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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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!]

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!

 

 

Re-Planting

In response to our compostable planters developing serious mould issues, two volunteers spent yesterday afternoon carefully replanting seeds and (newly discovered) seedlings.

Indigo seems to be the only plant seriously impacted by the mould, and we hope that it’ll start sprouting now that we have changed the pots and removed mouldy soil.

We found one madder seed sprouting, loads of weld, and a few more woad seedlings coming through.

Autumn Update!

Over the last several weeks, we’ve been busy tending the seeds we planted in October. So far, a few things have sprouted, but few of these seedlings seem to be thriving in the Greenhouse. We’re hopeful as we are still trying to find our feet with the Greenhouse and find the perfect temperature for all of the plants while figuring out how much water is too much water. There seems to be no noticeable pattern as to how fast the plants dry out!

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Baby Woad! 

The weld that we transplanted into pots to bring inside for the winter is finally showing signs of recovering from the transition inside. The weld still outside is also doing well, despite the recent frosts.

In other news, we were awarded a £300 grant by the Festival of Creative Learning at the University of Edinburgh for two workshops in February. We’ll have details of the workshops up soon! Details will include: what we’ll be doing in the workshops, how to sign up (they are open to everyone, including community members!), and how you can follow along if you can’t make it.