Woad for plant dyeing – Trying for the first time

Plant dyeing is a fantastic hobby where you get the opportunity to try different dyes and methods, and at the same time try ancient technique to recreate colors which the Vikings likely would have worn and enjoyed. For those of you who like yarn and fabrics but never tried plant dyeing, I really recommend that you try at home in your kitchen. Your apartment is never to small, all you need is a stove/hotplate and running water.

I have now plant dyed for about 2 years (in 2015) and have tried many different plants, but far from all. Examples of things I tried are classics such as onion peels, birch, madder, cochineal and tansy, but also mushrooms and lichen. My color palette has unfortunately been missing something until this point – the color blue.
Archaeologists believe that the Vikings used woad for this process. Woad is native to parts of Europe and Asia and has been imported to the Nordic countries since ancient times. In Asia and the Americans indigo has been a much more effective alternative, as it contains much more color, but was not readily imported to Europe before the middle ages. Both plants contain the active substance indigotin which can be extract through fermentation

A friend of mine, Danielle, called me a weak ahead of Gunnes gård autumn market 2015 and asked if I wanted to try woad dyeing from fresh leaves with here, as she had been cultivating woad in here garden. I immediately said yes!


We downloaded a description from the Facebook page” Färga garn med svamp och växter” and followed it to the letter.

Step 1. Rinse the leaves and shred them into smaller pieces. Boil enough water to cover the leaves, pure over your plant material in a bucket and cover. Allow to rest for 40 min until the liquid has turned read, this means the glycoside content has been released from the plant. In the meantime, put the yarn or fabric you intend to dye in water, allowing the fibers to become evenly hydrated. No mordant is needed.

Step 2. Sift the liquid to remove all plant material. ~1-2dl of ammonia
Ad S, the pH will now rise from about 7 to a 9-10 and the liquid will now take on a more green color. Remember that ammonia is corrosive and can harm your skin and eyes!

Pour the liquid fourth and back several times (about 20 times) until the liquid becomes a deep blue color. This procedure ads oxygen into the liquid.

Step 3. Heat the liquid to 55-60 degrees. Use a thermometer as higher temperatures will “kill” your dye, making it non-usable. Sprinkle powdered Sodium dithionite (5g/Liter of liquid) on the surface and allow to rest for 30min. A shiny emulsion will form on the surface.

Step 4. Time to dye! Take your wet yarn or fabric and slowly place into your dyeing pot for 5-10min, make sure there are no bubbles as this will cause color variations on your fabric. The fabric will now have a yellow color. If your fabric floats, use as tick (or something similar) to keep your material below the surface.

Step 5. Slowly lift your yarn or fabric from the pot, stirring as little as possible. When the material comes in contact with air, oxidization will start and a blue color will start to appear. Gently squeeze the liquid out for a more even result. The color will intensify over 30min. If you wish for a darker color, ad your yarn or fabric again. However, woad will almost always be a lighter color than indigo.

After dyeing is complete. Wash your yarn or fabric carefully with shampoo or washing powder adapted for sensitive materials. Allow to dry and its ready to use. I always wash my fabrics in the washing machine as I then know that my result will be long lasting and clothing made from this fabric will be washable.

Hope you all feel more prepared to dye with woad now. It was much easier than I thought and we were really happy with the result.


Leave a Reply

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