Friday, 7 February 2014

Dyed in the Wool - Woad on Various Fibres

These are the things I soaked in readiness for dyeing with my saved woad precipitate.  After that sunk, though not without trace, I rediscovered 10g woad powder, bought long ago.  Woad Vat Mark II was an Aristotelian tragedy. For starters, my spectralite was too old to deoxygenate the vat properly.  After dumping in the remainder of the packet, I left the gas on and nearly boiled the pot.

Ete chic, the lovely lace knit pattern in alpaca and silk, came out khaki with splodges.  A hand spun Polwarth and Dorset Poll skein dyed with coreopsis plants is now an odd, seasick hue.  The roving and washed Dorset Poll fleece is unevenly blue.  The most rewarding result was the Gotland fleece.  Even that became a devil to card after the excess heating. Punished by Fate for my hubris, enough with the tragedy queen, time to get back in control.
First - fresh supplies from All About Woad.   Woad dyeing from the plant is unavoidably uncertain. Using powder, with careful weighing and measuring and timing, I should be able to standardise the dye bath and learn more about the other variables.  Woad Vat Mark III included an experiment with samples of different fibres.  I'd like to leave somewhat less to chance in future.
Plans formed, all I needed was time and peace to follow the instructions to the letter. Last Saturday, the 2014 Six Nations Rugby started.  Steve had a ticket for Wales v Italy. At breakfast, he was all a twitter with pre-match nerves, complaining that his toast was underdone and agonising over which hat would maximise warmth and style.  Against Italy, non fare brutta figura.
I put the wool in to soak, confident in the knowledge that I had the house to myself til the last train rolled back from Cardiff.  The instructions say 10g woad powder should dye 200g wool a medium blue.  How blue is medium?  This vat bloomed beautifully.  I got organised, taking into account the way the first material to go in always takes up more dye than later dips, which grow successively weaker.
My first objective was to overdye the remaining 50g skein of Polwarth/Dorset Poll handspun, previously dyed with coreopsis plants.  It came out unevenly blue/green, but the upper skein gives clear evidence that Woad Vat III was working well in comparison to the lower skein from Vat Mark II.
Also going in the first dip was 50g Dorset Poll fleece, previously unevenly dyed in weak shades of woad. That came out much more indigo than it started and a more solid shade, to boot.
Once these had taken the initial power out of the bath, the experimental fibre samples went in, all together, for a ten minute dip.  From the top left, going clockwise, the fibres are - silk pulled from a brick, washed locks of Polwarth, washed Dorset Poll, suint cleaned Gotland curls and finally, alpaca, which had a cold soak to get the dust out before dyeing.
The expression 'dyed in the wool' is used to mean a steadfast and unchangeable stance, as in 'dyed in the wool Welsh rugby supporter.'  Apparently, the idiom comes from the medieval cloth trade.  Fleece takes up more dye and keeps its colour better than yarn that is dyed after spinning and still more than cloth which is dyed after weaving.  

Polwarth took up woad most strongly, closely followed by the Dorset Poll.  Gotland has underlying natural shades of grey, so it is hard to be sure, but it certainly dyes well with woad, while keeping a lovely petrol lustre.  Alpaca, which is of course, not wool, took up noticeably less colour.

The silk fibres all clung together while soaking beforehand and didn't float loose in the dye bath.  After the first dip, only the outermost fibres had taken any colour at all.  This clump of silk fibres got teased out and put in for a second dip. Even then, the woad did not soak right through.  While the varied shades are pretty, if one was dyeing silk specially to get an even blue, it would probably be better to spin it first or maybe soak it for much longer in the dyebath.
After the experimental fibres, I dipped 50g white Dorset Poll locks and 50g Gotland. Repeated dips got what I would call medium blues, with a stronger looking effect on the Gotland.  

Watching the rugby on telly, it struck me that three of the six teams play in blue kit.  First, the Azzuri, Italians in alpaca blue, lost out to an uninspiring, but winning Welsh performance.  Knew Steve wouldn't be overly impressed, though naturally, tired and emotional on his return.  That evening Les Bleus, the French in Dorset Poll blue, won a gripping contest with England.  By the time my samples were dry on Sunday, the Scots, in Polwarth blue, had got thumped by the Irish.  Pob lwc to the Welsh boys, going to Dublin this weekend.

To exhaust the vat, I gave a long dye bath soak to a couple of apple leaf dyed skeins of Jacob/Gotland spinning, which have been lying around, a rather uninspiring mustard.  Would you call that Irish Shamrock Green? Good result, anyway.


  1. Genius description - thanks for this.

  2. Yeah, you got there in the end - good blues. Really like the apple leaf skein over dyed with woad, brilliant colour.

    As far as the silk is concerned, you do have to soak it for longer than wool for it to absorb the water. I would usually soak it for about 24 hours.

    1. Do you mean the advance soaking, or the dye bath? I only put stuff in to soak a couple of hours ahead of dyeing, on this occasion. I'm chuffed with the apple leaf overdye, got a load of dried leaves and I'm wondering if they will dye like the fresh ones ...

  3. Yes, the advance soaking. I always leave things in the dye bath overnight too, just to be sure.
    Are your leaves dried green ones, or dried autumn ones? That would probably make a difference. I'm going to try dyeing with apple leaves this year, you've inspired me! Look out Bramley, I'm coming to get you!!
    By the way, the hollyhocks you sent me seeds for a while ago are growing well, and I sowed some more seed in the greenhouse about 2 weeks ago and 4 are through.

  4. Interesting stuff I am hoping to havemy first play with dye later in the week and your post has spurred me on

  5. I love the colours you finally achieved. I have also had different dye uptake with indigo on various wools. I had assumed this was partly because some are finer and have more surface area and perhaps also because of differences in scouring. I love colours dyed over grey wool and I get great results dyeing grey wool or alpaca with eucalypts, but of course... not blue

    1. Oo, Hi, I read your blog about nettle retting, very interesting, though I never managed to extract any spinnable fibre in my attempt. I must go back and read your later posts. Eucalypts look fascinating dye sources.