Colouring Outside the Lines: Cochineal & Woad Dyeing

We were delighted to be part of the Festival of Creative Learning again this year!

Our first workshop was based on dyeing woad and cochineal. After playing with cochineal at our Rosslyn Chapel workshops, we decided we wanted to have a workshop dedicated to it. We combined it with woad since we also felt it was time to start our experiments with that pigment since our plants should reach maturity this year!

Beginning with woad prep, we divided our workshop participants into small groups to mix the woad extract with the soda ash to let it sit before adding it to the vat. We were expecting it to be similar to our experiences to indigo since the pigments are very similar, and it was. After the requisite half hour of letting the woad and soda ash sit, we put the mix into the vat, adding the sodium dithionite to the top. The Ph level need adjusting, so we added a bit more of the chemicals to the vat, and waited. It worked and the wool went into the vat.

 

As with indigo, woad changed colour after it was exposed to the air. It was fascinating to watch the process as it was much slower than the indigo transformations. (You can watch a video here.)

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Wool floating at the top of vat, showing the colours develop as they are exposed to air.

During the various waiting periods for the woad, we divided the group again to mix the cochineal extract with water to form a paste. Since we had a few cochineal, we also let those interested crush them to see how the colour is released when the crushed bug is mixed with a little water. Once the paste (and crushed cochineal) had been added to the vat, we added the wool.

The range of colours produced from the cochineal was extraordinary! We got everything from light pink to a deep magenta, almost maroon. This was one of the team’s favourite pigments to date.

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Range of colours achieved with the cochineal.

This year, we also provided bags for participants to dye and allowed them to bring their own items to add to the vat. The bags were folded in different ways to create patterns on them. Shirts and socks and bags were added at various stages, with fun results!

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