Posts Tagged ‘woad’

Garden Update

June 12, 2010

There is new hope for the dye garden!  Yesterday I finally got around to planting some new madder, dyer’s chamomile, and lady’s bedstraw in my containers.

Madder in the big one, bedstraw in the two red ones, and chamomile scattered between the three.  And yes, if you’re wondering, my planters are an old barbecue and Ikea garbage cans.

What prompted this, aside from the fact that I should probably have done it weeks ago?  We got a barbecue!  Yay!  But it needed somewhere to go.   So yesterday we turned the pile of jumbled mess into this:

My new outdoor grilling/dyeing/whatever station.  It looks much nicer than it did before, and having everything stashed under the table makes me less worried that the upstairs neighbour’s kids are going to get into anything they shouldn’t.  We got the giant white barrel at the homebrew store for $10.  Not sure yet if it will be a large cold-water dyepot or a planter or two, or a water barrel, but it will come in handy somehow.

Now I just have to decide if I want to get an electric hotplate or a propane stove to dye with out there.  I’ll be happy to get the dyeing out of the kitchen, that’s for sure.

The rest of the garden is doing pretty well, despite the big rainstorms we’ve been having.

The first strawberries are almost ripe:

The clematis is starting to take over the railing up the stairs, and it has tons of buds:

This year’s woad is thriving in the cold, wet weather (think it’s from Britain?):

And last year’s is safely cocooned in cheesecloth, I’m sure the neighbours think we’re insane.

The foxglove, that for all of last year I thought was a weed, is flowering:

And it has a friend who I’m VERY glad to see, given our aphid problem.

And finally, the rosebuds also started to open in the last few days:

The sweet peas are exploding too, but I didn’t get a picture of them.  I’m not going to bother starting them inside next year, the ones I planted directly in the garden are four times larger than the ones I transplanted at the same time.

Garden Update

May 6, 2010

Look look look!  My very first madder plant:

And some Dyer’s Chamomile:

The rest of the new dye plants haven’t sprouted yet, I was worried I’d killed them until the madder showed up today.  Guess they’re just slow.  Or I’m impatient.  And yes, I’m using an old egg carton as a seed tray.  Wanna make something of it?

I’ve also got a good crop of woad coming up in the front garden:

And last year’s is in full flower:

Pretty impressive, eh?  They smell surprisingly pleasant, too.  After the flowers die I’ll cut down most of the stalks to avoid a woad epidemic in the neighbourhood.

The other plants are doing nicely, too.  I’ve got flowers on my new strawberries in both the garden and containers:

I’m experimenting using leftover grains from beermaking to mulch with.  I think they’ll work quite nicely.  It’ll expand to cover the rest of the garden as we make more beer over the summer.

The (also new) raspberries don’t look like dead sticks any more, except for the one on the end that actually is a dead stick:

And a sight only a fellow gardener can appreciate . . . my compost heap.  I’m so proud of it, there’s some gorgeous dirt under there.  Plus it’s proof for my mother that I really do eat vegetables, even if most of it is spent grains from beer making.  And if there’s any doubt that compost works, check out those dandelions – they’re HUGE!

The only thing that’s not growing like it should is the apple/pear-like fruit tree.  It had some pest problems last year, and it’s much worse this year.  The leaves are completely shredded.  I have a feeling it might not last much longer.  DBF wants to prune it waaaay back to make it stronger, but we’ll probably have to check with the landlord first and, well, he doesn’t know much about gardening.  We’ll see.  The flowers were pretty, anyways.

And finally, some hints of what I’ve been up to . . .

. . . exciting things are afoot!

New Spring, New Garden

April 10, 2010

Not only a new garden, but a new expanded garden!  We have lots of plans for food-stuffs, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, for starters, plus the sweet pea seeds that I saved from last year are already sprouting along with some sunflowers, soon to be joined by poppies and cosmos.  Oh, and a clematis.

But more importantly, I’m getting more dye plants this year!  The woad is already planted, and I’ve ordered some supplements:  madder (red), lady’s bedstraw (red), weld (yellow), dyer’s chamomile (yellow), and one I’d never heard of – elecampane.

There’s nothing on elecampane  in either of the dye books I own, or any others I’ve read.  Only a single sentence on the whole of the internet (repeated on many websites, apparently it’s from a book written in 1931 called A Modern Herbal):  “A blue dye has been extracted from the root, bruised and macerated and mingled with ashes and whortleberries.”  On some further research, whortleberries are also known as bilberries, and are a wild relative of blueberries.  The ashes part of the “recipe” makes sense, acidic solutions tend to shift dyes towards the red end of the spectrum, and alkaline towards blue.  But I can’t help wondering about why it also includes blueberries, if there actually is blue dye in the roots at all or if it’s a mordant that works on them better than, say, alum.

