r ranson

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since Feb 05, 2015
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An insomniac misanthrope who enjoys cooking, textile arts, farming and eating delicious food.
Left Coast Canada
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Recent posts by r ranson

Starting a thread in this, the tinkering forum is the best way to get in touch with staff.

You can fiddle with your account settings by clicking on  "my profile" at the top of the screen.

If there is something you cannot find there, please feel free to ask here.  If it is private, feel free to send me a PM (which you can do by clicking on my name and then the envelop that says PM when you hover over it).
a traditional method for extracting blue dye from woad



Historically speaking, woad indigo was always extracted through a long and laborious fermentation process. ...

...woad leaves are first harvested, and then ground up on a giant woad mill. ...

When the woad leaves were crushed, they were piled in small heaps to drain. Once the woad was dry enough to be cohesive the piles were pulled apart and formed into woad balls. The woad balls were anywhere from two to six inches in diameter. These woad balls were then dried in specially constructed drying racks, exposed to air movement but shaded, to prepare for storage. Dried woad balls could be stored indefinitely before couching.




There are a lot of good write-ups on this site.  I think this person has a lot of first-hand experience working with woad.  Well worth a gander.
2 days ago
I'm excited about our new fibre mill opening in town so today I sorted fibre which I'm hoping they can spin into yarn for me.



I set up a 'table' with the wire grid on it to let the debris and dust fall through.  It also makes it easier to find second cuts (short bits of fibre from when the sheerer took a second pass with the sheers).



This is lovely, soft alpaca from my giant rescue boy Beau.  I'm hoping to find some local white wool to blend it with... however...



This wool is destined for the compost pile because it's not good enough to send to the mill.  This is a combination of local fleeces dropped off at my home by farmers who don't know what to do with it.

There's a lot wrong with this, not including the wasp and rats nests.

  • some of the fleece was weak because the sheep had a stress or nutritional problem at some point in time.
  • some of the fleece was rotten because it was stored wet and not left to breath.
  • None of the fleece was skirted prior to storage, so the dung and other debris stained the potentially good fibre
  • some of the fleece had too much debris and other vegi-matter like hay and weed seeds.
  • some of the wool had bug damaged and other signs of infestation


  • Maybe half of this wool could have been saved through skirting and proper storage.

    The other half reflects the health of the sheep.  It's amazing how much of the health of the animals is displayed in their fibre. 


    I really want to blend my alpaca with local wool so I'll keep looking for the perfect fibre.
    Then again, looking at my current finance, maybe it's for the best that I don't have the fibre for the mill yet.  I'm excited to support the new mill, the only problem is, it costs money which I need to earn somehow.
    2 days ago
    Last year, I started my woad indoors and planted some out in March and more out after the frost stopped in April.  The April ones did better and I got three large harvests off them (about 1 kilo per plant total) and could have had two more harvests.  However, the earlier ones didn't do as well.  This might be because I didn't harvest them?  Or because they were in different soil?  Or less sun? Or some other reasons I don't know what. 

    Last year, it was about half a dozen plants.  Just enough to see if they will grow (check), produce a harvest (check), and produce blue (check).

    This year, a few more plants.  I want to experiment with different methods of working with this plant and I need a a bit more than a kilo at a time to make it work.   I want to dye yarn in 100g batches, which (according to theory) takes 10 kilos of fresh leaves.  At least that's the theory... some reading suggests it's a lot less. 

    After this year, I'll discover if I love this plant or just like it.  If I love it, I'll plant more and sell woad balls.  If I don't, then I'll just keep enough for personal use. 
    2 days ago
    sewing woad seeds



    It is warm enough to sow woad seeds in the UK when daffodils are in flower.



    some more information on woad cultivation
    2 days ago
    dyeing with woad balls


    To sum up: Woad balls can be used in the same way as fresh woad leaves, except that the leaves should remain in the vat throughout. Whisking may not produce any blue froth but ignore this & continue as usual. The vat itself will not look like the more usual woad or indigo vats, but this does not seem to be of any importance. The vat can be kept going over several days & the colours from this type of woad vat will be more green in tone.



    I wonder if this is the author of the dye book I like that has loads of different ways of dyeing with woad in it?
    2 days ago

    Vera Stewart wrote: One of the things I wonder, especially as you say it grows with little care, is whether or not it's likely to "go rogue" and try to colonize neighbour's yards?



    That's a very good point.  In some places, woad is considered an invasive species.  In those places, it might be better to harvest wild woad instead of growing it in the garden.

    Before I started growing woad, I looked into this.  It wasn't on our invasive list or on our watch list of potential invasives.  I'm also not so sure how well it will reproduce because we don't often get a cold enough winter.  I have trouble getting kale to flower some years.

    But to be safe, I'm growing it in parts of the farm that are apart from the neighbours.  It's biannual so I plan to do a strong harvest at the end of summer of all but a few plants for seed.  The ones that do go to seed, I can place the stocks in a paper bag at the end of the maturing time.  This will prevent the seeds spreading or getting eaten by birds. 

    2 days ago
    A video about harvesting woad on a hillside, extracting the dye and fermenting it with urine to create a blue-ish coloured t-shirt. 



    2 days ago
    I'm completely obsessed about woad.  The plant is a relative of the cabbage and it creates a gorgeous blue dye.  There's a long history of it being used in Medieval times and before.  The great thing about it, is it grows well where I live with very little effort.



    The blue dye in woad is the same as in Indigo.  We have a lovely long thread about this dye and the plants that create it.  But I thought, why not have a thread just for woad? 

    Indigo doesn't grow well where I live.  It needs cosseting, extra irrigation, soil fertility and all sorts of added effort that I'm not interested in giving it.  Even though Indigo is more efficient than woad - it produces so much more dye per weight of plant than woad - it is less efficient for me to grow indigo.  I don't think that makes sense.  But basically, for a tiny amount of effort, I can grow massive amounts of woad and get nearly unlimited blue dye while helping to break up compacted soil.  For a lot of effort, I can grow a tiny amount of the more efficient indigo plants and get an itty bitty amount of blue dye. 

    I'm going to focus my energy on growing woad.  Although I admit, I'm still getting to know this plant and what it can do.  That's why I started a thread about it, so we can learn together.


    Growing Woad




    My cute little baby woad plants from last spring.  I started them indoors last March and planted them out when the frost started to lessen in early April.  The ones I planted out after the last frost did better and gave me an extra harvest, so this year I'll plant them out later.

    I grew my woad in an area with poor, excessively well-drained soil, and zero irrigation.  They had no water or rain from May 1st through to October and did well.  They thrived.  I got three harvests from them, and could probably have gotten four more.  But I wanted to leave the plants to gather energy and make seeds.


    Harvesting the dye was interesting.  The first attempted, I tried the extraction method which gives a blue powder that we can store and use later.  One kilo of leaves gave me 1 gram of blue powder which (according to what I've read) dyes about 10 grams of fibre.



    For the next harvests, I tried making woad balls.  The leaves are mashed up and then shaped into a ball.  The theory is that the balls ferment inside as they dry and convert the dye into a useable form. 



    What I liked best with this method is that it was purely mechanical.  No heat, no excess water, no chemicals.  This is a traditional European method and I'm looking forward to experimenting with woad balls this year.


    Some more links about woad.

    http://www.jennydean.co.uk/wonderful-woad/

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352409X14000273

    2 days ago