Woad!

I know, I’m easily excited, and I shouldn’t shout at people who are kind enough to read this blog, but WOAD!  I hang about on a couple of natural dyeing boards on Ravelry and I think it was there I saw a link to this resource about dyeing with woad–entirely graspable (apart from the absence of a reducing agent).  And in metric, always a plus. A couple of other Australians were chatting on Ravelry about when to use your woad–and that had me thinking now was the time to do it.  So.  Here are my two plants (before).

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There has had to be some explanation about this not being a salad green, which ought to be a clue about the  variety of salad greens we grow here.

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I had a lucky find behind the woad… the last of the cherry tomatoes.

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There was more woad than I thought.  And for anyone who has been wondering, I now know where the snails live and prefer to breed. Which confirms my opinion that the trouble I have had growing woad from seed might be due to its being utterly delectable to snails and slugs and every passing nibbler.

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This is the harvest!  For anyone else who has been wondering why some of the silverbeet hasn’t been thriving, another duh!  Moment in the vegie patch.  Those are white beetroot.  I don’t remember planting them, but more than happy to eat them in any case…

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Chopped woad leaves.  Three litres of chopped woad leaves.  A lot of care was taken to ensure no snail was wounded at this stage.

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Into the boiling water.

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Straining through four layers of cloth.

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Measuring the hot liquid (about 2 3/4litres)–and a pinky-browny colour.

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The first few locks of wool went in and ten minutes later–that isn’t blue?!

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After a second quantity of wool which also came out mauve, another batch came out still silver-white.  I decided to try a smidge more ammonia, and out came some pale blue.

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I can’t say this is earth shaking colour, but it is colour, and it is a colour I don’t usually get from the garden, and it isn’t as crushing as the total incompetence and series of accidents I’ve had going with austral indigo.  It’s enough of a success to make me think I should try again.  Let it be said that having a much larger quantity of leaves has to be an asset, because while woad reputedly has a low yield of indigo, so does austral indigo and its leaves are much smaller.  The austral indigo drops a lot of laves at this time of year and… I think I will just let it be this year!

20 Comments

Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

20 responses to “Woad!

  1. Submarine Bells

    No fermentation stage? It’d be interesting to compare the colour you get here with the results of a woad fermentation vat, if you haven’t already tried it!

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    • No fermentation stage. What’s with the absence of a reducing (deoxygenating?) agent or process (like fermentation)? Is there a component of the leaves doing this? I haven’t tried fermentation and alas! Will have to wait for another season’s harvest to experiment further. All good fun…

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  2. I am very interested in woad! As a painter I am fascinated in artists’ pigments and this interest has deepened as I now paint with egg tempera which means I grind and bind raw pigments instead of buying premixed paint in the form of watercolour, oils or acrylics.
    Artist’s pigments change all the time for various reasons. Many have been found to be horribly toxic, like King’s Yellow and Paris Green (containing Arsenic) and the many lead based pigments like Flake White. So modern hues are synthesised to replace old ones but sometimes not only do they not have the same visual qualities but they are often still quite toxic, especially the many modern Cadmiums. Toxicity is a worry to me, especially when working with raw pigments in powder form, which are very dangerous if accidentally inhaled. (Once ground can be stored underwater).
    So I try to stick where possible to the least toxic pigments, the earth colours. Sadly the non toxic palette can lack a few keys area in the spectrum, especially green as the only natural earth greens are very weak. Browns, yellows, blacks and deep reds are well covered by ochres, iron oxides and madders and blue is do-able with lapis lazuli still available if you can afford it and even its modern (chemically identical) replacement, Ultamarine is low in toxicity.
    Many old pigments are also obselete because of their lack of permenance, Geranium Lake is one of those, some of the purple areas of Van Gogh’s paintings are said to have been lost to this pigment!
    One of my favourite colours to paint with in watercolour, is Indigo, I use it for night skies and in animal fur. But the modern indigo for artists is not real indigo due to its habit of fading. Lots of old pigments that can not be bound permenantly as artists pigments like indigo, weld and turnsole (heliotropum) seem easier to fast as fabric dyes and so are still cultivated for that purpose to some extent today. I was looking for a natural deep blue to use in egg tempera and started finding out about indigo and woad as artists’ pigments in times gone by. It seems indigo was favoured as it was a stronger pigment, but in Britain, where I am from, Woad was much more commonly used as indigo did not grow well and so was expensive to import. It was often blended with indigo which seemed to improve both colours and promote the extraction of purples. Woad was used by the Saxons as pigment and from my very part of England, Somerset, a huge Woad growing area. In the name local town of Glastonbury, the ‘Glast’ part refers to blue, woad was sometimes called GLASTUM. Woad also famously used as not only fabric dye but skin paint by the and I recently found out about a rather alarming boy scout song from the 1920’s about the ancient Britons which includes this verse…
    “Woad’s the stuff to show, men.
    Woad to scare your foemen:
    Boil it to a brilliant hue
    And rub it on your back and your abdomen!”