I guess I’ll let you know in a year or two.  Gorram root crops (three of my five new plants) need extra time to grow before I can go digging them up.  Which means they’re all going in pots, if we move after I finish school next year I’m darned well taking them with me!

If you’re curious, I ordered the seeds from Horizon Herbs, they were very nice on the phone and have some pretty cool stuff besides the dye plants.  Being a small package, I’m hoping it’ll arrive quickly so I can get planting!

Last year’s woad is now about waist high, it’s quite impressive.  I’m looking forward to seeing the flowers, not so much looking forward to trying to stop the seeds from taking over the neighbourhood.  I’m planning to cut most of them down after they’ve flowered, and put little cotton or cheesecloth bags over the remainders to catch the seeds.

And because I simply can’t post two photo-less posts in a row, here’s a picture of a drawing I did this semester:

Can you guess what it is?

Studio Tour

September 20, 2009

Yay, art school!  Hmm, that probably means I need a studio space that’s actually workable, not covered in the leftovers from six months worth of projects . . .  Every time I clean my studio, it gets just a bit more organized than the last.  By the time I’m completely happy with it, it will probably be time to move.

I live in a two-bedroom garden level suite (I think that sounds much nicer than “basement suite, but it’s above ground and quite nice, really!”) with my boyfriend.  Which is much better than a normal roommate because a) he doesn’t get too mad when I get art/fibre-y stuff all over the living room and b) we sleep in the same bedroom, which means there’s an entire room for a shared studio.  And c) he does my laundry, but that’s probably TMI.

Anyways, over the past few days I’ve had a great procrastinating from homework cleaning spree, and the studio looks fantastic, if I do say so myself.  So while it still looks nice, you get a private tour.

We’ll begin with the wall you see first upon entering the room.  This is the only wall that doesn’t have a window or a door or otherwise space-inhibiting thing, so it does most of the storage duty by means of several sets of shelves, plastic drawer-tower-thingys, and hooks.

Left Wall

The empty space in the top left is where the table loom hangs when it’s not in use.  Below that is the sewing machine and machine embroidery stuff.  The high shelf is most of my knitting yarns and books.  I’m sorry, it’s one of the smallest stashes I’ve ever seen a picture of online.  Nothing worth bragging about there.  In the middle is the bulletin board, which I have finally actually hung instead of having it propped in various corners.  In the two white sets of drawers are current projects, sewing supplies, and other random things.  On top of them are baskets with current projects that are actually being worked on.  To the far right on the metal shelves are the dyeing supplies and equipment.  Shoved in the space between the metal shelves and my desk are two hockey tape dummies, one of me and one of Boyfriend.

Moving along clockwise, is the wall that is mostly window.  The sun hits at about two in the afternoon, which is awesome in the winter, but deadly hot in summer.  The desk is in front because, well, it’s the only thing short enough.

Window Wall

The main occupant of the desk rotates between laptop, sewing machine, and serger.

The serger hides in the cupboard underneath the desk:

Serger Cupboard

The drawers are mostly full of thread:

Thread DrawerI love those adjustable drawer organizers, they do an excellent job of keeping the thread from going everywhere.

Next up is the drawing/fabric storage area.  The second level with lamp and ferns is a recent addition, after deciding to make the room a cat-free zone.  At least until I can trust him to sleep quietly in a corner instead of climbing on everything and wreaking havoc wherever he goes.  Two plastic tubs holding spinning fibre hold up the board that my pencils etc. sit on, and most of my fabric lives underneath the drafting table, along with various large flat things that don’t fit anywhere else.

Lamp Sillhouette


Drafting Table

Fabric Storage

Continuing around, we come upon the bookshelf that until yesterday was crammed full of stuff.  It still kind of is, but there is WAY more space than there was.


On top is my home-made swift.  The next shelf down is where my other spinning stuff is, along with my camera and tripod.  Next is artwork that will eventually go up on the walls, and our growing collection of nifty boxes.  Below that is more drawing stuff, magazines, and, um, assorted.  Lessee . . . under that is another project box and my new calligraphy stuff.  The next one down is actually completely empty, it just doesn’t look like it.  And on the bottom shelf is my iron, a box of yarn leftovers, and a box of Fimo.

The next stop on our tour is the door alcove, which turned out to be a horrible picture so I’m not posting it.  There’s an ironing board hanging on the back of the door.  That’s about all you need to know.  Oh, and this picture on the wall next to it leading back around the corner and into the studio:

Fencing Picture

And now we’ve reached the final wall, which is Boyfriend’s section.  Mostly.  His workbench sits on our brilliantly improvised floor made out of a piece of plywood covered in stick-on vinyl flooring tiles.  My inkle loom and mini tapestry loom do live on top of his workbench.

