Dyeing with Woad Seeds

Dyers who grow woad will often find they have far more woad seeds than they could possibly need for sowing themselves or passing on to other dyers.

Some years ago I did some tests using ripe purple/black woad seeds in the dyepot and I was intrigued by the results.

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                                                                                                             This rather dark image shows the page from my record book where I have the samples from this dyebath. The upper (1) of each pair of samples is unmordanted and the lower (2) is alum-mordanted. The seeds produced an attractive green on alum-mordanted wool, and a more yellow colour on unmordanted wool. Perhaps the most interesting sample was the one modified in clear vinegar (acidic), which produced a pale pink on unmordanted wool and a deeper pink colour on alum-mordanted wool. An alkaline modifier gave lighter yellowy greens, copper intensified the greens and iron produced greyish greens.

Woad seeds can be used in the same way as most other plant materials and I would suggest using at least the same weight of seeds as fibres (100%). Simmer the seeds for about 45 minutes to extract the colour, then strain off the dye liquid, add the fibres and simmer them for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the colour is deep enough.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Recently I collected a bagful of woad seeds for a dyebath. This time about half of the seeds I used in the dyepot were not fully ripe and were still green in colour, rather than purple/black. The colours I obtained this time were less interesting, suggesting that it is advisable to allow the seeds to mature fully and become black before using them in the dyepot.

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From top to bottom the samples are: No modifier, + acidic modifier, + alkaline modifier, + iron modifier. For each category there are two samples: the upper one is unmordanted and the lower one is alum-mordanted. The shades are very similar to those achieved from the earlier dyebath using fully mature seeds, but considerably less intense.

7 Responses to “Dyeing with Woad Seeds”

  1. Ladka says:

    How very interesting! To use seeds of a plant when it’s leaves that are normally used! And the results are really surprising.
    I’m experimenting with St. John’s Wort roots. I’ve soaked cut roots, soaked them overnight and have been warming them up to about 65 degrees Celsius for several hours. The liquid seems most unpromising at the moment, but who knows?

  2. Marian says:

    Quite pastel-ish type colors (is that a word?? look at me butchering the english language!). I should have paid more attention at chemistry class in secondary school. I’ m still amazed at how the mordants (or lack of them) can change so much the colour obteined.

  3. mieke harinck says:

    where can we find the recipe of dyeing with the woad-seeds? is it mentioned in one of your books?
    is it the same as dyeing with the leaves of woad? or rather the usually way as lets say weld?
    last month i have thrown away so many seeds, but maybe i have anough for an experiment. i can’t wait to try it, greetings from belgium, mieke

    • Jenny Dean says:

      The recipe is in “Wild Colour” but the method is the same as for most dyes. Simmer the seeds for about 45 mins to extract the colour, strain off the dye liquid, add the fibres & simmer for 45 mins to 1 hour.
      My latest book “Colours from Nature” gives details of the various dyeing techniques which can be used with most dyes, except those for which special instructions are required, such as indigo.
      Jenny

  4. Marilyn Jackson says:

    This was interesting to read. A book I found in the south of France, ‘le Pastel en pays d’oc’, mentions weld seeds being used to obtain a yellow, but not the use of woad seeds. I tried used the weld seeds and obtained no colour at all….perhaps I didn’t use enough.

  5. Helen Melvin says:

    I am not sure that I have enough woad seed to try but I will have a go.
    One on the things I love about your work is your meticulous samples and records

  6. Jala Pfaff says:

    Hi again Jenny,

    I have ordered a copy each of two of your books from Amazon, but was surprised to see that “Wild Color” is not available in paperback/affordable price. This is actually the only one of yours that I currently have in front of me, and it’s from the public library (and it is a paperback–strange). In any case, I ordered the other 2 books of yours today from Amazon.
    I am very intrigued with the pastel-y colors from woad seeds. Do you know if they would dye linen? Also, is it true that woad will not work on linen?
    Thank you so much!