Wednesday, 23 April 2008

first steps with woad

Over the winter I read everything I could find about woad, including what must be my longest ever loan from the library (nearly five months... so far): Jamieson B Hurry's 'The Woad Plant and its dye', originally published in 1930 and apparently considered the resource on woad. It covers the biology of the woad plant, its cultivation, manufacture of woad dye, mediaeval and 'modern' dye vats, woad history and economics, use in art and medicine, the word woad in language and place-names, and the bit I still have to read: "the death of a great industry".

Ian Howard of Woad-Inc has a mission to return woad to its status as a great industry. I had joined a morning workshop at Woad Barn in Norfolk to learn what I could. Ian outlined his experience of growing the plant including how he got into it in the first place (even before the Spindigo Project!), and later learned the process to make woad (indigo) pigment, and from this to dyeing with it. Woad-Inc now sells various woad/indigo-dyed clothes and soft furnishings, soaps, candles, and knitting wool as well as the pigment and woad seed. While the other participants prepared silk scarves for dyeing with shibori I snuck off with Ian to put my organic cottons through the test, plus a four-dip trial on prima to compare with that done last year in indigo. I'll post about these soon. In terms of doing-the-dyeing there doesn't seem much difference between working with a woad or indigo vat (I think) but it was definitely worth going to learn first-hand considering Ian's years of experience with all aspects of the dye. I have bought a jar of pigment and some seed and now need some equipment and, ahem, a suitable place to keep the vat. I have a cunning plan...

It was also good to have a week's holiday: the weekend was spent in Norfolk with an old student friend, and I visited friends and family on the way up and back. It's a long time since I've travelled around England, I had forgotten what a lovely place it is. Taking time, I pootled around on A roads, through towns, villages and forest parks. This way I could really appreciate changes in regional character crossing from one county into another. So much of English (Western) culture is the same but architecturally regional differences are something to be cherished.

Pictures. Top: Dyed scarves and my test pieces airing and drying outside the dyeing room at Woad Barn. Bottom: Tidal markings in mudflats at Holkham Nature Reserve, Norfolk.

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