Monday, 15 September 2008

woad 3

Well finally my woad was ready for harvesting and I made a special trip to the allotment with my secateurs.
I’d been chatting to another woadie in Frome, who had told me that rather than going through the very lengthy process of extracting the pigment, I could in fact use the fresh woad leaves to make a more delicate shade of dye. It gives subtle spearmint shades rather than the blue normally associated with indigo. I had seen a description of this process being applied to fresh indigo leaves, so decided to give it a go.

Even this process was fairly slow and time consuming:
chopping leaves,

heating water and steeping the leaves (careful not to let it get too hot), adding soda ash and sodium hydrosulphate, whisking for ages and ages as the froth turned blue and then back to green again, but finally the dye bath was ready to use. I dipped my prepared cloth and watched the magic process of pulling the cloth out of the bath a greeny/yellow colour and watching as the exposure to air turned it blue-ish.

Unfortunately there wasn’t really enough dye to make repeated dippings to get more intensity of colour, but I hung them all out to dry anyway.
Sadly by the time they had dried they were much paler and by the time they had been properly washed and rinsed they just look like whites that got into the wrong wash…
Oh well, it was fun to try, but probably not something I’m going to make into a regular activity.


  1. What a shame. But well done for giving it a go.

    You mentionned the possibility of extracting pigment. What would this involve?

  2. so what's the extracting process? Sounds exhausting! I do find your willingness to play and experiment very inspiring. Thanks for sharing it!


  3. Since you have both asked about the extraction process, I guess I should make some attempt to answer the question! After the furious whisking business the liquid is transferred to jars to settle, then liquid poured off and more settling, then sieving through very fine strainer, then drying and finally pigment powder is available to make up into a dye bath. I'm guessing that it's a process that would take at least a week. More detail (and photos of the process) here:

  4. I am harvesting my woad tomorrow, so fingers crossed! I knew about adding soda ash but what is the other chemical you mentioned?

  5. Hi, Roobeedoo, hope your woad goes well. The sodium hydrosulphite is sold commercially as colour-run remover, or dye remover, though I'm sure it's available in other (cheaper) forms! I'm afraid I'm not sufficiently up on my chemistry to explain properly what its function in the process is, but Vivien Prideaux describes is as a "reducing agent" in her book "A Handbook of Indigo Dyeing" (highly recommended). Come back and let me know how it went. Will you be blogging about it?