Woad Seeds, dye pots and more or less interesting messes

I’m still collecting Woad seeds. When the one plant that had started going to seed took off I wrapped it in a tomato cage and will continue collecting seeds as long as they appear. Also on the to-do list is to start sending out seed packets to various fellow-dyers.


My idea of an enjoyable weekend: dyed more yarn, Woad and Onion peel pots and made a batch of Plantine and Lavender salve.

Spring, Woad and Weld: going to seed

Jack, through the back screen door. The cats are always looking for the door to spring.

Garden around late January, early February.

Still looks a bit bare.  Shortly after this picture was taken the Weld took off.

I haven’t written much about using Weld. From: A Dyer’s Manual / Jill Goodwin (ISBN 0-7207-1327-7)
“The whole plant above ground may be chopped and simmered fresh, or carefully dried for use during the winter. There is little difference in the depth of yellow color from fresh or dried plants but the range of greens is greater from freshly cut leaves and stems.” (p.63)

[Weld plants, pictures taken only a couple of weeks apart. ]
Goodwin also mentions that the the plants grow about 3ft before flowering.

And the Woad

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Coaxing Blue: My Further Adventures with Woad

I’ve used both Indigo and Woad in powdered form but never processed my own plants. Given my limited garden space it’s unlikely I’ll be able to grow enough for all my dye needs but I still like to grow as much as I’m able and understand the process a bit better.

Woad References:
All About Woad: Extraction Page:
Good pictures of the process.
the Yahoo Woad Growers Group:
Nice folks. They were helpful when I had processing/extracting questions.
Rowan’s Woad Page:
Institut für Färbepflanzen: Färberwaid:
If you read or want to practice reading German, this would be a good site.

First year woad plant. From what I’ve read Woad is a bi-annual plant. You get the dye from the first year leaves and your seeds the second year. And, that you can’t get dye the second year. I haven’t tested this out (yet) so anyone correct me if I’m wrong.

Harvesting leaves.

New Woad plants for next year.

Chopping and then stewing or steeping the Woad.

Mixing in the Ammonia to oxygenate.

Waiting around for the particles….(in my case about 3 days). Reading directions for Woad processing it can sound like you see particles settling in 15 minutes or an hour or two. In my case it was more like 3 days to a week. I posted to the Yahoo Woad group to see if I was doing anything incorrectly and got back very helpful replies. In some cases the particle settling phase takes a bit longer.

Finally..shadow on the bottom of the jar is Woad particles I’m waiting for. (Few days more)

Pigment settling and drying.

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Rain, Sun and back to Rain Again

Did I mention that the weather here is volatile and often just plain weird? Rain coming down in buckets. Windy. Tomorrow noon it may be sunny and near 70°, unlikely as that seems right now.

 Good weather to say in and weave. I’m currently working on a small piece woven with the “deconstructed” or recycled Abercrombie & Fitch sweater wool from my local Out-of-the-Closet thrift shop. Project began as a local guild challenge (earlier dye posts) and I’m still weaving through the accumulated stash.
The wool is a natural off-white. It’s been dyed with onion skins, Hibiscus flower (dried), Woad (powdered), Fennel, miscellaneous yard trash and copper or iron mordants.  I don’t really have a good, reliable local blue so generally I use Woad powder or Indigo. I was trying as much as possible to use what’s locally available and go easy on the chemical mordants.

The cats deal with the weather by alternately hibernating and demanding the door to Spring. Not a bad plan.

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my idea of a good day

My idea of a really good day is getting things done. Winter solstice has passed and we are finally getting more daytime light. This weekend  I managed my usual weekend laundry, garden weeding and did a small woad vat.

[left to right: yellow #2 exhaust bath, cactus fruit, woad, woad over-dyed with fennel.]

I’ve been working on onion baths, first one for the darker color – tangerine-orange – and exhaust the remaining dye for lighter yellow. [The pinkish-orange was my previously mentioned cactus fruit attempt.

[upper left clockwise: onion with a 15 min copper after-bath, onion #1 bath, cactus fruit, onion #2 exhaust bath.]

I’ve tried 1:1 (fiber:dye stuff) but have found that 1:.5) works well too even if I have to let it sit longer. First bath simmers for an hour, sits over night and then the 2nd exhaust bath is another hour of simmering and again cooling over night.

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Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit: Dye Experiment

I’m not sure if this really qualifies as experiment. I only had a small amount of dye material to try out and am not sure when it will be available again.

Earlier this fall I was gifted with a shoe box of  prickly pear fruit. This is not something I have access to locally so I haven’t had much experience using it as dye but I’m told one can get interesting colors – pink to rose, oranges.

[Cactus fruit in sand to remove spines.]

Safety Note: Cacti have SPINES. Handle with care and all that. As suggested by Las Arañas Spinners and Weavers Guild, roll the fruit around in sand to remove the spines.

The fruit should be gathered and used fresh. Mine had sat around for awhile so this no doubt had an effect on the resulting color. For the percentage of dye stuff to fiber, I have read other people’s descriptions using 2:1 or 4:1  As it turned out my shoe box was a bit over 1 lb. I used this with  1 oz wool, scoured and pre-bathed with Alum.

Chopped up and mashed up the cactus fruit, strained it out, and added enough water to cover the wool. Added in the wool and cactus fruit (tied up in mesh).

From what I’ve read you don’t want to boil this. Boiling will lose the color and result in tan. Rather than cooking or boiling let it sit for a week or two and ferment.

If you are living in an area where Prickly Pear Cactus grows locally I’m guessing the weather is probably warm. The pot can sit outside for a week or two and ferment with no trouble.

Aside from not being fresh, I tried this a bit late in the season when the nights were getting colder. But I did leave it to sit for three weeks with daily sloshing and gentle stirring to distribute the liquid. What I got was a nice shade of light orange.

I haven’t had the chance to do a fade test so I can’t say how this color will hold up.

Books that mention dye from cactus fruit:
Dyeing with natural materials/Las Arañas Spinners and Weavers Guild, Inc.
Navajo native dyes: their Preparation and use/Nonabah G. Bryan
Nature’s colors: dyes from plants/Ida Grae

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Nutty Craft Duty

File this entry under who-knew. As I’ve rambled on previously, one of my standard vegetable dye sources is onion skin. I keep a good stock of this handy by regularly foraging in the market onion bin – where the loose onions are piled. Produce managers who belong to Easter-egg-dyeing traditions sometimes have childhood memories of dyeing eggs with onion skin so they know what I’m doing and occasionally toss me a bag that the onions just were poured from.

For the record, I forage while I’m grocery shopping so I do actually buy stuff not just scavenge the onion bin. And this is often the same market where I harvest Fennel in the parking lot so they are used to me.

And apparently friends are also aware of this.  Recently I drove one to do her marketing and while she was making selections I detoured by the onion bin. As I was picking she rolled up announcing it’s time for ‘nutty craft duty’. She proceeded to reach under a monster mountain of loose onion and whiped out handfuls of dried onion peels, tossing in some shallot peels for good measure.

Its nutty craft duty night. Call out your friends

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Thanksgiving and first Oxalis

Earlier this week I picked the first Oxalis of it’s – the Oxalis’ season. I don’t think that this really qualifies as a “season” but what I’ve observed locally is: Fennel blooms and continues more-or-less to late Spring to Fall and Oxalis blooms late in Fall and continues to Spring. (Glove on the hand because I am a total weather-wimp.)

And since I’m writing this on the (United States) Thanksgiving Day holiday, I will note that one can always be thankful for a consistant, reliable dye plant that dyes wool, cotton and probably things I haven’t tried yet. (And the bees like it too!)

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