Total Pageviews

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Dyeing with Woad

On Wednesday last, my friend Sarah (of Camel Farm fame) came to do a bit of dyeing.  Before she arrived I picked all the leaves from my woad plants (only 5 plants, but some were quite big) and started the process of turning them from green leaves to lovely blue dye.

First step was to wash and chop the leaves and put them in a large pan.  Then just-boiled water was poured over them and they were left to steep for about an hour.  The leaves were then sieved out and squeezed to remove all the blue pigment.  (The leaves were then put in a bag in the freezer to use sometime in the future to create a pink dye).

Here is the strained dye ready for the next stage :-

Next, washing soda was added (or you can use ammonia, but it stinks!!) and the mix was whisked to incorporate air.  You can see the blue froth on the surface.

The bubbles were then stirred into the mixture, as much as possible, and the surface was sprinkled with colour-run remover which removes the oxygen from the mix.  Previously I've always used Spectralite (sodium hyhdrosulphite) at this stage, but as I only had the remains of an old packet (it has quite a short shelf life), and I had some colour-run remover in the house, I used that instead.  It seemed to work very well, but I really didn't know how much to use so just sprinkled it all over the top.

It then had to stand for about three quarters of an hour before the dye could be used.

The wool (well-wetted out beforehand) was then carefully lowered into the liquid (so as not to create any drips which might re-introduce oxygen) and left for about an hour.

You can see that the dye pot looks quite yellow, and the wool comes out a yellow colour.  But as soon as the air hits it, it starts to turn blue - magic!  Unfortunately, I didn't get photos of that happening (will have to wait until next year I suppose), but here is the finished Merino :-

This batch has turned out quite a pale blue, I suspect because I gathered the leaves a bit too late in the season.  In fact, the morning I picked the leaves it was quite frosty, and the leaves were actually a bit crunchy!  A lesson learned for next year.  I was still happy with the colour though - a lovely baby blue.

I don't know if it's my imagination, but the wool seemed quite a bit softer after I'd used the dye.  If any other dyers are reading this, perhaps you have an opinion and can post a comment.  I'd really like to know if other people have encountered this.


  1. Hello there,

    Lovely to read your blog - I showed it to my mum (who's been spinning for over 20 years)and she says what a nice colour you've produced with the woad, and also says yes, it does tend to make wool softer. She asked though, whether you'd mordanted the wool prior to dyeing which will ensure that the colour remains fast rather fade over time?

  2. Hi Kit and Kaboodle,

    Sorry not to reply before now (we're in the snowy UK), and thanks for your comment. No, I didn't mordant it as woad doesn't need one, it's pretty fast as it is. I have dyed with woad before, but 2 or 3 years ago, and that is still OK, so fingers crossed!

    I do mordant the wool I dye with the leaves after extracting the blue though, usually with alum which produces pink.