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Dying with woad

Identification of Fibres

Fibres need to be washed well to remove the lanolin, and soaked in clean water before being added to the dye bath.

Woad leaf

For a 1 gallon dye vat, tear 250g of fresh woad leaved into small pieces and put them into the dye pot, until a cherry colour appears.

1 gallon dye vat with 250g of fresh woad leaves


Strain it and allow it to cool to 50c. It must not be hotter.


Washing soda


Add some washing soda to hot water and dissolve it.

Adding washing soda to the pan


Add the dissolved washing soda to the vat to turn it to a greeny brown colour.



To check the colour, the pH should be between 9 and 10.

Blue bubbles


Whisk the  liquid until blue bubbles form on the  surface. It usually takes 10 minutes.

Heat back


Heat back to 50c.

Sodium Dithionite


Sprinkle on about 1 tablespoon of colour run remover (sodium dithionite Na2S2O4) over the liquid. WEAR A MASK.

Heat off


Take off the heat, cover and allow to stand for about 45 minutes, until the liquid has turned a yellowy green colour. DON’T STIR – will introduce more oxygen and it won’t work.

Soaked yarn


When it is ready, place gently the  soaked yarn into the vat and leave for approximately 20 minutes.

Remove fibres


Remove the fibres very gently without dripping into the vat.

Clear water


Plunge them into a bowl of clear water and then lift them up and expose them to the air.

Blue colour


The yellowy green colour should change to a beautiful blue.

Woad Dyeing with pigment and leaves

On Friday we were given the opportunity to dye with woad in both leaf and pigment form. We were explained the complex process of extracting the dye from leaves  in stages.

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We began with the fresh woad leaves that were then torn up to release the dye. The leaves then have to be steeped in water, at roughly 90 degrees so the water is hot but not boiling. After the liquid is strained to remove the leaves leaving the pigmented water.


The next stage is to heat the strained liquid to a temperature that does not exceed 50 degrees, as overheating can ruin the pigmentation process. As woad is insoluble the dye itself will not attach easily to the fibres, so an alkaline has to be added to neutralise the liquid. In this case we added soda crystals. After a while the liquid had a blue foam coating the surface, and a slight yellowish tinge underneath:

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Once the vat was ready to use, we carefully lowered a mixture of yarns and fabric so we could have a comparison of the effect of colour:


We left the fibres in for approximately half an hour. Meanwhile we prepared the vat using the pigment dye that had already been extracted from the leaves. This followed a similar process but cut out the preparation so the powdered pigment could be added instantly to hot water before adding the fabric.  Spectralite, a chemical substance, is added with the pigment. The dying then takes roughly the same amount of time.



What was most interesting with both dying processes is the colour change the fibres underwent with oxidisation. Once taken out of the dye vat both the pigment and leaf dyed fabrics turned from a vivid florescent green to a range of blues.




Our tests with both processes showed the leaves produced a more turquoise blue, whereas the pigment delivered a deeper indigo hue.

However woad is not only limited to produce blue when dying. The exhausted leaves discarded in the straining can be used to dye too. When immersed in 50 degree water as with the others, the leaves can produce a range of pink and peach tones.

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Below left: an example of a pink made by using the leftover leaves. Right: A range of coloured yarns produced with woad dyes.

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Although blue is not a colour obviously present in nature, it would appear this little plant has it in abundance.

DSCF3325       A range of plants that produce blue dye.

Woad Dyeing Workshop

On Friday we were taught two methods of dyeing using the woad pigment and the woad leaf. It was interesting to see the difference in colour and shade between the two processes of dyeing.


image-194Tearing the woad leaf.

image-201Torn woad leaf in boiling water.

image-195Measuring out the pigment.

image-199 copyDifferent stages of the woad plant: alive seeds, leaves, dead seeds and pigment balls.

image-198Different colours that can be achieved from the woad plant.

image-202Carefully placing yarn into the pigment and water, making sure no oxygen goes into the dye.

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image-207 image-208When first taken out of the dye, the yarn and fabric appear a yellow colour. Once the dye reacts with oxygen, the colour develops into a blue.

image-209Different shades of blue yarn created from the pigment dye.

image-210A turquoise shade is created from the woad leaf dye.



Table for 2 at Starbucks

After being introduced to my textiles partner which reminded me of a an episode of blind date, the only thing missing was Graham with his quick reminder!

Myself and Hannah met up for coffee to discuss each other’s projects and any initial ideas we had.

Hannah showed me samples of her previous work which gave me an insight into what was possible with weave.

As we slurped our way through a caramel macchiato and a calorie free tropical juice drink, we both came up with various possibilities on what to do.

I was interested in perhaps looking at police uniform and incorporating the woad in it somehow.

Early stages, but a good first introduction.

Making Hanks to dye for…

Today the process for woad dying in the weave room began as selected yarns had to be soaked in water for twenty four hours.



Using the natural yarns; silk, cotton, alpaca, bamboo, linen and wool we created hanks through winding them on frames.

For each yarn type  three bunches per person were needed, they are now soaking overnight, ready for tomorrow…



Woad Dyeing

Today, final preperation is underway for tomorrows Woad dyeing workshops and experiments.

Thanks to Ian Howard at Woad Inc in Norfolk the woad arrived this morning in fresh leaf form, as well as dried Woad balls, the traditional method of preserving woad for dyeing and as powdered pigment.

The Weave students are busy making hanks of yarn which will be soaked overnight ready to dip in the various Dye Vats tomorrow.

Hoping for some interesting results and looking forward to an exciting learning experience for all on this ancient natural dyeing process and everyones posts and comments on the day.

Please remember to bring your cameras to document and capture the event and to share your experiences of the different dye processes.

Fresh Woad leaf, woad balls and jar of pigment.

Fresh Woad leaf, woad balls and jar of pigment.


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