Adventures in woad

2016-03-12 10.44.46

Woad has been one of the success stories in our summer garden.  Until two years ago I had no success at all growing a seedling. This summer, it has really grown and thrived.  So I have decided I can try a few things out.  I started with India Flint’s ice flower method.  She describes using it with with Japanese Indigo on silk here. It seemed logical to me that if it worked with Japanese Indigo, it should work with woad.  But logic requires consideration of all the facts, and I know for sure I don’t understand all the chemistry and plant magic involved.  So who knew what might happen? The last time I tried this, with some Japanese Indigo leaves, nothing obvious happened and I decided I just didn’t have enough leaf matter (and the leaves were tired and sad in any case).

2016-03-13 15.17.21

This time I was rich in leaves, though woad is a low-indigo plant. I followed the instructions.  After a night in the freezer, here are my woad leaves in filtered rainwater, with a little pre-loved raw silk and some silk embroidery thread.

2016-03-13 17.04.47

A while later, there were exciting signs of success.  A couple of hours later, the colour was deeper still and the embroidery thread was looking good too. Definitely deep turquoise–tending to green rather than blue, but that would be a happy outcome. I added more thread! That looked good too, so I added some more fabric and went to bed.  The next morning the woad leaves were very green, but the silk was not!

2016-03-14 14.08.18

I haven’t had a lot of luck catching the colours exactly, but…. grey is close enough!  The thread is a sheeny steely grey that I have obtained from Austral Indigo in the past by a similar method.  I really enjoyed stitching with it and now I have a new supply.  The smaller fabric that went in first is a darker colour and slightly green-grey.  the larger piece is a rosy-grey, perhaps.

2016-03-14 14.06.43

I forgot to alkanise as India suggests, which would have been a good idea: that might be the issue.  The silk is much worn and washed.  Contaminants?  The woad has had a hard summer? I have chosen a plant in its second year without much indigotin: that is entirely possible.  This method doesn’t suit woad?  I should have pulled the fabric and thread out sooner, when I liked the colour?  Further oversights on my part?  I just don’t know!



Filed under Natural dyeing

8 responses to “Adventures in woad

  1. Oh there are so many variables to consider. I do like the rosy sheen on the thread. As I once heard the sainted Rosalie Gascoigne say she was always on the look out for a good gray. I can understand your disappointment at not getting the expected colours I know none of these will go unused. I’ve just stated stitching over a whole lot of ‘failed ‘dye experiments from how many years ago I can’t say. Having matured in the back room for a while they have now found a purpose!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Margaret Ford

      I can’t help either but I do know that you have to take red cabbage leaves out of the dye bath or the leaves will reabsorb the colour. So your second last question is apt….but then so are all the other possibilities!


      • Oh, Margaret! I had never once considered this possibility. I have tended to think that as long as unevenness is not an issue, leaving the plant matter in the bath is likely to extract more dye. But it stands to reason this will not always be the case, especially if the dye bath cools. If I’m lucky I will continue to have enough woad to learn more and more and perhaps even answer some of these questions in time!


    • Ah yes, a good grey is a fine thing. At first I struggled with some of the colours I got on thread by constantly experimenting with it. Now, I have come to see all the things they can be used for and the fine effects they can give, and my struggles are abating very nicely. Life does educate you, and plant dyeing certainly educates me. Glad to hear you’re finding use for your colours too…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Chrissyguzzi

    I too thought of the need to bring out silk that is being coloured with red cabbage. If possible try it again and time it, bringing it out as soon as the colour is ok. I live at Glenelg, where can I get woad plants from?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mandy Walker

    Thanks for the seeds, Mary. Will try to germinate when I get back from OS. Hope to have some luck with first year plants and henna.


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