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woad-msg - 1/30/08


The history of woad. Using woad to dye plants, animals and humans. Making dyes from woad.


NOTE: See also these files: dyeing-msg, tattoos-msg, Picts-msg, urine-uses-msg, mordants-msg, dye-list-art.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I  have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I  have done  a limited amount  of  editing. Messages having to do  with separate topics  were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the  message IDs  were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make  no claims  as  to the accuracy  of  the information  given by the individual authors.


Please  respect the time  and  efforts of  those who have written  these messages. The  copyright status  of these messages  is  unclear at this time. If  information  is  published  from  these  messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



From: Chaz Butler

Re: Woad

Date: 25 Apr 91


Woad, the real stuff.


You should be able to get woad from almost any good herbal supply house;  however, please remember that it is a PERMANENT STAIN.  It does NOT wash off  with soap and water but only through wear.  If you want to PAINT A PICT that  is fine, but remember only to paint those areas that will not show beyond  mundane street clothes unless you work in a non-9 to 5 job.


* Origin: Aronson Consulting: TIDMADT 703-370-7054, voice x6508 (1:109/120)



From: winifred  at trillium.soe.umich.EDU (Lee Katman)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: woad from seed to dye

Date: 14 Mar 1993 23:02:17 -0500


There is a book by Jamieson Hurry called Woad Plant and its Dye.

I have not read it, but it was recommended to me. Here's a quote

of a review:


"scholarly and fascinating study of the woad plant. chapters include

cultivation, manufacture of woad, the woad mill, the woad vat,

extraction of Indican from woad and more. 238 pages, illustrations."


2 years ago, it was $42.50 (US) from Creek Water Wool Works

PO Box 716, Salem Oregon, 97308, (503) 585-3302. No doubt you

can get it from a bookshop that special orders.


These folks also have a nice selection of other books on dyeing and

spinning and weaving. Their catalogue is $4.00.





Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Cooking fires

From: bloodthorn at sloth.equinox.gen.nz (Jennifer Geard)

Date: Sun, 21 Mar 93 03:35:35 GMT

Organization: Lethargy Inc.


Fiacha wrote:


  > Cooking sites are well known in Irish archeology. They consist of the

  > firepit, a collection of fired stones, a cooking pit and access to water.

  > The assumption is that the cooking pit was filled with water and the

  > stones were heated in the fire. The hot stones were then placed in the

  > cooking pit until the water was boiling. At this point the food was

  > placed in the boiling water and more stones were added as necessary to

  > keep the water boiling until the food was cooked.


This technique was also used in woad dyeing to keep the vessel warm enough

for fermentation but not so hot that it boiled. Interesting overlaps, but

what advantages did it have for cooking?  Hmmm... I visited one of my

survivalist friends last month who told me how to use this technique to boil

water held in an animal skin when you didn't have a metal kettle, but if they

were putting the stones into a metal vessel it seems a bit unecessary.  Any

ideas why the technique was used?


Thank you for the information.




Jennifer Geard                         bloodthorn at sloth.equinox.gen.nz

Christchurch, New Zealand



From: meg at tinhat.stonemarche.org (meg)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: re:Woad

Date: Fri, 11 Mar 94 10:50:14 EST

Organization: Stonemarche Network Co-op


from Megan to all who sing the blues:

A good sourcebook for woad recipes is The Dyer's Companion, by Elijah

Bemiss, Dover books, ISBN 0-486-20601-6. Although it is OOP (1815) it

contains good workable recipes that have stood the test of time. The

field vat for woad has been reproduced sucessfully at Pennsic...if enough

people have an interest in it we can do it again this year.  Let me know

in advance so I can bring my dye pot.  We will need volunteers to sit it

and monitor the temperature for at least 2 days, around the clock. Ah,

those midnight woad revels..."is it soup yet, Mom?" "Wake up Gwennis,

time to stir the woad!" "Ah, excuse me, but I just happened to be passing

by...can you tell me what you are cooking in there? It smells like piss."

"It is."

Oh yes..the Order of the Blue Chemise.("Opps! Splashed some there.  Oh

well, I'll just throw the whole chemise in the vat. I wonder, are blue

chemises period?" "For dyers, possibly" "Well, only the clumsy ones".


Woad is me.



In 1994: Linda Anfuso

In the Current Middle Ages: Megan ni Laine de Belle Rive  

In the SCA, Inc: sustaining member # 33644



From: meg at tinhat.stonemarche.org (meg)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Looking for Woad in all the wrong places...

Date: Wed, 04 May 94 00:01:26 EDT

Organization: Stonemarche Network Co-op


slv3m at cc.usu.edu writes:


> In article <2pjsf9$pcf at pdq.coe.montana.edu>, michelle at xph029.oscs.montana.edu

> >

> >      I've just been checking all my files, and noticed that my address for

> > get woad (Or the makings therof, the nonhallucinogenic kind as I don't wann

> > the Feds) got nuked along with some other mail of mine.  I was hoping someo

> > Rialto would know where I can get some? (Preferably close to home, home bei

> > MT. But I'm willing to do mail order) Phah...just the time of year I actua

> > running around with blue spirals and not much else, I can't get the stuff!!

> > *Insert me bonking my head on the keyboard and cursing my stupidity...bonk!

> >

> > Magdalena Vladimirovna Krasnov, MoAS of the Shire of Silverkeep.

> > ("Whaddayamean, I'm MoAS?  My butt isn't THAT big, is it?  )


> Magdalena,


> I live in Utah.  The place is  inundated with Dyer's wode that was first

> brought over by the mornon settlers.  I have no idea if this is the right

> kind, but can find out the genus and species name for you if this will help.

> This is the raw plant however, not the refined dye.


> In service,

> Gillian de Raveley

> Shire of Cote du Ciel

> Artemisia, Atenvelt


Megan the Woad monger here.

If you want to process your indiginous woad (gosh, what a great pun!) I

would refer you to The Dyer's Handbook, by Elijah Bemiss, from Dover



If you want to purchase some already processed woad, I import the real

thing from Scotland, and can sell it to you by mail. $ 4.00 per half

ounce, which when ground to a fine powder and mixed with rubbing alcohol

makes a fine body paint,NON HALLUCINIGENIC. One half ounce can do one

large person twice or two medium people once. I have been selling it for

over 10 years at Pennsic, with no complaints.


You can also use it for dyeing. :-)




In 1994: Linda Anfuso

In the Current Middle Ages: Megan ni Laine de Belle Rive  

In the SCA, Inc: sustaining member # 33644



From: gwennis at infinet.com (Gwennis Mooncat)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Oh woad is me....

