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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Colouring Outside the Lines: Vellum Edition

For our second Festival of Creative Learning workshop, we decided that it was time to break out the vellum and quills! We wanted to have a session that was drop-in so that people could come in, play with colour, relax, and spend as much time as they wanted to on their take-away project.

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So, we provided small bits of vellum (a mix of animal hides, including deer, cow, and sheep), quills, instructions and ideas, and the pigments. The first group of participants were lucky in that they got to be our assistants in mixing the pigments for use with vellum.

We ordered the oak gall ink so that we wouldn’t have to worry about collecting enough galls and mixing it ourselves. However, the indigo, verdigris, cochineal, and lead tin yellow did need us to mix it. A few volunteers were brave enough to try their hands at breaking the eggs and getting out the yokes!

Mixing it with a little water and the pigments, we had the colours ready to go in no time. Then it was up to the participants what they wanted to draw (or colour)!

 

Festival of Creative Learning 2018!

We’ll be holding two workshops during the Festival of Creative Learning at the University of Edinburgh. Both workshops are free of charge and open to the public.

Where: 50 George Square, 2.54

When: February 21st, 10:00-13:00 & 13:30-16:00

The morning session will focus on dyeing, using woad and cochineal. We’ll have woad plants & cochineals for everyone to see & we’ll explain how they both yield colour before we use extracts of the dye to dye wool! Participants will also be allowed to bring one item that they’d like to dye with either colour. There are a limited number of spaces available for the morning session!

The afternoon session will be based around the process of decorating a manuscript! We’ll have a variety of inks, quills, and vellum for everyone to experiment with. This will be operated on a drop-in basis, but we ask that everyone registers their interest so that we know how many quills to sharpen & people to expect!

Booking information is available here:

To book the morning session: http://www.festivalofcreativelearning.ed.ac.uk/event/colouring-outside-lines-medieval-pigments-how-use-them

To book the afternoon session: http://www.festivalofcreativelearning.ed.ac.uk/event/colouring-outside-lines-medieval-pigments-how-use-them-0

Please note that the links above are only for University of Edinburgh staff and students. If you’re outside of the university and would like to participate, please send us an email (edinburghmedievalpigment@gmail.com) or a DM on Twitter (@MedievalPigment). Just include your name, affiliation (if applicable), and which session(s) you’d like to attend! We’ll add you to the list that way! If you have any other questions, please get in touch!

We will be live Tweeting the sessions on the day & will post a follow-up blog shortly after the event.

[More news about the garden & its progress will be posted soon!]

‘Working with Weld’ at Rosslyn Chapel

For three days in early October, we hosted workshops on Weld with P4 and P5 classes from the area as part of Rosslyn Chapel’s Schools’ Programme ‘Working with Weld’. The workshops were part of the Midlothian Science Festival.

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We started each of the workshops with an introduction to medieval colours, including what colours were most common and how they were made. Students got to handle our wool and vellum samples before doing their own dyeing!

 

One of our goals of the workshop was not only to introduce key facts on medieval colour to the students, but to let them get to work with it! So, we made sure that each step of the dyeing process was divided so that each student would get a chance to help out in some way – from mixing pigments to adding wool to the vat to deciding it was time to pull the wool from the vat.

 

With some of the down time while we were waiting on the wool to dye, we discussed another pigment: cochineal. Some of the students got to crush a few of the cochineal before we added a little water to show them the colour that the bugs yielded. On the last day, we added the week’s cochineal dye to the vat to see what would happen. It changed the colour only slightly since the wool was only in the vat for a few minutes after the addition.

 

As a takeaway, we sent the students home with a handout on weld, as well as their own weld seeds and sample of dyed wool. We also bagged up some of the wool they had dyed for their teachers to use how they deem most appropriate.

 

We loved working with the children at Rosslyn for our first schools’ workshops! They were all engaged and curious, and challenged our own thinking about colour. And we think they – and their teachers – enjoyed, it as well!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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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!

 

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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 (wildcolours.co.uk) for both our seeds and our dyeing supplies, and can recommend their home dyeing kits for an afternoon of fun.