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)!

 

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.

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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!

 

 

‘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!