Date: 5 Nov 1994 03:19:26 GMT

Organization: dyes are us


Peter Rose (WISH at uriacc.uri.EDU) wrote:


:   Since you've brought it up, what *IS* the process necesary to

:   get dye from woad?


to begin with, only first year plants produce indigotin. the second year, it

all goes into producing flowers/seeds.


you collect the leaves from around the base of the plant. stuff them into a

jar. pack it in.  pour boiling water over them. cover. leave about 45

minutes.  carefully pour off the liquid [which should be brownish]  squeeze

out the leaves and dispose of them.


after that, you need to pour the liquid back and forth between two jars or

whatever to develop the indigo. then you will need to process the bath as

for regular indigo, i.e., a fermentation process or a chemical tank.  [stale

urine or sodium hydroxide and lye]


this is a complex process, and i would heartliy suggest to anyone

considering it to read up.  there are several books on the market that have

the info.  i would start with rita buchanan, "a weaver's garden".  there is

also a booklet put out byt the brooklyn botanical gardens that has an

article by rita with useful info in it.  only a few years old, but i don't

have it handy right nonw [i loaned it out].  also, look for j.n. liles, "the

art and craft of natural dyeing".


using woad and indigo is somewhat smellier and messier than other dyestuffs.

i recommend doing it outdoors.





mistress gwynydd ni gelligaer, ol, called gwennis

tarkhanum, khanate basking lizard, great darke horde

shire of tirnewydd, barony middle marches, midrealm, aka columbus, oh

member #34497, society for creative anachronism     .sigfile v. 1.03

email:  gwennis at infinet.com        since the info was requested...8-)



From: gwennis at infinet.com (Gwennis Mooncat)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Oh woad is me....

Date: 8 Nov 1994 07:24:27 GMT


Michael A. Chance (mchance at crl.com) wrote:


: Something that I've yet to see anyone mention here: Before planting

: any woad seeds/plants, check with your local agricultural authorities.

: In many areas of the U.S., at least, woad is illegal to grow

: intentionally, having been declared a "pernicious weed".


yes, i had forgotten this.  one way to prevent potential problems is to wrap

the seed heads in cheesecloth before they develop completely. catch all the

seeds for your next crop.  if they can't blow away, they can't become a





mistress gwynydd ni gelligaer, ol, called gwennis       natural dyes maven

tarkhanum, khanate basking lizard, great darke horde    i have 2 cats   8)

shire of tirnewydd, barony middle marches, midrealm       columbus, ohio

member #34497     society for creative anachronism     usenet: rec.org.sca

email: gwennis at infinet.com   wizard at sanctuary: telnet 7200



From: gwennis at infinet.com (Gwennis Mooncat)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: a woad question

Date: 13 May 1995 04:04:34 GMT


Emily Sue Pinnell (esp at cup.portal.com) wrote:


: Greetings gardeners & craftspeople!


:      Has anyone worked with fresh woad?  I have some in my garden, and

: tried the directions in Rita Buchanan's _A Weaver's Garden_ to dye

: some white wool, but have only gotten a lovely grey (not what I wanted).

:      Any hints, clues, even failed experiences?  Is it worth devoting a large

: chunk of plant space to these woad/weeds?  If I can get blue without

: having to make woad balls first...


greetings: i suspect that perhaps you were using second year plants, that

had already flowered? the strength of the plant goes into making seed, not

dye the second year.  you must use first year plants only for good color.


you should be able to get good color from rita's directions. i will add that

i have done urine tanks, and they are quite slow to dye. mine took almost a

week to get good color on my wool, with repeated dippings of up to 24 hours

with a similar airing inbetween dips.  and woad is less strong than

concentrated indigo that you purchase.  however, i have a friend growing

plants for me this year and i hope for a good crop.  if you have the space,

try it.  you should be able to get several harvests from it over the season.


good luck. hope this helps.  please drop me a note if you need more help,

and let me know how it turns out.




mistress gwynydd ni gelligaer, ol, called gwennis       natural dyes maven

tarkhanum, khanate basking lizard, great darke horde    i have 2 cats   8)

shire of tirnewydd, barony middle marches, midrealm       columbus, ohio

member #34497     society for creative anachronism     usenet: rec.org.sca

email: gwennis at infinet.com  



From: cav at bnr.ca (Rick Cavasin)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Anyone seen Braveheart yet?

Date: 26 May 1995 17:39:03 GMT

Organization: Bell-Northern Research Ltd.


sclark at blues.epas.utoronto.ca (Susan Carroll-Clark) writes:

|>     Someone was running around before the field battle the last time

|> I was at Pennsic painting woad trilliums on all the Ealdormerians.  I

|> had one on my hand, and can confirm a dark, indigo-coloured blue.


The pure pigment in woad will indeed be a deep, indigo blue because,

coincidentally,  the 'indigo' plants (there are a number of species)

and woad contain chemically identical pigments.  Indigo displaced woad

in industrial dyeing because the indigo plant contains much higher

concentrations of the pigment, and so the extraction is less labourious.

However, once you extract the pigment from the plant, there is little to

no difference between indigo and woad.


Just to be nit-picky, and show off my recently acquired knowledge of dyestuffs,

it should be noted that technically, you don't really 'dye' your skin with

woad unless you are using a strong chemical reducing agent and

are working fast, or you actually immerse yourself in a working woad

vat.  This is because indigo/woad works by a reduction/oxidation process.

The blue pigment is insoluble, and must be reduced (either chemically, or

by the period fermentation process).  Once the indigo blue is reduced to

indigo white, the indigo white can be dissolved in a  mild alkali.  The

way you dye something is to carefully (so as not to introduce oxygen) immerse

the thing you want to dye into the vat so that the dissolved indigo white

can get on it.  When you pull it out and it comes into contact with the

oxygen in the air, PRESTO CHANGO, the indigo white is oxydized back to

insoluble indigo blue and it is very difficult to get off. Woad works

the same way.  It's alot of trouble when done the period way, but it gave

such a nice, fast blue (and it's about the only good blue) that it was

worth it.

Something that is painted on the skin would have to be just that, a paint

or stain, where the blue indigo/woad pigment is mixed with some sort of binder

and painted on, just like any other solid pigment. (if you were truly dyeing,

the dye would be greenish or yellowish until it got on you) So theoretically,

you should be able to get any colour of blue you want, just by adding other

pigments to the binder with your woad.  A painter familiar with mixing

pigments might have a better guess, but I suspect that adding a bit of

chalk should give you a pale blue.  Hmmmm.....since the indigo/woad

pigment is insoluble, it seems to me that it is highly unlikely that

it would have any psycho-active or anesthetic properties. How would your

body assimilate an insoluble substance?


Cheers, Balderik/Rick (who's currently reaching new heights of ollifactory

offensiveness by combining parchment making with indigo dyeing)



From: bbrisbane at aol.com (BBrisbane)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Need Woad Recpe: anyone????

Date: 18 Dec 1995 20:46:26 -0500


MiLord,  I can probably can help you, but I need to know what you are

going to do with the woad???


First you get some woad plants and ferment them, the color develops in an

alkaline environment which turns blue when exposed to the air.  Thats the

basics, I suggest you pick up a natural dye book that covers both Indigo &

woad dyes.  Turning woad into a pigment for paints is a step or two

further.  If you are looking to buy ready made Woad and need recipes for

it's use, see book above.  


A good book is :

     'The Art and craft of Natural Dyeing

     -Traditional Recipes for Modern Use'

     by J.N. Liles

     the University of Tennessee Press

     copyright 1990

     isbn 0-87049-670-0 (pbk)


Good Luck, --- Lady Phillipia cupbreaker

                        Principality of AEthelmearc MOAS



From: mchance at crl.com (Michael A. Chance)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: woad

Date: 19 Jan 1996 08:09:40 -0800


Cadwaladr Mac Fionbharr asks:


>where can i get woad plants, and a recipe for woad dye?


