Friday, 2 August 2013

Overdyeing with Woad on Weld, Coreopsis, Apple Leaf and Bracken Plant Dyed Wool

Anyone following this blog could guess I have a considerable stash of test dyed skeins of wool squirreled away.  The palette so far is limited - blue from woad and shades of brown to yellow from everything else, except the fabulous orange coreopsis.  I'd be the first to admit some stuff lacks immediate appeal.  Time to relight the fire.  Oh yes, bring on the magical mystery woad, that should spark things up a bit.  

The top row shows some wooden buttons that didn't pick up much woad first time round. Next, a square of white cotton and a skein of pale woad dyed alpaca wool for something I am working on.  Then a grey yarn, which is my spinning of the beloved Gotland fleece blended with silk.  Bottom row is for trying out woad overdyeing - a skein of bracken dye, a sample of apple leaf dye, coreopsis afterbath, coreopsis first bath, then two yellow skeins from a weld afterbath and weld first bath.
The woad plants are coming on nicely in the garden.  At the beginning of July, I picked over a kilo of leaves and followed the instructions on the website for extracting the woad, because I want some to keep til winter. The process involves precipitating out the blue dye by leaving an increasingly concentrated solution to stand in jars.  Theresina writes that the leftover fluid will still have a little woad in it.  
After all that growing and harvesting and extracting, I was not prepared to tip even a tiny amount of woad down the drain, so I saved all the supernatant, deoxygenated it with Spectralite and dipped in this yellow skein of weld dyed wool. The classic weld/woad overdye gives a colour called Lincoln Green. This picture shows the skein drying, after the lowest third had the first dip, when the woad bath was strongest, then it had a second woad dip including more of its length.  I loved the really good strong green and the fine, clear, lighter shade.  You can see why it was so popular in the Middle Ages.  There turned out to be much more dye in the 'waste' solution than I had anticipated.
The woad plants have now flourished again. They got a lot of love, fish blood and bone and dutiful watering through all the hot weather. Last Saturday, I picked another 750g of leaves and went through the extraction process a second time.  In the evening, I put loads of stuff to soak overnight.  This time, I intended to make use of all the woad left in the bucket.  If there was enough, I planned to get the wooden buttons, cotton square and alpaca properly deep blue, make some more Lincoln Green and also find out what marvelous change woad might bring about when overdyed on my other plant dye colours. 

Happy days with the light blue alpaca and white cotton.  Not deepest indigo, but a good solid blue result.  The buttons haven't really turned out well, despite advance soaking and three woad dips. My Gotland and silk mix got dipped in sections to vary the shade. The ball on the left above shows how the saddening effect of the grey is offset by the lustre of the wool. The silk took up woad very nicely.  I shall spin some more of that and try it with other dyes.

I have been doing more bracken dyeing each month (first on left). There hasn't been much of a seasonal change in the colour so far and loads of new bracken fronds are still growing.  This abundant supply of beige makes me particularly pleased with the green I got, shown in the second skein. Overdyeing my palest weld skein in a rapidly diminishing woad vat didn't give as good a result as the first Lincoln Green, as seen in parts of the skein next to it.  Clearly, you need a powerful dye of both weld then woad for the real Robin Hood look.  I decided to hang on to my last bright weld skein for another time.

Finally, the results of the small test skeins of Coreopsis, coreopsis afterbath and apple leaf dye.  They got dangled in the first dip, while the woad was strongest. The steam from the woad bath must have given them all an alkaline effect, as even the undipped parts changed colour a bit.  I wouldn't have predicted chestnut brown from blue and orange.  It is a good rich colour, but the coreopsis alone is better. The coreopsis afterbath plus woad went grey, which didn't thrill me, but my friend BG loves it, so I'll have to do some for her next epic needlefelting creation.  She is planning on covering a whole sofa.  The apple leaf soft mustard got brighter in the alkaline steam and the dipped part is a nice green, not too far toward the blue end of the spectrum.

So, a hell of a lot of woad didn't precipitate out in my extraction process. Hey ho, I have made good use of it.  Plus, I do have woad saved at the bottom of two jars now.  No idea how much, but I shall find out when the time comes to use it.


  1. Love the middle green skein.Ihave been trying for that colour for ages !

  2. Very interesting! Found my way here because my 4 year old daughter is currently obsessed - and I do mean OBSESSED - with Robin Hood. Considering planting some weld and some woad and having a go - but by the time the dying is done, she will be on to some other monomania!

    1. Careful - you might find yourself stuck with your own dyeing monomania. I aim to do enough Lincoln Green for a hoody for my smallest nephew Robin. Irresistable.