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Natural dyes – drying woad

In an earlier post I wrote about my first woad vat. Here I wanted to share what happened after:

After my first harvest back in July, the woad rapidly re-grew. Apparently it is best to harvest woad before the end of October as the pigment in it loses its strength after this time, so as October drew nearer I was beginning to panic slightly. I had no fleece left to dye and, as I was in the middle of a felt making frenzy for my first ever felt exhibit, no time to spend another day dyeing.

But I really didn’t want to waste all that lovely woad that I had grown, and I thought perhaps I could partially prepare the woad and then keep it in storage. So I got in touch again with Caroline who advised my best bet would be to dry the woad. Luckily,

the new house we had just started renting came equipped with a very good wood burning stove, and as the nights grew colder we had another good reason to light a fire.

It took a good 3-4 weeks, a very pungent house, and an extremely tolerant partner and kids, before I was satisfied the leaves were properly dried and ready for storage. The first photo shows the leaves in front of the burner – I started off with 5 full wooden crates of leaves (not sure how many kilos, I didn’t weigh), but by the time I took the photo the volume of the leaves had already significantly reduced and I was only using three crates.

I now have a few jars of crispy dried woad, which I can use to start another dye vat whenever I feel like it!

Five crates of woad leaves reduced to a few jarsFive crates of woad leaves reduced to a few jars

Looks like tea, but definitely doesn't smell like itLooks like tea, but definitely doesn’t smell like it

  1. So did this actually work? Did you get good color from a vat of dried leaves? I’ve always read that drying the leaves would make a weak vat.


    • Good question CP! The honest answer is that I haven’t tried yet. The woad has been growing pretty abundantly since writing this post and I haven’t had the need to try out the dried leaves yet so they’re still sitting in their glass jars looking pretty.

      What I have learned (the hard way) is that using woad to dye fleece that is then to be used in feltmaking doesn’t work well – most of the blue colour washed out during the felting process (e.g. prolonged exposure to soap, water and lots of rubbing). Interestingly the pink obtained from the second dye bath didn’t wash out at all during felting. I haven’t looked into this yet, no doubt there are some answers to be found, probably I’m doing something wrong. It was suggested to me that woad is a surface dye (i.e. it doesn’t penetrate the wool fibres) and therefore it will wash out during felting, but that doesn’t make too much sense to me as that would surely mean that garments dyed with woad would loose their colour with each wash? I have yet to experiment with using woad to dye felt directly, but that will be the next step…


  2. Thanks for writing this interesting post. I’m curious, have you tried dyeing with the dried woad leaves yet? I have always thought that drying woad leaves and using them later would not result in the deep blue shades of a fresh vat.


    • Hi Libby, thanks for your comment. The answer is that no I haven’t tried making a vat with the dried leaves yet, as simply have had no time or need to (plenty of fresh leaves). But you’re not the first person to ask and I’m curious myself so I’m hoping to find some time later this year. I read about grinding the dried leaves into powder and then fermenting them to activate the dyestuff, but will have to do more research before I try this. My approach is rather unscientific and not very systematic I’m afraid, I prefer to just try things. I’ve been reading also about a method for extracting the pigment for storage instead of drying the leaves, but that is a trial that will have to wait for some other time… Would love to know about your experience with woad, what kind of textiles do you dye with it?


  3. Love the post! Where does one purchase dried Woad? I’ve searched hi and low- and I would really love to try dying with it!


    • Hi Melissa,

      I don’t think that you can buy it anywhere… the fact that you can’t probably suggests my method doesn’t work in the first place but I like to learn the hard way! A better option would have been to make fermented woad balls as this is a tried and tested method. If you don’t grow your own plants but want to try dying with woad, it is fairly easy possible to buy woad pigment on-line in place such as http://www.woad.org.uk/html/dye_and_seed.html This site also contains a wealth of information on woad generally. Happy experimenting!


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