Chinese woad

After a local fox had raided our hügelkultur a few weeks ago my woad bed was a mess. I had only around eight plants of European woad left and two of the Chinese woad. This week I did a salt rub with the chinese woad.

Please don’t ask me for dyeing advice. I don’t know anything about it. For lots of courses in fresh indigo dyeing, have a look at the Dogwood Dyer website or instagram.

The woad plants that are left after the fox attack are thriving. Three compost grids under heavy rocks keep the fox away, although they don’t keep it off other beds. The Japanese Indigo is untouched so far, though.

Salt rub

Salt rubbing with fresh indigo bearing plants is a lovely method that is quick and requires only the fresh leaves and some salt. The salt helps extract moisture from the leaves.

A few weeks ago I did a couple of salt rubs with Japanese indigo, both Maruba and Koyoko. They resulted in clear greenish blues. I knew that woad has less indigo than Japanese indigo, so I counted on subtler colours in this Chinese woad salt rub.

The textiles

I picked the largest leaves from my precious Chinese woad plant in the morning and weighed them. There weren’t many leaves, but they are quite large and resulted in 50 grams. The recommendations I have got is to use at least twice the weight of leaves to textiles. My textiles weighed 10 grams, but I figure the midrib of a woad leaf takes up some of that weight.

The textiles go into the woad tub for a salt rub.

I popped in two small skeins of handspun silk singles, two antique linen buttons, a linen patch and an antique cotton patch. I had soaked the cellulose fiber items in soy milk a few days earlier to disguise them as protein fibers and thereby take on more dye.

Rubbing away

With the Japanese indigo, both liquid and textiles turned blueish green after 5–10 minutes, but with the woad it never did. After 17 minutes of rubbing, the colour of both liquid, leaves and textiles was still grassy green. Significantly darker than in the beginning, but not a trace of blue.

I still had hope, though. After a quick cold water rinse, a wash in mild detergent and a vinegar rinse, the woady turquoise emerged and lifted my spirits. My first try with woad a couple of years ago resulted in tiny plants that got totally eaten by flea beetles. How a person can manage to kill an invasive plant like woad remains a mystery. Still, after the flea beetle incident, a first very failed indigo trial the same year and the fox attacks I am very grateful for every tiny dye experiment with my homegrown colour.

Warm and kind nuances with Chinese woad.

There is a difference between the cellulose and the protein fibers – there is more blue in the protein fibers. The protein fibers take up more dye than the cellulose fibers and there is still some chlorophyl in the cellulose fibers. This might mean that the colour in the cellulose textiles won’t be as colourfast as in the protein textiles. But the linen buttons seem to have caught more blue than both the linen and cotton patches.

More than blue

The dye power didn’t end with the salt rubbing, though. With a little help from heat and baking soda the indirubin may emerge, a mauve colour. I covered the remining leaves with some water, added a little baking soda and kept it warm, at around 50 °C. I added a skein of handspun silk singles, a linen patch and a linen button and left it in peace.

Indirubin creates a dusty mauve colour.

After an hour or so the liquid was reddish brown and the textiles olive brown. After a quick rinse, though, the silk transformed into the loveliest dusty mauve. The linen patch also turned mauve, but a little lighter. The button, well, while I can see some traces of mauve, it is mostly brownish grey. There is some of that brownish grey on the silk skein and the linen patch too, and it may be where the leaves have been in contact with the fibers.

Giddy, giddy

Every morning when I open my door to get the paper I see my indigo plant bin and smile (and sigh of relief that the roe deer haven’t eaten it). I am quite giddy about this, and so far it is thriving. The European woad in the Hügelkultur also looks very healthy and I am glad I got so much dye out of my single Chinese woad plant, that now only has a few small leaves left.

The newly salt rubbed textiles are drying on our garlic drying nails in the woodshed. The salt rubbed skeins are a bit tausled from the massage therapy.

My plan is to dye my little skeins of handspun silk singles in as many colours as possible, using different techniques and my different indigo bearing plants. I keep spinning the silk singles (on a supported spindle), anticipating a rainbow of indigo colours. Eventually they will all end up in the same project.

The patches of cotton and linen are just for comparison, but I hope I can find a project for my sweet buttons. I am sure their perfect match will appear sooner or later.

As I write this I look at my dyed textiles with joy while at the same time planning my next dyeing experiment. There are so many techniques to try and when I feel bold enough to try something a bit more challenging I will. I lean on the courses I have bought at the Dogwood dyer and the local course I am taking here in Stockholm. Just two weeks until the last class of the course.

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.
Liked it? Take a second to support Josefin Waltin on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

4 Replies to “Chinese woad”

  1. This is such an exciting project! I didn’t know about getting mauve with indigo, but that soft color is lovely. I’m a big fan of the buttons (I vote for a cardigan). I have several sweaters that feature unmatched buttons, and they make such a fun, whimsical statement. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

  2. I love these posts, as I also dabble in botanical dyeing. Growing plants, using kitchen waste, eg. avocado stones and no chemicals, every colour is a surprise and yes, absolutely thrilling!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.