on the washing line until they were dry. I left two more scarves in the dye bath overnight, to soak up any remaining colour.

I’m pleased with the result, but I found that this dye doesn’t penetrate the folds quite as much as others I have used, so I have rather more undyed fabric than I expected. With the gold scarves that I’d previously dyed with dahlia and buddleia, I was expecting the result to be green. However, because of the lack of penetration there is rather more gold left than I had bargained for. I might have another go at those two…

About The Proof Angel

I am a freelance editor and proofreader, working with a wide range of clients from large companies to individuals. I can help you to communicate clearly by carrying out a final check, or by suggesting ideas get your message over. I am an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading. I also have a sideline in textiles, as The Rainbow Angel.
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