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!
Freshly out of the vat.
Variations in a skein dyed with woad.
One of the darkest shades achieved with cochineal.
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.
Range of colours achieved with the woad.
Checking the wool.
Wool pulled from the vat and being exposed to air.
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.)
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.
Adding crushed cochineal to the vat.
Adding wool and seeing how quickly it is absorbed by the wool.
Wool in the vat.
Removing wool from the vat.
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.
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!
Cochineal vat with wool and canvas bags.
Bags floating in the cochineal vat.
A participant’s shirt pulled out of the woad vat.
The same shirt after being dipped in the cochineal vat.
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.
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.
The weld seed pods.
Some of the weld after it was dried.
Weld at the start of the summer.
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!
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!
We’d definitely improve some of the smells if we could!!
Our faces change, too, when we realise what we have to do!