If you're looking for woad plants to put in your garden, check your

local environmental laws first.  In many places in North America, woad

is classed as a "pernicious weed" and is illegal to plant

intentionally, often with steep fines for those that do.


Mikjal Annarbjorn


Michael A. Chance          St. Louis, Missouri, USA   "At play in the fields

Work: mc307a at sw1stc.sbc.com                             of St. Vidicon"

Play: mchance at crl.com



From: mgallehe at nova.umuc.edu (MJG)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: woad

Date: 22 Jan 1996 16:11:43 -0500

Organization: University of Maryland University College


please see earlier posts on the potential dangers of woad before

proceeding.....however it grows wild in many places in NA particularly

anyplace with a history of Scottish immigration...it was prized as a

dye and brought with them when they came.... dyers woad is found wild all

over VA-Wva and S.C. for this reason...



Date: Thu, 09 Oct 1997 22:19:38 -0700

From: Brett and Karen Williams <brettwi at ix.netcom.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Natural Dyes-- Woad (was Kamala and Fustic)


SNSpies at aol.com wrote:

> Woad and weld are both very easy to grow.  Seeds are available from Richter's

> in Canada (email:  orderdesk at richters.com   web site:  www.richters.com

> phone:  1-905-640-6677).


> Dyeing with them are covered well in Rita Buchanan's A Weaver's Garden

> (Interweave Press, 1987) and Jill Goodwin's A Dyer's Manual (Pelham Books,

> 1982).  If you can't find these, I would be happy to send you the pertinent

> pages.


> Cheers. Nancy (Ingvild)


However, there's a caveat attached to the growing of woad...


Back in the last century, woad was introduced into the northern Utah

ecosystem by settlers who brought it west to use as a dyestuff. It has

since turned into a pest that is to this day busily insinuating iself

into the local flora. The plant has a looong taproot and will regenerate

itself easily from a whacked-off base just like that common lawn pest,

the dandelion. There's a prohibition in Utah and, IIRC, other western

states on distribution of woad seeds and woad cultivation-- and I've

even heard tell of small bounties for bringin' in woad dead or alive. If

you're an Artemisian, feel free to eradicate any and all local wild woad

you can find to stock that dyebath! IIRC, it takes about a pound of woad

leaves to set up a blue dyebath for four ounces of wool in summer, when

indigotin is running rampant in the plant.


Please check with your local agricultural bunch before setting woad

loose in the garden. There are certain places in the West where one can

be fined for growing woad deliberately as it will efficiently and

prolifically set seed and attempt to broadcast 'children' everywhere. If

I were personally contemplating growing woad, I'd confine the creeps to

a container and carefully keep the plants from setting seed by cutting

off any sign of flower buds and/or cover any flowers with a little bag

to keep the seeds under control.


Incidentally, there's quite a lovely set of surprising colors that can

be obtained from woad depending on the time of year and the part of the

plant used, ranging from light salmon pinks, some warm beiges and

grey-brown neutrals in addition to the classic indigo blue

ranges. There's a very interesting pair of articles in the Summer, 1997

issue of Interweave Press' Spin.Off, which has some fascinating color

pictures of both Saxon green (weld with an over-dye of woad) and a range

of woad colors. The articles don't go into a whole lot of specific

detail with respect to precise recipes-- but they do offer the following

as further information:


Buchanan, Rita. _A Dyer's Garden : From Plant to Pot Growing Dyes for

Natural Fibers_, Interweave Press, ISBN: 1883010071


Austin, Carole. "Woad: A Medieval Dye," Fiberarts 13, No. 3 (May/June

1986): 29-30


Bliss, Anne. "Getting Woaded for Winter" Interweave 2, no. 1 (Fall

1976): 22-23


Buchanan, Rita. "Grown Your Own Colors-Plant a Dye Garden," Spin.Off XI,

no. 1 (Spring 1987): 35-40


Goodwin, Jill. A Dyer's Manual, ISBN: 0720713277


"True Blue," Spin.Off Quarterly Newsletter, Spetember 1982:16.


Please note that with the exception of the Rita Buchanan book,

everything else is out of print. At the risk of sounding a little

patronizing, which ain't the intent here-- as a pointer to a less

experienced researcher who might be reading this, the magazine articles

referenced above indicate a specific range of pages in the issue in

which the relevant article is located-- and observe the correlation in

author's name between the one longish magazine article and one of the

books. In this instance I personally wouldn't get hot under the ruff to

hunt down magazine articles for just one page of information, or

information that's probably duplicated elsewhere-- go for the two books






Date: Tue, 20 Jan 1998 15:59:13 -0600 (CST)

From: alysk at ix.netcom.com (Elise Fleming)

Subject: SC - Woad in Food


Greetings!  Adamantius wrote:


>I'm not aware of woad being used in food. More likely tournesole, I'd



Actually, I believe it was.   There is a reference to "ynde wawdeas" in

_Curye on Inglisch_ that when it is mixed with saffron and egg white it

will produce green; the more saffron, the lighter the green) My guess

is that this is "indigo wode."  If memory serves (I'm not runnig off to

the book!) it was used to color a boiled sugar syrup for making "sugar

plate" or else for coloring sugar candy.  I can provide the specific

recipe number if anyone really wants it.


Alys Katharine



Date: Tue, 20 Jan 1998 21:08:53 -0500

From: gar at eznet.net

Subject: Re: SC - Re: woad OT




Woad comes from Isatis tinctoria - an herbaceous plant


The primary use was as a blue dye.  It was a popular dye until around

the 1630's when indigo began to be used.


The fermentation of woad gives of a very strong and foul smell.


As to Celtic use, they used woad, painted their bodies with woad, the

blue color was for effect in battle, the smell was also used to impress

the enemy.  The Celtic use of woad is reported to be a mixture of many

ingredients which is mostly lost to time, however it was noted that some

hallucenogenic herbs were mixed into the woad blend which gave the

warriors an "edge".  In addition, woad is a very strong astringent so

that they had an advantage in that cuts and wounds would not bleed for

very long.  As an herb it also lowers fever and reduces inflammation.


So, all in all, being painted with woad before heading for battle had a

lot of benfits.





Date: Thu, 22 Jan 1998 16:18:18 -0800

From: Irissa Mitchell <IrissaM at stlabs.com>

Subject: SC - RE: woad OT


I just found out from our local State Master Gardener that yes, woad is

edible. It tastes like the outer leaves of broccoli, very bitter.

However, it cannot be used to make food blue though.  The process that

makes the blue dye causes it to become toxic. Also some states classify

woad as a noxious weed (hence - illegal to grow it.)





Subject: WOAD Question

Date: Sat, 31 Jan 1998 10:21:20 -0500

From: Betty & David Eyer <Betty_and_David at compuserve.com>

To: Merry Rose <atlantia at atlantia.sca.org>


I am replying to the lady who was inquiring about growing woad.  I

apologize, but I inadvertantly deleted the post from my pc and cannot

remember her name.