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    • I am in awe of your skills to create your own paints, Lucy, and admire and respect your commitment to a non toxic art practice. I did not know Glast meant blue! I am hoping I can figure out how to get a little more clue fro, my woad next time… and have been growing two kinds of indigo bearing plants apart from woad. Ah, the learning curve!

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  3. This is all very interesting to me! I have had a very unsatisfactory experience with Indigo Australis also….however as it grows wild,in abundance where I live,I will persevere!The flower buds are just starting to form now,it flowers early.I will wait until it has flowered until I harvest,and use as much as I can find this time!!! I am very interested to try Woad,where would I source this plant please? and yes,looks like a ripper snail plant!You need a blue tongue lizard!Snails are their favourite snack!

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    • You can get woad seed from Eden Seeds or from All Rare Herbs. It evidently has weed potential so if you are near bushland you might like to take special steps to make sure it doesn’t spread. This hasn’t been an issue for me so far 🙂

      We have skinks and geckos but I haven’t seen a blue tongue since summer!

      Wishing you better luck with Indigo Australis. It can certainly be done–just not by me in any significant way so far 🙂

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      • Thanks for that!and I will take care,although,the resident widlife takes care of everything I have planted out so far,even rhubarb,leaves and all!I will plant it in some form of container.Ah yes….the indigo….will keep you updated on my efforts…..:)

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      • Good luck! I just have to watch the chickens when foraging in the yard–and keep my fingers crossed about the possums. So far they prefer our fruit trees. The apricot is only feeding the possums at present and now they have cleaned it off completely they are helping autumn along by eating the peach and quince leaves too! Anything that will eat rhubarb leaves and all is might hungry and resilient…

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  4. purplejulian

    my only knowledge of woad (and indigo) is from last summer’s workshop with Michel Garcia. and from my own vat made with henna as he instructs. when I asked him about woad he said to treat it the same as indigo. now he has a jug method for fresh leaves which I must look up, though I haven’t seen the book it was in for a while. he mentioned that the solids from exhaust madder dye bath used to be sold for pigment, and I presume it was the same with indigo.
    as for ammonia, that is the main component of stale urine, and I saw a Tv medieval re-enactment thing where that’s what they used, so I guess even more amonia would result in more blue! nice and stinky 🙂
    I have to say that things I have indigo dyed have sometimes faded horribly, within six months! and certainly any light that gets on them has devastating effects. whereas eco printed and dyed things, usually using iron or copper water with native UK leaves (not eucalyptus), seem to do quite well. of course most artists pigments are not dyes, but ground up minerals, famously lapis lazuli for Madonnas’ cloaks, or metal oxides.

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    • I am interested that you have found indigo not to be fast. I have been doing an (unintentional) light fastness test–I had just a tiny scrap of indigo dyed cotton that made its way onto some bunting that has been out in all weathers and full sun for months. It has faded a little, but not nearly as much as some of the commercially dyed fabrics, those that were black to begin with, especially. There is so much to learn in relation to indigo dyes of all kinds… I have a couple of Michel Garcia DVDs and don;t remember the fresh leaf indigo–but this might just mean I watched them before I started growing. Time to check again! There seems to be a lot of different approaches to using fresh leaf indigo but many are non toxic and relatively simple which surely has to be an asset.

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  5. I’ve had good results with fresh woad crushed and soaked in lukewarm water. Nice turquoise blue on silk. Wool of course needs heat to open the fibres for best dyeing but that heat will tend to change the colour available in woad to more of a burgundy. You should find that ecoprinting with the leaves will give you opal coloured prints: a mix of blue, green and burgundy

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    • Opal coloured prints sound just amazing! I am crossing my fingers that my plants will kick on through winter. What you’ve said about heat might explain how I’ve come up with mauve. Turquoise and burgundy are both colours I’d be prepared to grow plants to achieve. I have dug out my remaining woad seed… Thanks so much!

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  6. Susan

    http://www.woad.org.uk./html/fermenting.html Found this and was surprised to learn they used madder root. but Michel Garcia is the one to look at. Thanks for mentioning him purplejulian as I had neglected to save his name! And, Mary………ANY COLOUR is GOOD 🙂 Nice veggies too.

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    • Thanks for the link! It’s using an extract from woad rather than the fresh leaves, but that method of maintaining a good temperature is very sensible and achievable. I might try that for indigo come summer. Madder and bran are traditional elements of a fermentation indigo vat, where they feed the fermentation–evidently you can even use madder that has already been used for dyeing, because its role in the vat is not about its properties as a dye. Michel Garcia’s work is pretty amazing, isn’t it?

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      • purplejulian

        in fact his instruction was to use the exhaust from the madder dye – I don’t know what would happen if you just used madder – and specifically his tannin/citric acid madder method 🙂

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  7. Rebecca

    Woad! Almost mythological in its excitement factor. And actual colour not just some kind of brown relation… What a treat!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I am excited! I have sourced some woad seed!roll on spring…….now the madder….!

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