Lots of work going on in the garden at Winterbourne but not much in the way of pruning, cutting back or digging up, so this month we have taken advantage of the new leaves coming out on the golden elder and lush new growth on the brambles in the 'behind the scenes' part of the garden. We also have last month's prunings from the bay tree.
Each month we have been setting aside a skein from each dye bath to over-dye with woad. The woad seems to go from this:
in no time at all at this time of year, so we decided the time had come to get a woad vat on the go.
Woad is a member of the brassica family and a bienniel. The pigment in woad (which is the same as indigo, but not in such concentrations) is at its most plentiful in first year leaves but we had a mixture of small first year leaves and larger leaves from the plants in the picture which are coming into flower.
We used the bay, bramble and elder as we have done on the previous dye days and then:
we got beautiful blues and sea-greens. The skein on the extreme left is woad blue, the next one is the 'waste' woad leaves. The next few are elder, followed by bay and then bramble. The bright yellow skein towards the right-hand-side is bramble modified by washing soda.
The woad did not come from Winterbourne, but we hope they plan to plant some in due course.
Dyeing with woad is different from the normal method and quite magical.
First, the leaves need to be chopped, covered with hot water, left for about an hour and strained - this is the reddish-brown liquid. Next an alkali is added (in this case washing soda). This liquid must be whisked vigorously for about 5 minutes (Wendy did most of the whisking this morning - thank you Wendy!)
The whisking introduces oxygen to the liquid which converts it into 'indigo blue'. Once the froth has turned blue and then started to change back to green/yellow colour-run remover or another reducing agent is sprinkled over the surface and it is left for about three-quarters of an hour to remove the oxygen. (Yes, the oxygen which you have just whisked in.)
And then the alchemy begins:
The wool is put into the woad solution for a few minutes and as it is aired it turns from a greenish yellow colour to beautiful blues - or greens if it is on a yellow base colour.
And these are the skeins from the previous three months, together with some which were not previously dyed.