Summer Update!

Summer has faded and Autumn has come on quickly! And we realised that we have not updated the blog in quite some time. (Our apologies! This is mostly due to busy summers and various members of our team submitting their PhDs!) Buckle up, this will be a longer-than-normal post to catch you up with all of our gardening.

The Greenhouse at the start of the Summer. Madder and woad both growing! Also pictured: the Easter egg we found tucked in the plants! (Chocolate within not consumed…)

Summer saw the weld increase in size quite rapidly, and was well over six feet tall when it was harvested! We ended up with a nice amount of weld to dry and experiment with in the coming months. Since we’ve mostly been using weld extract for our experiments due to time constraints, we’re really excited to use the dried weld at an upcoming project workshop to see how the colour does or does not change.

We also have about a dozen woad plants growing, some in the ground, and others in pots. The team is quite excited that we finally cracked woad, and have a few sizeable plants that will hopefully be mature enough to experiment with at the end of next season.

And after more maybe-madder-maybe-not-madder conundrums early in the season, we can say we officially have a few madder plants growing quite nicely. They’re quite the sticky little plant! While they will not be ready for experiments for another couple of years, we’re nonetheless eager to work with them as they grow.

The other big event in the summer was leaving the Greenhouse. Due to construction at the Edinburgh College of Art, we had to relocate all of the Greenhouse plants to the homes of various project team members. While we’re sad to be losing the space, we’re excited for the ECA renovations! We expect a few new challenges without the Greenhouse, especially when we start cultivating the next generation of plants. (Sorry-ish to any neighbours and flatmates who are confused by the vines appearing in hallways!)

Our winter plans are focused on planning future workshops (fingers-crossed for funding applications to develop woad and cochineal workshops) and caring for the plants over the cold months. We’re also hoping to add a few sections to the website, including Pigment Profiles and a Bibliography on medieval colour and dyes! Stay tuned!



Colouring the Past: Photos

With thanks to the Festival of Creative Learning, ECA Textiles, our volunteers, and our participants.

Colouring the Past: Indigo

As Part of the Festival of Creative Learning at the University of Edinburgh, we hosted  two workshops on colour!

Day One was focused on indigo; Day Two on madder and weld. Both days’ workshops were held in the Edinburgh College of Art Textiles Dye Lab, and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Lindy, Sally, and Fiona for letting us use the space, helping us prepare for the workshops, and offering us advice along the way! We also owe the Festival of Creative Learning a huge thanks, too, for their gracious financial support of the workshops.

The Festival of Creative Learning looks to take learning outside of the traditional classroom, and infuse a little extra creativity into it, as well as encourage students, staff, and wider community members to try something new. Our workshops allowed students and staff from across the university to experiment hands-on with colours used in the Middle Ages (and beyond). From the beginning, we wanted to put the entire process in the participants’ hands, which meant they were the ones actually doing the dyeing, and our team was helping out by clarifying instructions, troubleshooting the vat, and answering any questions.


The day began with us setting up our supplies and prepping the wool in the Dye Lab before participants arrived. Once we had everyone briefed and ready to go, we divided them into two groups. Each group measured out the chemicals and indigo that we would need to ready the vat. Once everything is added, you have to leave it for about thirty minutes for reactions to take place.  Unless you forget to add the Spectralite. In that case, you may be waiting a little bit longer (like we were). In the downtime, though, we introduced everyone to EMPP, our goals, and gave a brief history of indigo and medieval recipes for dyeing with it. After the presentation, we mordanted the wool that would be used in the next day’s workshop.



Once the indigo solution was added to the vat, we again had a little time to wait before it was ready to use for dyeing. So, we took a trip to the garden and the greenhouse, where the seedlings are slowly realising Spring is around the corner.


The dried madder roots we ordered for the workshops had sprouted new growth, so we made a impromptu decision to plant a couple out in the garden in the hopes that they may yield a mature plant.


Once back inside, we put the wool into the vat and left it to dye. We also added a few pieces of parchment to see what it would do. As hoped, it came out a gorgeous shade of blue. (If you’re going to try to dye parchment at home, make sure you lay it out flat, and weight it down while it’s drying to prevent the edges from curling up!) During the waiting period, we answered questions about the dyeing process, our garden and greenhouse, and medieval colour in general. Finally, it was time to pull the wool out.



One of the most interesting parts of the dyeing process is watching the wool turn from a yellow-green to green, and finally, to blue. By the end of the workshop, we had a full spectrum of blue!