I planted woad last spring and it is doing well in my garden as we speak.

I tested it for dye last summer, and got a pleasant, but somewhat light

blue on wool and silk.  I have posted to various fibercraft lists and found

my results to be fairly normal - it takes a LOT (10-12 full size plants?)

to get a deep blue on a pound of wool, and extracting it from a new plant

is not as easy as using purchased indigo.


It is good to start it fairly early in the spring or start it in the fall

and let it over winter.  The latter is the method that it uses to self seed

and if the plant has a chance to get established, then it will do well over

the winter.  It likes a rich, loose soil and it will exhaust any plot it is

put in after a few seasons.  I put mine in a small elevated bed full of

composted soil and lots of mulch. That plot tends to stay rather damp, but

the woad doesnt seem to mind.


When it is very small, it looks like almost every other weed in your

garden, so I recommend that you start it indoors and move it to a well

weeded garden once it is large enough to recognize.  It is slow to get

going.  I planted mine in late March and in May, I thought it had been a

failure and started weeding the plot.  When I noticed my gloves turning

blue-green, I decided that I was making a terrible mistake and stopped.

It sort of like a loose cabbage, with big, elongated leaves, somewhat

thicker on the ends than close to the root.  It will get to be larger than

a dinner plate  before it seeds.  It seeds by sending up tall stalks with

little pods.


The plant is most potent in mid summer, but will give color throughout the

warm months.  It is a biennial and self seeds on its second season.

CAUTION: it is a very prolific self seeder and is considered a noxious

weed!  If left to itself, once established, it will TAKE OVER!  When the

seeds begin to develop, wrap them in cheese cloth or similar and remove

them for later use once they are fully developed.  Do not let them drop in

your garden or blow about your yard.  6 woad plants in full seed will

supply you and all of your friends with plenty of plants. I got my seeds

in the mail from an electronic friend on a fibercraft forum.  It is illegal

to sell the seeds commercially in some states and I have never seen the

seeds for sale.  I have a very few seeds, but should have plenty next fall.


There is a good description of using fresh indigo in the book 'A Weaver's

Garden' by Rita Buchanan.  Her methods work very well for woad.  She also

discusses woad's cultivation and a brief history.   Although I have not

done enough experimentation to speak with real authority, I believe that a

fermentation vat will work better at getting the most out of woad than a

quick, chemical vat.  I left some sample pieces in the mash left over from

my test and put it out on the patio for two months.  I got better color

>from that sample than from the chemical vat.


I have never used fresh woad for er....ah.... ceremonial reasons.  However,

crushing a fresh leaf in mid summer and rubbing it vigorously on the pulse

area of your wrist will convince you that its alleged mental effects are

not mythical.


Magdalena de Hazebrouck



From: cav at storm.ca (Rick Cavasin)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: the making of Wode

Date: 18 Mar 1998 18:54:08 GMT

Organization: Handmade Parchment and Vellum


Mark Cantwell <cantwel at goodnet.com> writes:


|> Hmm, I'd have to suggest that you use theatrical greasepaint if you want

|> to wear blue battle marks. Woad is a transparent plant dye that is

|> semi-permanent (like black walnut juice or henna) and will take days or

|> weeks to come out of your skin.


This is true, except that woad/indigo is a 'vat dye'.  The dyestuff, 'indigo

blue' is not soluble until it is chemically reduced to 'indigo white', which

is soluble in alkaline solutions.  In period, this was typically achieved

using a vat of fermenting urine.  The fermentation produced a reduction

enviroment (and the ammonia made it alkaline).  You dip your textile into

the vat, and when you pull it up, the indigo white that has penetrated the

fibres oxidizes back to indigo blue and is fixed to the fibers.


Unless you reduce the woad/indigo using some form of fermentation, or using

a chemical reducing agent, it won't bind to your skin (I know, I've rubbed

powdered indigo into parchment with my bare hands and it only stained spots

where my skin had been abraded and it got into the pores).


You should be able to treat woad/indigo as an insoluble pigment.  Mix it with

a binder and paint it on like any other pigment.


NB: I am not implying that I think it is a particularly period thing to do.


Cheers, Rick/Balderik



From: comac at webtv.net (Kathleen Coburn)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: the making of Wode

Date: Mon, 23 Mar 1998 20:03:03 -0800


Check out "The Woad Page" at:



The woad plant is illegal in some places only because it is considered

to be a weed that will 'push out' native plants.  


The site also gives instructions for making dye from the woad plant.

And, if not illegal in your area, places where seeds for growing the

plant can be purchased.


Lady Q



From: jen_guy at mindspring.com

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Woad, again

Date: Thu, 23 Apr 1998 03:46:44 GMT


Morgan E. Smith wrote:

>   I just got given a packet of woad seeds by a local gardener, which I'm

> going to try growing in pots on my balcony. Does anyone have any advice on

> the gardening end? Does woad require lots of sun? Since it grows well in

> Britain, should I assume that they need lots of watering? What kind of

> potting soil would suit them best? How close should they be planted?

>   I'm known for my conspicuous lack of a green thumb, but I really want

> these to work...

> Morgan the Unknown


You might be interested in this site, if you haven't been there

already. They have some very step-by-step information on the subject.


The Woad Page



Hope those thumbs turn blue real soon!




Jenny Guy



Date: Mon, 24 Aug 1998 17:46:25 -0400

From: "Gaylin Walli" <g.walli at infoengine.com>

Subject: SC - Buying (using & preparing) Woad


Micaylah asked:

>Can you tell me where I could possibly buy woad seeds. I would love to try

>growing this. Our climate is somewhat similar to Scotland so perhaps I'll

>have some luck.


Although you asked Mistress Christianna for this information, I

happen to have the following link to the Woad Page on the Web

that might help you out. It lists possible suppliers as well

as a variety of other information about the plant, including

processing instructions:







Date: Mon, 24 Aug 1998 15:31:17 -0700

From: "Anne-Marie Rousseau" <acrouss at gte.net>

Subject: Re: SC - Buying (using & preparing) Woad


Hey from Anne-Marie

we are asked:

>Can you tell me where I could possibly buy woad seeds. I would love to try

>growing this. Our climate is somewhat similar to Scotland so perhaps I'll

>have some luck.


In washington state, woad is a noxious weed and its against the law to

cultivate it. There's a master gardner here in the Seattle area though that

has a special dispensation and she's had some wodnerful results with it as

a dye. She says it tastes nasty though...


you can email her at avagard at halcyon.com. Her name is Leticia.


- --AM



From: Ferret <dnb105 at psu.edu>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Woad isn't.... Period !

