The Blues

The Blues

Our annual woad and indigo harvest and dye workshop was an evening of gentle delight.  It involved curiosity, experiment and awe at that magical transformation of plant into colour.  We also harvested our flax and ate amazing scones with home-made jams.  Sometimes you can imagine that all is right with the world.

We did two pots – one of woad and one of Japanese indigo, which usually gives a stronger colour but we found the woad was just as potent this year.  Thanks to Steve for taking the photos.

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Woad seeds.
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Woad leaves steeped in hot water for about 40 minutes.
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Japanese indigo steeping.
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The liquid should be sherry-coloured (ph9). Then get oxygen into it until the bubbles turn blue.

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Add Spectralite and leave till the liquid turns yellowy-green.
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Get the temperature up to 50 degrees C.
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Wait, talk, eat scones.
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Fold, twist and block the fabric.

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Fold, clip, twist or block the fabric.
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Gently put the fabric in the vat, avoiding getting air into the liquid.
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Leave the fabric for about 10 minutes. It should be fully submerged to avoid oxidisation. Easier said than done.

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Carefully remove the fabric, avoiding drips. As it hits the air it will turn blue.

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Woad at the STEAM Club

Woad at the STEAM Club

I was invited to a wonderful event at Gillespie School.  They put on a Science Spectacular to show what they’d been learning in their Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths  (STEAM) club.  They showed us robots they’d made and talked about the dye garden they have started (this is where I came in – to show the magic, or rather, science of woad dyeing). Some eminent grown-up scientists were on hand, too.  Mark Miodownik, who is a materials scientist from the Institute of Making, talked about what materials are likely to be used in fashion and medicine in the near future – like making our own 3D printed compostable clothes. Andrea Sella, a chemist, talked about the science behind the magic of woad. (I still think it’s plain magic) The grand finale was a hover board designed by the kids.  Amazing!  Well done to Carole Kenrick, their creative and inspiring scientist in residence.

 

The Woad Factor

The Woad Factor

If you’ve never witnessed the magic of a woad (or indigo) vat, seen the alchemy of one thing turning into another, book yourself a place on a workshop now.  Forget the wow factor, the woad factor will bowl you over. The nearest thing I could think of in twenty-first century terms is the awe we felt the first time you see an iphone swipe. That wonder soon wears off. Never with woad.

We set up an informal workshop at Cordwainers Garden to experiment with our woad harvest and went through the exacting (but not difficult) process of turning a handful of leaves into a permanent dye. It took about three hours in all. We had a great turnout of people from all corners of the world.  People from Uruguay, Argentina, Spain, Leicester, and Wembley came to have a go and help us with the magic.

Woad leaves collected then torn up.
We collected and weighed our woad leaves then tore them up. 
The process we followed.
The process we followed.
Boiling water poured over the leaves.
We poured boiling water from our storm kettle (no electricity) over the leaves.
The leaves steep for about an hour.
The leaves steep for about an hour.
We squeezed (and kept) the leaves to use again.
We squeezed (and kept) the leaves to use again.
We then aerated the water until the bubbles turned blue.
We then added soda ash and aerated the water until the bubbles turned blue.
We then heated it to 50 degrees and left for about 20 minutes.
We then heated it to 50 degrees and left for about 20 minutes.
Folding and twisting our material.
Preparing the material to be dyed.
After adding spectralite to remove the oxygen we carefully added our dyestuff.
After adding spectralite to remove the oxygen we carefully added our dyestuff.  The liquid is greeny yellow and the material doesn’t seem to have taken on any colour when you look at it in the water.
The magic happens as the material hits the air.
The magic happens as the material hits the air.
It takes on more colour.
It takes on more colour.

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It zings
It zings

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A Woad Vat and a Slinky

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Dipping the material in the woad vat.

The indefatigable Mrs Susie Wareham took possession of the garden with a group of teenagers from Threads, a local project aimed at getting teenage girls at risk of involvement in gangs into fashion.  Susie provided a stimulating and absorbing workshop using the king of dyes – woad.  The girls had previously made bags and tops which they twisted and tied and submersed into the vat. They used string, thread, wood, elastic bands and even a slinky to create patterns.

Woad-dyed garments drying.
The garments were left in the vat for ten minutes then hung out to dry.
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Different fabrics produce different shades of blue.
Undoing the ties.
The pattern was revealed after undoing all the string and bands.Image
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The ‘reveal’.

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