Randy`s Desk

Inkle Loom and Drill Press

Dishing Stump

And, last but not least, I have pictures of some of the silk, cotton, and paper dyed with my woad:

Woad Dyed

Sorry for making you wait so long, I’ll try not to let it happen again!

Woad Vat

August 6, 2009

First things first, hello SCA people!  Thanks for coming by my blog  🙂  I will be going to Tir Righ’s Summer Investiture in the Shire of Danescombe with even more stuff, so if you missed out at Clinton, bring your swatches to colour-match and I’ll see you there!

Back to the business at hand, sorry for the delay in posting – suddenly we were packing and there was no time to write!  However, as promised, here are my pictures and method of getting that lovely blue out of my garden.  I used kind of a combination of three different methods:  Teresinha Roberts’, Cheryl Kolander’s, and Jenny Dean’s from Wild Colour.

It starts off with these beauties (who have, in the two weeks since harvest, almost doubled in size again):



I took as many of the big, mature leaves as seemed appropriate – the mature leaves apparently have more pigment.  It was a pretty small harvest, I got about 250g of leaves.  Then I rinsed them to get off any dirt and the associated unwanted pigments, not to mention bugs.

First Woad Harvest

Next, I tore the leaves up into smallish pieces, small enough to get out the maximum amount of pigment, but large enough not to go through my sieve.

Torn up Woad

I put the torn-up bits into my dyepot and heated it up to almost simmering, and let it steep in the hot (not boiling!) water for ten minutes.  Then stuck the whole pot into a sink full of icy cold water, to cool it as quickly as possible.  Two of my three sources said that it’s very important to cool it to 50° C in about five minutes.

Quick Cooling

While it was cooling, I made up a soda ash solution with a very scientific couple of tablespoons dissolved in about a cup of boiling water.  The indigo pigment will only dissolve in an alkaline solution.  One of my sources says the pH should be 9, the other two say that pH is important, but don’t give a number.  I don’t have any pH strips, so I guessed.  It seems to have worked.  After straining the leaves, I added the cooled soda ash solution to the woaded water, which turned it from green to a pinky-brown kind of colour (which I forgot to take a picture of, sorry!).

Next in the process was the incorporation of air into the dye liquid.  I chose to pour it between two buckets instead of using my kitchen mixer.  It took about 10 minutes for the foam to turn blue and the water to turn back green.


Pouring, with Bee

Still Pouring

Pouring one more time

Pouring Green

Blue Foam

After that, I added about a cup of liquid from my experimental mother vat a few weeks ago.  Did I post about that?  I decided to try to do the ginger beer thing and make a tiny woad vat that’s always fermented and then add some of that starter solution to temporary larger ones, instead of having to either maintain a big one or start it from scratch any time I wanted to dye something.  I used about the same proportions of madder, wheat bran, and woad powder (purchased) as my indigo vat, but in a 650mL jar.  I knew it was ready the day my boyfriend came home from work and went looking for the dead rat under the bookshelf . . .  Anyways, I added a cup of that, with the pre-grown yeast, along with some more wheat bran for the yeast to feed on so it could multiply in the larger pot.  Then I put it in the bathtub so it would have a good steady temperature, and waited, stirring it once or twice a day.

After about three days it was getting the ‘functional vat’ odour, so I started testing it with bits of paper.  Which was frustrating at first because it didn’t seem to be doing much of anything.  It looked right, but it just wouldn’t dye the paper.  Then I remembered the small amount of pigment I was working with (not to mention the fact that I’m used to working with chemical indigo vats), so I wetted a strip of cotton and left it in the vat for a couple of hours.  Ta da!  Gorgeous blue.  Which, I’m sad to say, I have no pictures of and it’s night-time now, so they’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Somebody Murdered Spock in my Bathtub

July 25, 2009

SpockAt least that’s what it looks like right now.  Have no fear, though – the world’s favourite Vulcan is alive and well (as far as I know).  Nope, the green liquid in my bathtub is (dun dun DUH!)   . . . WOAD!  That’s right, folks, my lovely little plants have done it.  What, you don’t believe me?  Here’s proof:

SilkSee the blue on that silk?  That came out of my very own garden, people.  I’ll post some more pictures tomorrow when it’s dry (along with some of the process).  It’s a gorgeous colour, a shade greener than indigo.  Very nice.

Speaking of colour, check out this sunset:

Thunderstorm SunsetWe had a (very rare) thunderstorm this evening, and this is what the sun did through all the rain and clouds and strange weather.  It was incredible.


July 16, 2009

The results of several evenings of spinning and dyeing . . .  my very own naturally dyed embroidery thread!  I’m going to be selling these at the next SCA event I go to, and if that goes well then possibly opening up a shop on Etsy as well.