Date: Mon, 24 Aug 1998 16:43:14 -0400


In answer to the postings regarding Woad and my response, here is the

segment from my British history monograph ( available at

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/7050 )


"Another item that separates these earlier inhabitants of Britain from

their Celtic neighbors in Gaul and Hibernia is the alleged use of body painting. Although there are many references to tattooing through out Europe, the Britons supposedly painted themselves blue. This attribute has also been ascribed to the Picts 300 years later. It is only based on Caesar's comment in Gallic Wars, "Omnes vero Se Britanni vitro inficiunt, quod caeruleum efficit colorem" (Edwards, 1917: 251) This is translated, even in current works, as "All the Brittani, indeed, dye themselves with woad, which produces a dark-blue coloring". Unfortunately this is not what Caesar says. He says " In fact, all the Britons infect themselves with glass." or "In fact, all the Britons dye themselves with glazes". Note that he does not mention woad at all, yet there is a continuous belief that woad is "the" agent used by the Britons and there is no basis for this belief. I comment on this to illustrate that even accepted works such as those of Wainwright and Henderson are suspect, especially when they transfer these alleged descriptions of the Brittons onto the Picts in Caledonia to try to explain the name Pict."





From: hrjones at uclink.berkeley.edu (Heather Rose Jones)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Woad isn't.... Period !

Date: 27 Aug 1998 16:46:05 GMT

Organization: University of California, Berkeley


Having had a few minutes free in the library yesterday, I though I'd toss

out a little more data regarding the best interpretation of Caesar's

"vitrum" and "inficio".


Lewis & Short list four classical Latin authors as using "vitrum" in the

meaning "woad". One is the aforementioned Caesar, and one (Pomponius Mela

in his "De Situ Orbis" book 3, chapter 6 para. 5) has a very similar

passage to Caesar's, describing some group of people (I haven't deciphered

the whole passage and couldn't lay hands on a bilingual edition) as "vitro

corpora infecti" (i.e., bodies 'inficio' with 'vitrum').


A third author (Vitruvius Pollio in his "On Architecture", book 7 chapter

14) supplies a context that is neither ambiguous nor general in meaning:

"Item propter inopiam coloris indici cretam selinusiam aut anulariam

vitro, quot Graeci _isatin_ appellant, inficientes imitationem faciunt

indici coloris." That is, "Also, because of the scarcity of indigo they

make a dye of chalk from Selinus, or from broken beads, along with

'vitrum' which the Greeks call _isatis_, and obtain a substitute for

indigo." (The published translation but with 'vitrum' substituted for the

translator's 'woad'.) Here 'vitrum' is explicitly given as a substitute

for indigo, and as identical to Greek 'isatis' (which some may recognize

as the modern genus name of woad). Also worth noting is the use of

"inficientes" in "inficientes imitationem faciunt" which the translator

has rendered rather loosely as "[they] obtain a substitute" but more

literally becomes "they make imitation 'inficiens' (pl.)" where

"inficiens" is a noun related to the verb "inficio". The section this

passage appears in is related to the production of pigments for stucco

painting, and a wide variety of derivatives of "inficio" are used to refer

to the process of dying, staining, or painting.


The fourth author listed as using 'vitrum' for 'woad' is Pliny in his

Natural History. Unfortunately, the relevant volume wasn't on the shelf

when I was poking around, howver a passage that mentions 'isatis' in the

context of useful plants (book 20, chapter 25) is interesting for two

reasons. Several related plants are being described: "Tertium genus in

silvis nascens isatin vocant. Huius folia trita cum polenta vulneribus

prosunt. Quarto infectores lanarum utuntur." That is, "A third kind

growing in woods is called 'isatis'. Its leaves pounded up with barley are

good for wounds. A fourth kind is used by dyers of wools." That is,

"infectores" = "dyers", specifically of cloth. But note that the leaves of

'isatis' are said to be good for wounds (_not_ a processed woad dye, but a

poultice of the leaves). This may be the origin of the common folklore

about woad-based paint being antiseptic. Mind you, Pliny's got a lot of

medical advice that is pure bunk.


But put into the above context, the points to note are that we have

'vitrum' being used in a context where it is clearly equated to 'isatis'

and promoted as a substitute for indigo -- a pretty unambiguous and

specific reference to woad. And we find that one of the common and

standard uses of the verb 'inficio' and its derivatives is to refer to the

painting of surfaces and the dying of cloth.


Given this, the standard scholarly interpretation of Caesar's "'inficio'

with 'vitrum'" as "paint with woad" does not appear to clamor for any

alternate translation.


Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn



From: hrjones at uclink.berkeley.edu (Heather Rose Jones)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Woad isn't.... Period !

Date: 27 Aug 1998 21:06:23 GMT

Organization: University of California, Berkeley


Ferret (dnb105 at psu.edu) wrote:

: Heather Rose Jones wrote:


: > painting of surfaces and the dying of cloth.


: I have no arguement that woad/isatis (the plant) was known and used as a

: pigment in the times in question. Vitro has several meanings of which

: only one might be "woad". It seems to be similar to the modern usage of


"Vitrum" (I prefer to stick to citation forms when talking about words

abstractly) has _two_ basic meanings, not several, one of which clearly

_is_ "woad", not "might be".


: indigo as a plant, dye and color. Still to ambiguous to prove that

: Caesar's Britons painted themselves with woad. It certainly is a far cry

: from ever supporting woad Picts and certainly painted Scots is a pure

: fabrication cum hallucination :-).


Yes, but your argument appeared to be that it was erroneous to interpret

Caesar's phrase as "paint with woad" -- not that it was erroneous to claim

that medieval Scots splashed themselves with poster paints.


: > with 'vitrum'" as "paint with woad" does not appear to clamor for any

: > alternate translation.


: Only if you reject other reasonable alternatives (tatooing,

: scarification)


You have yet to demonstrate that there is a basis for believing that the

verb "inficio" can reasonably be interpreted in context as meaning "to

tattoo" or "to scarify". Given that, it isn't a matter of rejecting "other

reasonable alternatives" but rather of rejecting a reasonable alternative

for ones that have not yet been shown to be reasonable.


: Acccept that vitro has many alternative meanings and almost every single


No, I don't accept that it has "many" meanings. Please demonstrate what

meanings it had other than "glass" and "woad". (Which appear to be

unrelated homophones rather than one sense being extended to a different



: document of the times refers to the celtic/gaulish/British cultures as

: tatooing _not_ painting. Caesar's description has at least three

: reasonable interpretations only one of which is body painting.


Which documents? I'm curious. What were the vocabulary items used? What is

the supporting evidence that those vocabulary items clearly mean "to

tattoo" or "to scarify"? You're the one who's done the research on this --

cite me something that will convince me.


Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn



From: Ferret <dnb105 at psu.edu>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Woad isn't.... Period !

Date: Wed, 26 Aug 1998 21:47:56 -0400


Heather Rose Jones wrote:


> "Vitrum" (I prefer to stick to citation forms when talking about words

> abstractly) has _two_ basic meanings, not several, one of which clearly

> _is_ "woad", not "might be".


Based on the two three examples you gave vitrum is easily translated as

dye _not_ woad. The plant usage is to me a forced definition.


1. Vitruvius refers to the substitute plant by its Greek name implying

that there is no Latin word for. My translation of him would be : "they

make a substitute made from Selinus chalk, broken beads and a dye from

the plant the Greeks call Isatis.


2. Pomponius is similar to Caesar's except that he claims the people in

question "do not make (infectus)" their bodies dyed. Or forcing your use

of woad, they don't dye their bodies with woad. Infectus _does not_

equate to inficio (v. dye,stain, tarnish, corrupt etc.).


