Friday, July 23, 2010

This Year’s First Woad

So much for thinking I was getting better. Now The Bug has turned into full-blown bronchitis but I suppose it’s still not as bad as I’ve had in the past. My voice has gone all squeaky and uncertain too. I haven’t been sick (truly!) for a couple of years. We aren’t counting the Itchies. Which is now up to my waist all around if you’re curious. Tide’s still coming in, huh? Yuck. It’s all rather disappointing. At the same time, thanks to the new meds I’m peeling and feeling like a dried up old stick. I think I need to fill the bathtub with moisturiser and just wallow.

Anyhow, I sucked it up long enough for my friend Bonnie to come over yesterday and we played with the rather rampant woad:


This was taken before we harvested a large bucket full but it doesn’t look much different afterwards. I didn’t have that much that I wanted to dye so I let Bonnie have a good go at it. And of course forgot to take photos. I dyed an old cotton scarf that originally was an extremely pale marbled blue, pink and green. Now it looks like this:

Woad Dyed

I like it much better! On top of the scarf is the little bit of wool sliver I threw in at the last, though judging by the depth of colour I could have put in a lot more of it to use up the dye. We followed the same recipe that I always use with only 2 changes:  we cut the leaves more coarsely (maybe chopped in thirds) and Bonnie had this great idea to put the 2-litre pop bottles of ice directly into the dye pot with the leaves to cool it down even more quickly. Worked a treat and we got a very good blue vat with lots of colour in it and a lovely violet bloom on the top. I think I’m getting the trick honed to a science now! It also helped that we’ve had some lovely hot sunny days to ripen the woad. I think this is the earliest date I’ve tried to use it and with such excellent results. There’s lots more left to play with too when I’m feeling better. For those who like a full blow-by-blow account:

Detailed Woad Procedure

  • Put large stainless dyepot filled about 1/3 full with water on to boil, maybe 6 litres in my pot.
  • Harvest a large bucket of woad leaves (around 700g). We pulled off the good mid-sized leaves from the rosette, not the new babies nor ancient bug-chomped ones.
  • Wash leaves under cold water to remove any dirt or animal life. This time we only found one big slug!
  • Coarsely chop leaves. Very fine is not necessary and actually may be counterproductive. Apparently you can even skip this step and use the leaves whole though I haven’t tried it.
  • Add vinegar or acetic acid to the water in the dyepot to get a pH of between 4 and 5. I do verify with pH test strips. Another step you can perhaps skip but it works for me.
  • When it’s at a full boil, add the leaves to the pot. Stir and bring up to at least where you see bubbles coming up between the leaves and they are starting to turn from bright green to a more “cooked” tan-green. This should take only a minute or two.
  • Immediately cool the pot. We put 3 frozen 2-litre pop bottles of ice in the pot which was also standing in cold water in the sink. You want to lower to 50C as fast as possible (preferably under 15 minutes).
  • Strain out the woad leaves (which can be saved for a more conventional mordant dyebath or composted) and squeeze to get all the juice.
  • Add soda ash to the liquid to bring the pH up to between 9 and 10. For my pot it took about 15ml (3 tsps) to make the vat turn from sherry-coloured to greenish.
  • Beat, whisk or pour from one bucket to another until the froth turns from green to blue and back to green again. This should take between 5 and 15 minutes. Of course it doesn’t always follow that sequence and there’s no need to go beyond 15 minutes max. This time it turned blue almost right away and pretty much stayed that way. And there wasn’t much froth at all. Give the pot a few minutes to let the froth subside.
  • Check the temp and raise again to 50C if necessary. The vat should be murky blue-green with floating blue particles.
  • Add thiourea dioxide to remove the oxygen and “reduce” the vat. For my pot it usually takes about 10ml (2 tsps). Don’t use more thiox than necessary or the vat will strip the blue out as fast as it puts it in. (Ask me how I know!) Stir in gently and leave to rest for 40 minutes to an hour.
  • After that time the vat should have a purplish bloom or flower on the surface and be clear greenish-yellow underneath. If that’s not the case (still murky), add a teeny-tiny bit more thiox and let rest a little longer. If necessary warm it up to 50C again.
  • When the vat is fully reduced, gently introduce your wetted-out fibre, cloth or whatever without disturbing things as much as possible. Poke anything under that pops up. Allow to remain in the vat about 20 minutes.
  • Remove fibre carefully without dripping back into the vat. Try to squeeze out under the surface with gloved hands. Place dyed fibre immediately into a bucket of water (either cold or warm if desired to prevent shocking wool). Swish around a little, squeeze out and hang fibre to oxidise for at least 10 minutes before redipping.
  • Dips can be repeated as many times as wanted for deeper shades. The first dip can be splotchy and uneven but the second evens things out. Eventually it won’t get much darker no matter how many times you dip so I usually don’t go past 3 or 4. If you want, you could leave the last one in overnight. It won’t hurt.
  • Finally, allow the fibre to oxidise for at least a couple of days before washing and rinsing to remove any unfixed dye.

So if you’re paying attention you will notice that we are doing several steps that seem counterproductive. First acid then alkaline; next add oxygen then take it away again. Do NOT ask me how the ancients figured out how to get blue out of these cabbage-like plants. It’s a fascinating mystery. Though Teresinha has some history here.

Meanwhile I’m waiting for my Chinese woad and weld to grow up enough to test. I tried a couple of 2-litre canning jars of solar dyes. I layered some of the Merino-X fleece with marigold and coreopsis flowers, oregano (no idea whether it will work or not but I have lots) and a leaf or two of woad on the top of the pile just for fun. Besides some dissolved alum (7%) and cream of tartar (6%), in one jar I poured in a 1-litre jar of old used rhubarb root dye and in the other a 1-litre jar of old used rhubarb leaf mordant. Then I filled both of them to the top with cold water, screwed on lids, labelled (because my brain ain’t what it used to be!) and put them on the deck in the sunshine. We’ll see what happens over the next few months. Perhaps I should have made more layers though? So far they’ve changed colours a little:


The one on the left obviously has the yellow rhubarb root in it. And the one on the right has turned quite red where the coreopsis and marigolds are. Seems to me that rhubarb leaf might be very interesting with coreopsis? Unfortunately I’ll have to wait until next spring to test because my rhubarb has died back in the summer heat.

Yes, I’m kind of odd. Why do you ask?


Anonymous said...

I have one of those jars "cooking" in the sun with birch bark and a skein of wool. Looking good so far I think. I've been in the "odd" category for so long it seems normal!

Louisa said...

You are of course quite right - it IS normal! It's those Other People who aren't, right? ;)

Anonymous said...

I like the scarf and the jars look like so much fun.

Heather said...

Thanks so much for the recipe. And I'm sorry to hear that the psorisis has flared. What a drag for you. Hope it's just a blip on the road to recovery.