Embroidery ThreadFrom left to right, that’s indigo, indigo/madder, madder, weld, weld/indigo.  Some are wool and some are silk, it’s a bit hard to tell on a tiny picture which is which.

On another happy note, the woad is still alive!  Stan is back from the brink, Claire is looking lovely, and Frank is about to take over the world.


From the bottom up:  Claire, Jingles, Bobo, Stan, Frank, Junior.

Even Junior, who I had given up on long ago, has decided to start growing.

Junior in July

Woad Woes, Indigo and Some Bragging

June 26, 2009

My poor woad.  Through a combination of nasty soil and an overly-friendly cat, I have only one really healthy plant remaining.  Norman gave up a few weeks ago, Stanley is about to join him in the big vat in the sky, and Claire, Jingles, and Bobo aren’t looking too good.  Ol’ blue eyes Frank, at least, is growing like mad.


I’m not sure if it will be worth it to try dyeing anything much with only one plant’s worth of leaves, so I think I’m going to harvest as much as I can from the other four, plus Frank, and make a woad ball or two over the summer, and see what I can do with them next year.  Which means, alas, I’m stuck with purchased indigo.  Oh, well.

I don’t have to give up on my plans to try a fermentation vat, even though it’s not my own dye plants, so I started that this evening.  I followed approximately these directions with the only exception being that I used some old indigo stock solution instead of fresh powder.

Indigo Vat s

I have no idea if it will work, but I have all that ginger beer brewing experience now, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Indigo Detail

And now, I can’t help bragging about my garden for a minute.  It’s tiny and insignificant, but I love it all the same.  First up on the brag-roll are tomatoes.  After some other seeds failed to come up, I planted two tomato plants, and they have grown up and are just starting to flower.


Next the sugar snap peas that I made the netting for back in May.  They (and my netting) have been a complete success and are now taller than the fence and give me a few peas to munch on every couple of days.

Sugar Snap Pea

Last of all are my favourites, sweet peas grown from seed.  I’m rarely in the garden this time in the evening, so I was very pleasantly surprised when I turned the corner to see the sun just coming over the roofs of the houses across the street and lighting up my sweet peas from behind.  They were glowing.  It was gorgeous.  I took pictures, but you really don’t get the full effect.

Sweet Pea

Isn’t that amazing?  The other thing I can’t share with you is the smell that comes off these babies.  Pure flowery sweetness.

Sweet Peas


May 6, 2009

The woad has grown massively since I last wrote about it, and I transplanted it into the garden on the weekend.  Due to a late sprout, there are now seven plants, although one of them is a bit sickly.  I was originally going to dig a new section next to the vegetable garden in the back yard to plant it in, but ended up putting it in the front, because there was space and nothing else to put there.  Despite being the same plant, they are each quite different and seem to have their own personalities, so I have given them names.  So without any further ado, allow me to introduce Norman, Claire, Jingles, Bobo, Stan, Frank, and Junior.



Norman hasn’t quite fully recovered from the transplanting yet.  He’s sensitive, has shapely leaves, and is, as you can see, a bit off-kilter.



Claire is very pretty.  She has lovely shiny, paler green leaves, and is waving at Bobo, her favourite little brother.



Jingles is suffering a bit from the attentions of an infatuated beetle, and may soon lose a leaf.  However, he is staying strong, shooting up more to replace it as fast as he can.



Bobo is a bit lopsided.  That one leaf on his left grew too small, and now the next one coming in will be too big in compensation.  Oh well, he’s trying.



Stan is the biggest.  He amuses the others by talking to them in a fake English accent and singing “Suzanne Is A Funnicle Man” at the top of his lungs.



Frank is the beautiful baby boy, the surprise late germination.  Despite his late start, he is shaping up to be the nicest of them all.



Junior is undoubtedly the runt of this litter.  He’s not dead, but hasn’t grown at all in almost a month.  I’ve put him next to the rose that has recently come back to life in hopes that it will inspire him not to give up.

Now you know my little family.  They’re all set up to grow and grow and eventually evolve into pretty blue dye!

Mission: Germination

March 27, 2009

Ok, I’m glad that I took my friend’s worry that the woad seeds might not be good seriously and planted lots of them.  Only eight of the thirty or so that I planted have sprouted, but that’s still more than I need.

Woad Sprouts

I just love new seedlings!  They’re so cute, and green.  These ones have a very pale purple stem, with very sturdy-looking leaves.  They haven’t grown much since they first sprouted, but like any good weed they’re establishing a solid root base.  I figure they should be just about ready to transplant in another two weeks or so.  Which is perfect, because I’ll be done my classes by then and will have plenty of time to dig up a new section of garden.