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.

 

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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!

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