Pinks from Second Year Woad

Hello fellow plant dye enthusiasts! I’m here today to tell you about a use for your 2nd year woad leaves (other than waiting for seeds, chicken feed, or compost additive)!

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As we know, woad (Isatis tinctoria) is a rather plain looking plant from Europe that has a long history as a source for blue dye. Think Celts and medieval European tapestries. Only the first year leaves are a good source for blue (usually, unless one is extra lucky), but the plant is a very hardy biennial. (Too hardy sometimes – it is labelled as a pernicious weed in some Western US states). I have grown woad in my Minnesota (zone 4b) garden for the past 4 years, and it reliably overwinters despite cold snaps of -50F. In its second year the plant sends up a flower shoot that will burst into yellow blooms. I’ve heard that the flowers can give a yellow in the dye pot… but to be perfectly honest enough plants will make yellow; I’m after a beautiful, dusty rose type of pink.

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I like to harvest my second year plants before they flower – really anytime after they start growing again which seems to happen as soon as the snow melts. This is a good time to decide which plants get to stay to produce seed and which plants need to go. You really don’t want all of your plants going to seed or you will end up with “woad woes”, to quote Rita Buchanan, writer of the excellent A Dyer’s Garden

So on to the dyeing process itself! I fill up a big stainless steel dye pot with leaves – I take the whole plant from rosette to flower stalk, stuff it in the pot, give it a few snips with the kitchen shears, and fill with water. I don’t tend to weigh the dye stuff here, but as a guess it is about 3ish pounds of leaves per batch? This goes onto heat to simmering (I honestly don’t think a light boil would hurt anything, but I’m a baby and don’t like to boil my dyes) for about 1 hour. Let the leaves sit and steep until you get a nice rich sherry-colored liquid, usually an additional hour. In the meantime you can dig the roots of the harvested woad (I chuck ’em in the compost), and pre-soak your fiber.

 

And here is a cool part of pinks from woad; I have had fantastic success (both depth and longevity of color) on protein fibers WITHOUT mordant. Cotton not so much (needs more experimentation!) but really couldn’t be easier with wool and silk; just make sure it is well cleaned of course. I get reliably pink results using a ratio of about 3:1 fresh plant matter to fiber. Fortunately woad is a bulky, heavy plant so a little goes quite a long way.

 

After you have a nice looking color in the pot and you bath has cooled just a little, strain the leaves (also great for compost!) and add your fibers. Give the whole thing another simmer of about 1 hour and then (this is important) leave them to soak overnight!! In the morning do your typical rinse. I like to use my rain barrel water to cut down on water usage, and perform a final rinse with a wool wash like Eucalan. Spin or squeeze and hang up to dry! You are done!

 

A few random thoughts and notes.

  1. You may be thinking, wait! This is very similar to Jenny Dean’s process for pinks from first year woad leaves that have already had the blue extracted! You would be right – we are just using a previously underused dye potential in second year leaves!
  2. This is a really nice way to scratch the post-winter fresh leaf dye pot itch. It is a great and efficient way to get a double use out of a dye plant and your garden space.
  3. I have not specifically light-tested these fibers, but I do have several skeins that have been in and out of tubs for 3 years that still look great.
  4. Learn more about general woad cultivation HERE, or purchase seeds HERE! Looking for some beautiful pink woad-dyed yarn? Click HERE!
  5. A disclaimer – other than the woad seeds and yarn I do not profit from any links on this page 🙂

And there you have it! Beautiful dusty pinks from second year woad. Any questions? Have you tried this or want to try it? Drop a comment here or come visit me @knittyvet on Instagram or in my Etsy shop! While you are here feel free to check out some of my other dye and dye plant tutorials. Be well!

Like it? Tried it? Pin it!

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How to use second year woad leaves for a beautiful dusty rose pink!

 

Garden Yarn by KnittyVet – Naturally hand-dyed skeins launching soon!

Hey all! I hope you’ve been having a stellar season – here in the Northern Hemisphere I’ve been making the most of a beautiful summer and dyeing lots of yarn with the plants and flowers from my garden. I’ve been sharing my progress online and due to popular demand have decided to offer a limited number of hand dyed skeins for sale! I’m still building up some inventory (everything comes from my garden or is locally foraged, so this takes a while!), but my naturally dyed yarns will be hitting the KnittyVet Etsy store soon. There will mostly be sock/shawl fingering weight yarns to start out, but I’m hoping to expand into other yarn weights and types.

 

For now – head over to the new Garden Yarn Facebook Group or join me on Instagram to stay in the loop. Once these yarns are available they won’t last long and each will be one of a kind! Those two group will be getting first dibs on all available colors.

Thanks for joining me in this creative journey. I really feel like I’ve found my niche!

-Kendra

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Dye Project #3: Creeping Charlie (part 1/2)

Some folks may have strong feelings about this plant. You’ve been warned.

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Creeping charlie (Glechoma hederacea) is a fast spreading perennial ground cover in the mint family. According to Wikipedia it is also know poetically as”ground ivy”, “alehoof”, or “run-away-robin”. As anyone who has experienced its growth in their own yard, that last name is particularly apt. I try to have an easygoing relationship with plants in my yard but this one has tested me a little. I try to work with them or utilize them in some way as opposed to scorched earth tactics. Ours is the yard blooming with dandelions and violets… but hey, we can play in it, pick it, and feed it to the chickens and guinea pig without fear. I’ll take that trade.

In the case of creeping charlie, it now grows as sort of a green mulch in between my garden beds. We’ve come to an understanding of sorts. I whack it down now and then with the weed whip and correct it when it (inevitably) starts to creep INTO the raised beds, but otherwise we coexist quite peacefully. I also have decided it smells nice and minty, but milage may vary on this.

I was looking around in the first days of spring for something to try in the dyepot. Creeping charlie gets an early start… basically before the snow even melts. I’d read that mint does some decent dyeing, and then I came across Lil Fish Studios and her blog about dyeing with the plant! Good enough for me.

I picked a little over 2 ounces of greens leaves and stems – either flowering or just about to flower. I used a stainless steel pot to simmer covered in water for 1/2 hour, then let sit for about 5 hours. The most lovely green developed in the pot and I was cautiously optimistic.

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I had an old 2 oz skein of Contempo Wool Bulky (Textile Garage Sale find – whooo!) that I’d previously mordanted (but not rinsed) with 10% alum and 5% cream of tartar. That went into the dye pot, simmered (about 175 F) for 1/2 hour, then rested about 6 before IMG_7957removing. I got a nice, light yellow-green, which I of course failed to catch on camera out of the dye bath before rushing on to modifiers.

I stuck one little snip in a baking soda/dye mixture (turned into a light yellow), and draped the rest of the skein into a separate dye bath I’d poured off and combined with a few splashes of iron water. Fifteen minutes later the yarn had turned a lovely olive green. Less of a gradient showed up than I was expecting, but it still looked really nice.

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A collection of some of my dyed samples so far – rhubarb on the top and G. hereacea on the bottom. On the left is a lightfast test that will go on a windowsill.

I really love the way this skein turned out, and now I’m having THOUGHTS about what to do next with this super abundant dye source. I want to try some different types of wool, let some be without modifying, and maybe try some painted roving. Stay tuned for this post!!

Let me know below if you are battling creeping charlie in your yard. Maybe divert some to the dye pot for a more positive experience! Share your results with me – I’d love to see.

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Dye journal page for creeping charlie