3. Caesar has already been mentioned.


4. Pliny has the same problems as Vitruvius, in the passage you quote he

simply uses the greek name implying there is no Latin term for the



> Yes, but your argument appeared to be that it was erroneous to interpret

> Caesar's phrase as "paint with woad"


It is only one of several possibilities and to both ignore any other

interpretation and build a "woaded celt/Pict" upon it, is not history

but wild speculation.


> You have yet to demonstrate that there is a basis for believing that the

> verb "inficio" can reasonably be interpreted in context as meaning "to

> tattoo" or "to scarify".


Inficio cannot be interpretted as such, however the word is used in a

combination with others that can describe many things including tatooing

and scarification. I suppose if he said "the land was full of painted

ladies" you would conclude that the females were covered in Sherwin

Williams Exterior Latex :-). As it is Inficio means stain, tarnish, dye

etc. Would you argue that tatooing and ritual scarring do not stain, dye

and tarnish the body ? as well as have dark blue colouring (unless new)?





From: Ferret <dnb105 at psu.edu>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Woad isn't.... Period !

Date: Thu, 27 Aug 1998 21:13:09 -0400


Lord Xbrew wrote:

> BUT!    if you have documentation stating that woad was used in dyeing

> cloth...could you produce it?


Pliny refers to it by its Greek name (Isatis) as a medicinal plant,

Vitruvius also mentions it by the Greek name as part of an indigo

substitute for dyeing plaster.

Haven't seen any cites for dying fabrics yet (in period or earlier)

An ancient source in a medieval text would be a help in that the

information would have been available if not used.





Subject: Re: Woad

Date: Wed, 16 Jun 1999 08:53:48 -0400 (EDT)

From: "H L. Falls" <hlf at holmes.acc.virginia.edu>

To: atlantia mailing list <atlantia at atlantia.sca.org>


> Poster: Betty Eyer <betty_eyer at yahoo.com>


> Are you looking to dye cloth, paint people, grow it, or what?  I have

> done some of the above, and can point you to some references.  But

> first, where did you get it?


> Magdalena


Milady, if you are inquiring as to a source for woad (or even if you're

not, but someone else may want to know! :) try Garden Medicinals and

Culinaries -- http://www.gardenmedicinals.com/  This is the herbal

division of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Earlysville, VA (near

Charlottesville), and they do list woad in their catalog.





Date: Mon, 20 Sep 1999 01:40:28 EDT

From: <DianaFiona at aol.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: HERB - Fwd: woad


    I forwarded the queries about woad to the herb list, and a kind lady

there had this info to offer:


<< Subj:    Re: HERB - Fwd: woad

  Date: 09/19/1999 10:49:12 PM Eastern Daylight Time

  From: earless at mail.sisna.com (Wendy Thompson)

  To:   DianaFiona at aol.com


  I couldn't tell which address belonged to the person with the woad,

  so please forward wherever appropriate.


  >From Rita Buchanan's "A Dyer's Garden,":



  For dying, pick leaves from the first-year rosettes anytime from

  midsummer until early  fall.  Use them immediately, following the

  directions on pages 42-44.  Woad leaves don't give much blue after

  frost in fall, and they're useless the second year. Woad produces

  the same blue pigment as indigo or Japanese indigo, but is less

  concentrated (you'll need four times as much woad) and produces

  dustier blues.


  Woad does give a second color that is interesting and unusual.  After

  extracting the blue, you can use the same leaves to get shades of

  pink or pinkish beige.  Cover them with water, simmer for an hour,

  and strain off the dyebath.  Add mordanted wool, simmer for an hour,

  and rinse.




  Now I'll summarize the directions on pp. 42-44.


  You need a reducing agent, such as Spectralite (Rit color remover

  also works).  32 ounces of woad will dye 2-4 ounces of fiber.


  1.  Pick fresh leaves and put them immediately into a clean,

  heat-resistant container.  A large glass jar or plastic pail will do.


  2.  Pour almost-boiling water over the leaves to scald them - just

  enough to cover the leaves.  Cover and let stand about an hour.


  3.  Strain off the dark, warm fluid into another pot. Wearing rubber

  gloves, squeeze the fluid out of the leaves and add it to the

  strained fluid.  Save leaves if you want to use them for other



  4.  Add 1 tablespoon of baking soda or ammonia to the fluid to make

  it alkaline, then pour the fluid back and forth from one container to

  another.  The indoxyl (precursor of indigo dye) reacts with oxygen in

  the air, and the solution will change to a dark blue-green or

  blue-brown.  Keep pouring back and forth for a few minutes.


  5.  Dissolve 1 tablespoon spectralite in a jar of warm water (use

  extra if the spectralite might be getting old).  Pour it into the

  dyebath and stir briefly.  Cover container and set it in a larger

  container of water just hot enough to keep the dyebath at a temp. of

  100* - 120* without overheating it.


  6.  Meanwhile, put the yarn in hot water to soak.  Yarn doesn't need

  to be mordanted, but it does need to be clean.


  7.  After an hour or so, when the dyebath has turned yellow, add the

  wet yarn, carefully lowering it down below the surface. Soak 20

  minutes or more, then gently lift out of dyebath.  It will turn from

  yellow to blue as it interacts with oxygen in the air! Let the yarn

  dry for as long as it soaked in the dyebath.  You can repeat the

  soaking and airing to intensify the color (or do more yarn - you will

  get different shades).  You can keep doing more batches until the

  dyebath is exhausted, and when finished the dyebath can be poured

  down the drain.  Scrub stains out of pot.


  There you go - there is a little more information in the book, such

  as troubleshooting if it didn't work, etc.  but if you follow these

  instructions you should be fine.  I know that this isn't a period

  method - they would have taken more time and let leaves rot and then

  extracted the indigo and I don't know any details on that method at

  all but there are instructions around somewhere.  I'm jealous that

  you can grow woad - it is a noxious weed here and I can't have it in

  my garden!


Wendy >>


                Ldy Diana



Date: Mon, 20 Sep 1999 09:08:10 -0400

From: "Gray, Heather" <Heather at Quodata.Com>

To: "'sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu'" <sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu>

Subject: FW: FW: woad


From an friend offlist:

> ...woad is THE blue dye for cold climates.  Woad has

> yellow flowers, but the only way I can think of to get yellow from woad is

> from an exhaust bath, and it's more of a mint green.


> According to Liles, the blue pigment in woad is chemically identical to that

> in indigo and can theoretically be dyed the same way. Unfortunately, woad

> is not nearly as potent as indigo, so you have to use approximately four times

> as much woad to produce the same results.  However, this *was* the dye

> used in northern Europe for much of the SCA period.


> There are a couple of books with woad dyeing instructions.  J.N. Liles's -The

> Art & Craft of Natural Dyeing- has instructions for a woad/indigo vat, and

> Rita Buchanan's -A Dyer's Garden- has instructions for a direct dyeing

> process.  Both are available from Amazon.com.


> In this case I'd go with Buchanan simply because she describes a technique

> for basically dumping the leaves into a boiling dye pot and adding the cloth.

