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.
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!
The workshop table set up.
Talking to the students about what we’d be doing.
Our pigments! Including cochineal, indigo, madder, and weld!
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.
Mixing more pigment.
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.
Stirring the weld, and noticing it’s unique fragrance.
Adding more weld to the vat.
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!
Our faces change, too, when we realise what we have to do!
We’d definitely improve some of the smells if we could!!
Time for experimenting with madder & weld! Once again, we prepped the Dye Lab and eagerly awaited for our participants to arrive.
Measuring madder extract.
Measuring weld extract.
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.
Adding weld solution to the dye vat.
Madder Dye Vat.
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.)
Adding wool to the weld vat.
Putting wool into the weld vat.
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.
Stirring the wool in the madder vat.
EMPP Team Member Joanna working with a participant.
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.
Shades of Madder.
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!
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.
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.
Wool soaking as part of the scouring process.
Soda Ash, Spectralite, and the Indigo!
Combining all of the ingredients.
PH Sticks after testing to make sure levels were accurate.
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.
Image Courtesy of the Festival of Creative Learning & Alice Boreas Photography
Mixing the solutions.
Adding the indigo solution to the vat.
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.
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.
Indigo just out of the dye vat.
The range of wool as it was exposed to more air.
Indigo-dyed yarn a few seconds out of the vat.
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!
One of our lighter samples.
Shades of Dark Blue.
We cleaned up the lab, prepped for the madder & weld workshop, and left the wool to dry!