We cleaned up the lab, prepped for the madder & weld workshop, and left the wool to dry!

Festival of Creative Learning Workshops!

We will be hosting two workshops at the Festival of Creative Learning at the University of Edinburgh in February!

One will focus on indigo, while the other will focus on madder and weld.

If you’d like more information, or to sign-up, please visit:

You can find our workshops under ‘Colouring the Past’ in the Calendar of Events.

We look forward to welcoming everyone!


Autumn Update!

Over the last several weeks, we’ve been busy tending the seeds we planted in October. So far, a few things have sprouted, but few of these seedlings seem to be thriving in the Greenhouse. We’re hopeful as we are still trying to find our feet with the Greenhouse and find the perfect temperature for all of the plants while figuring out how much water is too much water. There seems to be no noticeable pattern as to how fast the plants dry out!

Baby Woad! 

The weld that we transplanted into pots to bring inside for the winter is finally showing signs of recovering from the transition inside. The weld still outside is also doing well, despite the recent frosts.

In other news, we were awarded a £300 grant by the Festival of Creative Learning at the University of Edinburgh for two workshops in February. We’ll have details of the workshops up soon! Details will include: what we’ll be doing in the workshops, how to sign up (they are open to everyone, including community members!), and how you can follow along if you can’t make it.

The Garden… So Far!

Work in the pigment garden began in February of this year, with volunteers pulling up dead or dying plants from the plot we inherited. Our biggest challenge at this stage was making the plot useable for our purposes. We quickly discovered that there were several invasive plants, such as mint, that would need to be pulled up. The potatoes, rosemary, and currant we inherited we decided to keep. Before we knew it, it was the end of March and nothing had been planted in the garden, but we were spending hours each week tending the plot – mostly fighting against tenacious weeds and turning the soil in preparation for the seedlings.

Meanwhile, we began to plant seeds in a team member’s flat. Once they seemed old enough, they were planted in the garden. Almost immediately, the birds ate the woad, and appeared to have eaten the madder. Unfortunately, the indigo did not survive. We put weld straight into the ground in the garden plot since it had not taken to the indoor conditions. It didn’t seem to be taking root outside, either.

A few weeks of desperate soil turning and lots of weed-pulling, we started seeing plants we couldn’t quite identify. But as many of us were (are) still learning a lot about gardening, we let them grow a bit more. In the end, some of the plants turned out to be nasturtium and borage. The nasturtium quickly took over the two beds they were in. In one bed, they were competing with a vine-like weed that we think was responsible for choking out what indigo there was at the time of transplanting. We thinned them out and pulled up all of the weeds (which took a few goes before it was completely gone) in the hopes that maybe some indigo would appear. We also thinned out the nasturtiums in the woad bed on the hopes that maybe some woad survived.


Meanwhile, over in the weld bed, weld started appearing at an alarming rate. We separated the plants in late July and they’ve continued to do well. Hopefully, we will bring some of the mature plants into the greenhouse before they die of cold, as well as start experimenting with young weld and making yellow pigment! The currant is also in this bed, and seems to be thriving alongside the weld.

The plants we thought may be madder, but may actually just be a weed, are in the bed with the potatoes. It’s our miscellaneous/madder/no idea/potato bed. We’ve spent a few hours researching madder and what it looks like when young, as well as comparing it to pictures of young madder, mature madder, and various weeds to try to determine what it is. And we just aren’t sure. It didn’t pop up where we were expecting the madder to be, but with bird activity and heavy rains earlier in the year, we didn’t want to discount it on the off chance it is madder. Thus, we’re still contemplating the maybe madder…

So far, we have all learned loads about gardening, especially about how little control we have over the elements and actually making things grow. We decided very early on that we would start each plant from seed again in the greenhouse so that we had more control over things like birds and weeds. Further, due to the struggles we had in finding pictures of the plants at each stage of growth, we decided we would document the plants in the greenhouse each week. Hopefully, this will help anyone in the future who wants to try to grow these plants. (Look for the progress reports here soon under the In the Greenhouse tab!)




How to Get Involved!

Interested in joining us?

Send an email to with the following information:

  • Your name
  • Academic affiliation (University/Dept/Programme/Year – if applicable)
  • Email
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  • A brief statement on why you’d like to be involved, and any particular aspects you’d like to be involved with (gardening, experiments, outreach).