Monday, 5 September 2011

Woad balls!

I've been meaning to blog about our visit to the woad centre in Norfolk. I'd read about Woad-inc in Selvedge magazine a long time ago (and wanted to check it out) but had forgotten about it until I saw it mentioned in one of the leaflets I picked up during our Norfolk holiday. Once I realised that we could take a little detour on the way home to call in, there was no stopping me!

Woad centre sign
Whoo! That's my kind of sign! :D

Woad is a natural dye plant that produces a lovely blue colour. There were some large self-seeded plants in seed outside the buildings (a good clue that we were in the right place!)...
Woad plant in seed

Inside the exhibition area were some beautiful woad-dyed yarns and fabrics and examples of finished articles of clothing dyed with woad (which I tried not to photograph closely because they are specially commissioned designs)...
Woad dyed yarns and fabric

There were lots of lovely shibori dyed silk scarves...
Woad dyed silk scarf
The silk seems to take the dye really well... each scarf was different but they were all stunning.

The people who run Woad-inc grow their own woad and make it into a dye powder using their own special method. They also make woad balls, which are intriguing looking things, a bit bigger than a tennis ball...
Woad balls

Woad balls were created as a way of preserving the woad leaf harvest for use when fresh leaves weren't available or just to store the woad conveniently until it was time to use it. In order to use them, the dried balls must be broken up (they're quite hard), dampened with water and then left in a heap to ferment for a fortnight. Apparently you only get the blue colour if the leaves are dried in a ball shape. Loose-dried leaves don't produce the colour. It must have been a real breakthrough when the woad-growers of the past found that out!

I was fascinated by a display of old photographs showing the stages in traditional woad ball production...
Traditional woad production display
Apparently the photos were taken in Lincolnshire, as quite a lot of woad was grown there.

This handsome horse with a cart-load of woad leaves is standing outside a thatched roller house, where the leaves were crushed using kind of rolling chopping machine, which was powered by another horse...
Horse and cart of woad by roller house

The balls were formed by hand from the crushed leaves and then stacked on racks, where they fermented slightly and then dried out...
Placing woad balls in drying houses

There's nothing like a bit of Lincolnshire-based textile-related history to get me enthused, so I bought some woad balls in the shop and was given a basic instruction leaflet and a website to check out for more information.

The website is Jenny Dean's Wild Colour, which is a great resource for natural plant dyeing. A quick search for 'woad balls' on the website pulls up several posts about Jenny's experiments dyeing with woad balls... I just need to have a read and then I'll (hopefully) be ready to carry out my own woad ball dyeing! I'll keep you posted on my progress! :D

1 comment:

  1. Oooh, I'll be watching closely to see how you get on. I've never tried woad balls before, only fresh leaves. Jenny Dean's site is a brilliant source of information for dyeing - I visit quite a lot.