Yes you got that right– woe is me or maybe it would be more accurate to say woad is me!
I planted woad this spring and have a nice little patch in my garden where I can control it so it won’t get out of hand and spread. Its been growing nicely. My sister sent me information about dyeing with woad. It is similar to dyeing with indigo. It is more complicated than most of the dyes plants I play with. Usually I just pick and add plants to the water and simmer over the fire. Woad like indigo requires following careful steps to insure success.
I followed the directions and picked the plants and packed the leaves into 2 big jars and set the jars into a pot filled with water. I used a thermometer to make sure that it didn’t get too hot and started to watch. After the simmering you add baking soda to raise the alkalinity of the water and then introduce oxygen to the mixture. At this point I was seeing some blue and green in the foam. I was also seeing rain so I moved my chemistry experiment inside to the mud room. Next step was to get rid of the oxygen in the dye liquid – so I stirred in the spectrolite and voila ……the liquid turned yellow just like it was supposed to. I added the yarn and let it sit in the pot. This is the part that is magical even though it looks like nothing is happening when you take the yellow yarn out of the liquid if everything has gone right it will slowly turn blue. Success…. a beautiful robin egg blue….I was elated. Now I searched for other things to throw in the pot and found a some golden rod yarn and some orange cosmos yarn. Ahh a nice green from the yellow yarn and well the orange was kind of a mud blah. But it had worked. I moved everything out to the garage to dry overnight quite thrilled with myself. Alas in the morning the color had disappeared.
So what went wrong. I made a call to my little sister and asked for advise. And started a new cook. Yes I said cook–we have been watching Breaking Bad here and this dyeing project has so much more chemistry involved in it I am starting to feel like Jesse and Walter starting a batch. I picked again and weighed the woad. I was not discouraged by last nights failure so I doubled the amount of woad and decided to go for broke. As the liquid simmered it took on a lovely rosey brown hue finally it was time to add the baking soda and agitate. I poured over and over again but the color didn’t change although the side of the bucket I was using did pick up some blue. The fish tickler took pity on me and found me a paddle that attaches to our drill cause I was getting wore out. Still nothing. So then he had the brilliant idea of putting a lid on the bucket and shaking it — much easier….but still no change. More soda…no. Ok I am not a science whizz – I only managed a C in chemistry class and that was over 30 years ago but I was just going to have to fly by the seat of my pants and trust so I stirred the spectrolite in the pot and waited a bit and then put the yarn in. Nope nothing. However that is the yarn I used yesterday so I searched to find something else. I put in a square of wool fabric. Ok a faint blue and now the water does look more yellow than brown. So I found another hank of yellow sock yarn dyed with golden rod and twisted it up so the dye could only reach parts of it and lowered it in the dye. And then we left to take the dog for a walk — I wanted to follow the sage advice that a watched pot never boils. At last a partial success..I came home and pulled it out and had a Packer green and gold skein of yarn. Hung it out to dry and the next morning still green and gold a little faded but still green and gold.
So dyeing magic didn’t happen this week. It’s not that I didn’t try. I tried hard. I set up the pots and picked in the garden but I had an epic failure. I still had fun but I didn’t achieve the colors I was hoping for. Now I have to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. The one thing I would like to try is getting some spectrolite from a dye company. I was using Rit color run remover maybe that is the problem. The recipe says you can use this but maybe I need to buy the real deal to use. I would also like to get some washing soda to replace the baking soda even though I don’t think that is the problem. I am sure that my woad leaves will grow enough that I can harvest another batch before winter so maybe in a few weeks I will set up to cook again. And maybe …..blue will happen.