> I don't remember it off the top of my head, alas....


via Elwynne



Date: Tue, 21 Sep 1999 19:57:38 -0600

From: Sheron Buchele/Curtis Rowland <foxryde at verinet.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: HERB - Fwd: woad


Nice picture!  I wish I could figure out how to do that...


It looks like the woad I am growing.   When we harvested it, it turned our

fingers blue for quite some time.


The leaves make a pattern called a rosette - as opposed to a stalk or

compound or whirled leaf formation.


We took a harvest earlier in the summer and the torn leaves are rotting

away nicely.  We will take another harvest after the first frost - being of

the mustard family, woad should be fairly hardy to frost. I will then dig

out all but one or two of the plants and destroy them. Allowed to go to

seed the 20 some plants I have would, I have been lead to believe, take

over my garden.


good luck,




From: kestrel42  at aol.com (Kestrel42)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Tidings of Woad....

Date: 05 Nov 1999 03:58:22 GMT


Here is a good webpage all about Woad.  It has information on processing and








From: "Mandy" <martin.mandy  at ns.sympatico.ca>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: woad/indigo

Date: Sun, 16 Jul 2000 18:02:46 GMT


> Does anyone know where I can purchase indigo or woad powder (indigotin)


> fabric dying?  I've searched the internet up and down to no avail.

> Thank you,

> Ellice of the Misty Highlands


woad- http://www.net_link.net/~rowan/crafts/woad/woadpage.html#Sources

indego- http://www.dharmatrading.com/nd.html

indego- http://www.hillcreekfiberstudio.com/Dyes&;Mrdnts.html

indigo- http://www.user.dccnet.com/hemp/natdye.htm

indigo extract- http://www.maiwa.com/Maiwacat14.html

indigo extract- http://www.wildfiber.com/products/dyes5.html#natural

indigo sold in "cake" form-



I hope I have the URLs written correctly. This was the best I could do on a

quick search.





From: Eilidh na Tire Dharigh <elhewitt  at ucsd.edu>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Woad is Back!

Date: Wed, 25 Oct 2000 14:35:57 -0700

Organization: The Barony of Calafia


Cross-Posted from soc.history.medieval:


>From: d wilcox <dwilcox  at lightage.demon.co.uk>

>Subject: Woad - It's coming soon near you!

>Date: Mon, 09 Oct 2000 19:29:10 +0100

>Newsgroups: soc.history.medieval

>Message-ID: <39E20E76.D2DF51B2  at lightage.demon.co.uk>


>According to the Guardian today, woad is making a comeback

>as a cash crop. It's being used - of all things - as an ink

>for ink-jet printers. Who said the Middle-Ages was dead? Did

>Braveheart die in vain?





Date: Fri, 30 Mar 2001 14:01:08 -0600

From: "Decker, Terry D." <TerryD  at Health.State.OK.US>

Subject: RE: SC - Food dyes


This one got me wondering, so I took a few minutes to chase down a little



The blue dye from indigo and woad is indigotin which is derived from the

glucoside indican.  The fermentation process to extract indigotin from woad

is described at:




A home ammonia-extraction process is described at:




The chemical structure suggests that part of the extraction process from

indican to indigotin is nitrogen-fixing, so uric acid from urine might be a

workable substitute for ammonia, in much the same manner urine is used in

primative tanning processes.


Just for fun, here's a look at a medieval woad mill:



From a few small references, it looks as though indigo began being used in

Europe toward the end of the 12th Century and gradual replaced woad.


I've found no reference to psychotropic properties.





From: "Peters, Rise J." <rise.peters  at spiegelmcd.com>

To: "'sca-cooks  at ansteorra.org'" <sca-cooks  at ansteorra.org>

Subject: RE: [Sca-cooks] Re: Mel Gibson and indigo.

Date: Tue, 9 Oct 2001 08:51:54 -0400


I'm not sure how folks are getting woad to be permanent, unless they are

just reluctant to use soap.  I paint people with woad on a fairly regular

basis, usually getting well coated with it myself in the process.  It comes

off easily with soap and water, baby wipes, or even just plain water and a

tiny amount of elbow grease.  If your skin is very heavily calloused and

thus porous, you can sometimes get it settled into cracks just like any

other kind of dirt (it can be hard to get out from under your fingernails,

for example) but other than that I've never had any problems.





Subject: Re: [Bryn-gwlad] woad question...

Date: Fri, 25 Jan 2002 19:34:33

Reply-To: bryn-gwlad  at ansteorra.org

To: <bryn-gwlad  at ansteorra.org>


Hello Pug and Rebecca and anyone else interested,


When I lived in Michigan I had a woad patch.  I found that it is _extremely easy to grow_ (once one gets seeds --  I don't have any left), so much so that it is legally deemed "a pernicious weed" and is _illegal to grow_ in a number of the lower 48 states. (Not Michigan, though.  States where dairy cattle outnumber people tend to have this law, because eating woad makes the milk taste funny.) Woad dyes not only blue, but also yellow (depending on the process used). It looks a bit like wild mustard.  Flowers are yellow.  Seeds have a kind of gunmetal/blue sheen (look at them slantwise and you'll see it). I never got to the dyeing stage, but had plenty of friends who did.  You have to let the leaves ferment (typically in little hand-rolled balls of chopped leaf bits).


  It smells very bad.  (I believe old urine works as a fine mordant for woad.  That's another reason I didn't get to the dyeing stage. . .)





Subject: Re: [Bryn-gwlad] woad question...

Date: Fri, 25 Jan 2002 14:08:57 -0800

From: "Saar-rah Al-Sabbirah"<alsabbirah  at hotmail.com>

To: <bryn-gwlad  at ansteorra.org>


You can purchase woad (Isatis tinctoria) plants and seeds from a company

called Companion Plants:






-Saiida Saar-rah al-Sabbirah khaDraa' al-`ayn ad-Daar al-Libnee, called




From: Sandy Straubhaar [orchzis  at hotmail.com]

Sent: Thursday, July 18, 2002 2:22 PM

To: bryn-gwlad  at ansteorra.org

Subject: Re: [Bryn-gwlad] dyeing linen


Clare wrote:

>During the Elizabethan period, there were sumptuary laws prohibiting the

>planting of Woad because of the smell.  Woad was used both for wool and

>linen and made a blue.


When I lived in Michigan I grew woad.  It is _very_ easy to grow.  It looks

quite a but like a mustard or cannola plant, with yellow flowers.  The latin

name is Isatis tinctoria.


I found that it is illegal to grow woad in many states (Michigan not

included) because it is designated legally in those places as a "pernicious

weed" -- because it propagates so well and can take over whatever else

people are trying to grow.  Particularly it's considered bad if it gets into

fields where dairy cows graze, because it makes their milk taste strange.


_Processing_ woad for dyeing in period ways is in fact _very_ smelly. I

never did this, but I had friends in Kalamazoo who did it a lot.  They

eventually came up with a (non-period) method using Silverstone frypans

which eliminated having the fermenting balls of nasty vegetabilian matter

sitting around.


