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!



Edinburgh International Book Festival!

We were very excited to be invited by the Centre for Research Collections to help out with their Edinburgh International Book Festival event: Making a Book in Medieval Scotland! Elizabeth Quaramby Lawrence, Assistant Rare Books Librarian, invited EMPP to speak about colour in Medieval Scotland, to which we readily agreed. The event focused on the Celtic Psalter, an eleventh-century manuscript with fantastic zoomorphic details.

While we thought about experiments in colour we could do, we opted to have more of a show and tell colour session, rather than risk dyeing everyone in the short time we had! We highlighted the colours that are used for the fantastic beasties in the Celtic Psalter, including yellow, green, orange, blue, and purple. Comparing the colours to those in the earlier Book of Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels, we suggested what pigments could have been used – and described how those pigments would have been made. We also talked about our experiences with the various colours, and the project’s future goals for workshops and experiments around manuscript colour.

You can view some of the presentation slides here: Book Festival PowerPoint. 


Colouring the Past: Photos

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

Colouring the Past: Madder & Weld

Time for experimenting with madder & weld! Once again, we prepped the Dye Lab and eagerly awaited for our participants to arrive.


When everyone had arrived and was debriefed on what we would be doing, we handed it over to them! The experiments for madder & weld were comparatively much simpler than the indigo experiment. Instead of having to worry about mixing chemicals and waiting for PH levels to even out, all that was necessary was to mix chalk with water and the pigment extract with water before combining them and putting them into the vat, and giving the vat a good, but gentle, stir.



We decided to use extracts of the plants rather than the ground plant itself because of time constraints. In the case of both madder and weld, to use the plant would take a couple of days to yield viable colour. The extracts take a couple of hours from start to finish. (Longer if you want to go for deeper shades.)



To give the dye vats a chance to settle, we also gave this group a short presentation on EMPP, our goals, the history of madder & weld, and a quick introduction to medieval colour recipes. Then, it was back to the lab to put the wool into the dye vat.



After awhile, we decided to add more extract to the madder vat in the hopes of expediting the process of getting a deeper red, as we seemed to be stuck on a deep shade of dusty rose.


Ultimately, we ended up with a very vibrant yellow from the weld. And the madder gave us a range of reds. We also had some mordanted wool that we had dyed indigo on Day One that we over-dyed with the weld, which yielded several shades of yellow and green on the one skein, dependent on how evenly the indigo had dyed.





Once all of the participants had left, our team cleaned the Dye Lab and took all of the yarn to the Greenhouse, where we hung it over the rafters so that it would dry in the coming days. (And maybe inspire the plants to grow a little more.)



While we were there, we checked on our seedlings, watering where necessary. And after some more debate and comparison, we decided that maybe, just maybe, that one plant that wasn’t labelled was madder!


Maybe Madder?


We hope everyone who participated enjoyed the workshops and everyone else enjoyed hearing about them. Our team is ready to dye again, and experiment with other possibilities with the pigments.

Look out for information on how to get involved in our next workshops!

In the meantime, though, if you’d like to try your hand at home dyeing, we have been using Wild Colours ( for both our seeds and our dyeing supplies, and can recommend their home dyeing kits for an afternoon of fun.

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!



In response to our compostable planters developing serious mould issues, two volunteers spent yesterday afternoon carefully replanting seeds and (newly discovered) seedlings.

Indigo seems to be the only plant seriously impacted by the mould, and we hope that it’ll start sprouting now that we have changed the pots and removed mouldy soil.

We found one madder seed sprouting, loads of weld, and a few more woad seedlings coming through.

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.

Planting in the Greenhouse!

After a meeting with a few new volunteers, we spent some time in the Greenhouse organising supplies and seeding a few plants.

As we’re still without much workspace (the previous occupant had mostly gutted the room, removing most of the furniture), there’s not much set-up in the conventional sense. For now, it’s more about moving the supplies into the room and starting seeding a few things while we await new tables and workspaces.

A few dyer’s greenweed seeds.


Dyers Greenweed was up first today. The seeds themselves are quite colourful, which was a little distraction. It’ll be interesting to see if the plants vary any in colour because of the seeds.

Then it was time to sow a little more weld. While it’s growing well in the garden, we’re re-sowing everything to document how it grows on a weekly basis.

Hundreds of weld seeds. Hopefully, our luck with it will continue!


If you’re interested, we’ll be having another information session about volunteering on 11 October at 14:00. Meeting in the Main Building of the Edinburgh College of Art before heading to the garden and greenhouse! If you can’t make it but would like to be involved, please see the relevant post under the About Us section. 

The day’s seeding.


Greenhouse: Part One

We received the keys to the Greenhouse! After a brief inspection, complete with measuring the space and deciding to adopt the abandoned plants in it, we’ve decided it needs a little work before we start planting. Hopefully, the planting will start in the next few weeks!