Dyeing with Woad

Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer

Dyeing with Woad

September 6, 2018 red yellow blue Uncategorized 0
cotton, faintly blue
Full marks if you can see any blue at all. There is enough to encourage me to have another go next year, but not much at all. Woad is very exciting, but complicated, and I think I did everything wrong. The leaves didn’t reach their full potential and were heavily depleted by slugs and caterpillars. I didn’t prep properly, didn’t activate the vat enough, and I don’t think I added enough metabisulphate – plus too many other rookie mistakes to mention. You have to be quite pernickety with woad, precise with temperatures and quantities, and not cut corners – and, unusually, it is more sympathetic to vegetable fibres than wool.
three skeins of wool, pale pink, paler pink and yellow
I did try wool, though, and these are the pleasant but not exactly vibrant results. From left to right, the first go at the vat, the second go – there seemed to be plenty of colour in the dye – it just didn’t transfer to the wool — and then a second simmer of the leaves the next day.

I have plans to do a few more dyes this autumn, with roots and berries, and some madder root I bought online, and then I will have to evaluate how much I’ve learned. There’s an awful lot of beige in the yarns I’ve dyed, but I’ve learned a lot. I’m going to try using them in a sampler, and then create a bird-themed design. Already my thinking about the poetry of the project has moved on – there are threads and weaving and stories and tradition – and also Marian – the grandmother I never knew, because she died when my father was a child. We know very little about her, but her school report said she was exceptionally good at needlework, and I have a handkerchief sachet she embroidered with marigolds which has become very special to me. I hope that lots of these poems will get written over the winter.

And then, next year. I’m going for the holy grail  – green. It seems ridiculous that with so many green leaves about, it should be hard to get a good green, but so it seems. I might try to do things properly next year too.

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