Wode Dyed Wool

kylewilliam's picture

do any of you know of a place that sells hand dyed wool using Wode? (It's an old stinky weed that used to be used for dying and making an amazing blue) - if you do, please let me know; I want to buy some and check it out - I hear a lot about it - it keeps creeping up in back episodes of "Cast-On" and I remember in an episode of "Dirty Jobs" they showed the guy who did the Wode dyeing centuries ago - apparantly it's REALLY stinky!

Thanks for any help or info guys!



Tallguy's picture

I have used woad before, and

I have used woad before, and it didn't seem to be a very smelly operation at all. It is a noxious weed in this part of the counrty, so we are not allowed to grow it, unless it is done in secret and under strict control. It will take over the landscape and is very hard to get rid of. You use the young leaves (they can be frozen until you have enough), and it produces stronger colour and seeds in the second year.

It seems to be a fairly complicated process to get the colour out of the leaves and roots, but is extremely interesting to use. There are some chemicals that need to be used (not necessarily dangerous, but not easy to find). The dyebath is a very pale yellow. When the wool is pulled out, and exposed to the air (oxygen), it turns blue! You dip it in and out several times to build up a deeper shade. Every time you immerse the coloured wool into the dyebath, it loses colour, but gets darker when in the air. Quite a fascinating trick (to the uninformed) but still amazes me everytime it happens.

You CAN also get woad in powder form, so you don't have to grow it yourself. This might be a better way to go.

MMario's picture

The smelly portion of woad

The smelly portion of woad was in the processing/fermentation of the leaves to produce a compact/portable cake of dyestuff.

The leaves would be crushed - wet down and piled to basically rot; the results of this would be dried, crushed, wet down and rotted again; etc until what was left had a concentrated amount of the dyestuff and much less of the actual plant material (just as a compost heap becomes much smaller after "ageing")- then that would be formed into dyecakes for transport.

For immediate use there is a much less smelly extraction process that was essentially soaking in water.

MMario - I don't live in the 21st Century - but I sometimes play a character who does.

Tallguy's picture

Oh, yes, that is true Mario.

Oh, yes, that is true Mario. I had forgotten about that part... I have only used it fresh. But Queen Elizabeth I decreed that no woad fermentation plants were to be located within 5 miles of her residence; it was sort of foul smelling!

Woad needs to be alkaline to produce the colour. In the early days, stale urine (from young men was best) was used for the ammonia in it. Today, we can use commercial ammonia or sodium hydroxide, both fairly aromatic. These also are not very kind to wool, leaving it harsh and dry. You can restore some of the good qualities of wool with acid rinses and oils. It is better suited to cottons and linens, and even silk.

Michael Cook's picture

Here's a site that sells

Here's a site that sells naturally-dyed yarns, including woad-dyed:

Here's a site with lots of information on the process:

MMario's picture

Woad. The dye itself is the

Woad. The dye itself is the same stuff that is in indigo - and the same techniques can be used. woad doesn't have as high a concentration of the dyestuff though.

There is a place in the uk (woad-inc) that sells some; and one in france that I spotted on goodle. But neither of them give the yardage, weight, wraps per inch etc of their skeins that I could spot.

MMario - I don't live in the 21st Century - but I sometimes play a character who does.