Anyway, I _think_ it might be these two reasons that are behind the

Elizabethan laws.  The plants themselves are pleasant and nice-looking (my

having them in my garden never bothered anyone).  (However, I met someone at

Pennsic once -- a Pennsylvanian if I recall correctly -- who had been cited

by his city for having a front yard planted in essentially nothing but

[unmowed] woad.  Mine was in the back yard.)


I used to sell packets of my woad seeds through the mail all over the Known

World (I had literally buckets of the stuff!!  So I advertised on the

Rialto, a decade ago or so).  That's how I discovered about the legal

problems.  In most of the western mountain states, for instance, woad is



The seeds are cool.  Grey when the light hits them one way, iridescent blue

(like a Morpho butterfly, only royal rather than turquoise) when the light

hits them another way.  The seeds aren't used in dyeing, though, as far as I



You can get yellow and green from woad too.  Depends on the mordants, I

think.  I never got that far with the stuff.





Date: Wed, 9 Jun 2004 21:37:01 -0700

From: "Wanda Pease" <wandap  at hevanet.com>

Subject: RE: [Sca-cooks] Re: Indigo

To: "Cooks within the SCA" <sca-cooks  at ansteorra.org>


> I had thought that Indigo might be of New World origin, but I guess it

> just showed up in the same time frame as a result of the European

> Voyages of Discovery opening up new areas. I'm surprised, since this

> would be one of the few dyes that could be used to create blue colored

> foods according to earlier conversations here, that indigo wasn't

> imported along with the other Asian spices such as pepper.


> Stefan


CIBA Review 85, 1951 " History of Indigo"  CIBA is/was the giant Swiss

Chemical Company (now Ciga/Geigy who make my migraine meds) who make



      "In the history of the dyeing industry indigo holds a unique place by

reason of its irresistible rise to supremacy among dyestuffs and its equally

rapid dethronement by the modern chemical colours.  Though well-known to the

craftsmen of antiquity, it was so precious that it remained in rare use even

in the Middle Ages, but the  discovery by Vasco da Gama (1498) of the sea

route to the East Indies and the European settlements in the Antilles and on

the continent of North America put it on the market where it ousted woad,

its most dangerous competitor, only to be in turn defeated by the rapid

advance of the coal-tar colour industry.


      Like woad and the aristocratic purple, to which it is related, indigo is

one of the oldest vat dyes known to the craft having already been employed

in prehistoric days; but it was not till thousands of years later, after the

synthesis of indigo had been established, that it became evident that

indigo, woad and purple were not only closely related in technical respects

but belonged to the same group of dyestuffs.  Both the indigo and woad

plants which yield a blue dye, contain indican, that is to say a kind of

ester or glucose compound of indoxyl and sulpheric acid or glucose

respectively, from which by decomposition indoxyl and then by oxidation

indigo is readily obtained.  The juice extracted from the purple yielding

mollusks, Tyrian purple, with which in ancient times the robes of emperors,

kings and general were dyed, also contains a derivative of indigo, vis.

6-6dibromoindigo (Ciba Review No 4, page 129)


      The sub-continent of India, noted for its age-long dyeing craft, is not

only the home of the indigo plant proper (Indigofera tinctoria, but also the

oldest centre of indigo dyeing in the Old World (cf. page 3088 CIBA Review

#85).  It is believed that indigo first reached the ancient world together

with precious luxury articles imported from the East in the last few

centuries B.C. though the quantities received in the Mediterranean countries

must have been very small on account of the high prices realized.


      Indigo is first mentioned as a paint pigment in Vitruvius' "De

architectura", a work dating from the end of the first century B.C. and

general supposed to be based to a large extent on older Greek



..."Realizing the great economic importance of woad, chiefly grown in

southern France, Picardy, Northern Germany and especially in Thuringia and

contributing substantially through taxation to the revenue of their

countries, the princes and Governments prohibited the employment of indigo.

Only in England, where little woad was cultivated, did the introduction of

indigo meet with no resistance; in fact, a Bill passed in 1581 provided

that, for the purpose of dying woolen material black, woad alone or woad and

indigo (nele, alias blew Inde) should be used as a bottoming.  On the

continent of Europe, however, drastic steps were taken to keep the new

dyestuff out, very heavy penalties being announced for instance in France

against defaulting merchants and dyers in answer to the complaints lodged by

the estates of Languedoc in 1598.  In Germany its prohibition was justified

on the grounds that the indigo used by dyers in the orpiment vat (cf. page

3077) was injurious.  Thus the imperial police regulations issued at

Frankfort-on-Main in 1577 referred to 'the recently discovered injurious and

fraudulent, devouring and corrosive colour' as 'the devil's colour' and

instructed all governing bodies to see to it that cloth-dyers in every town

and state should refrain from using it."


It goes on to say that indigo wasn't very popular before da Gama's voyages

because it was terribly expensive and woad, even though it took more of it,

gave much the same result for less.  It was also used as an astringent for



I just got a whole load of CIBA Reviews Via ILL and am in the process of

Xeroxing all that appeal to me.


Regina Romsey



Date: Thu, 10 Jun 2004 02:02:20 -0700

From: lilinah  at earthlink.net

Subject: [Sca-cooks] Indigo

To: sca-cooks  at ansteorra.org


Stefan, indigo is an Old World plant. It's origin appears to be South

Asia. It was very commonly used within the SCA time frame in many

parts of Asia - bearing in mind that the Middle East is basically

Southwest Asia - and in North Africa, and thence to Spain.


Indigo was a trade item into Europe, but was considered expensive,

partly because of protectionist practices in some places (protecting

their woad production). Indigo was desirable in large part because a

little bit of indigo dyes considerably more cloth than the same

amount of woad.


It was sometimes used to make paint for manuscripts - by the Spanish,

for example, in their wonderful spacy art - i'm forgetting the time

period - but all the people have huge saucer eyes and the artists

used only about 5 colors of paint - vermilion, crimson lake

(alizarin) (a cool red, whereas vermilion is a warm red), indigo, a

bright yellow (i'm not sure of the source - there are a couple

possibilities, all toxic), white, and black.



a persona proudly wearing indigo dyed clothing



From: Ewan Andor Graham <admin.westernesse at gmail.com>

Subject: woad permanence?

Date: Sat, 11 Feb 2006 17:37:27 -0500

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca


I acquired some woad via the guild of limners last pennsic with an eye for

using it as a fabric dye (not the focus of this post) and as a temporary

body decorator.


As recommended in the limner's "uses and history of woad", cutting it with

a small amount of high-ethanol spirits (in my case, vodka) and applying it

as a paint had the desired effect - somewhat.  After the alcohol

evaporates off the skin, the only thing holding the woad on is a very weak

cohesive force and a pretty weak adhesive one. (translation: it sticks to

itself and stays on my face out of force of habit and not much else)


This makes it a *very* temporary body decorator.  


Has anyone experimented with other application methods that give it a

better binding ability to skin?  Instead of the one-time-wear i'm getting

now, i'd like to be able to apply a pattern and have it last for a couple

of days or more without flaking off or smudging if you touch it.


I had thought about cutting a weak solution of henna dye with woad to

shift the color over but retain the duration of the stain, which seems

feasible to my untrained eye.  A solution using some kind of lipid binding

would also work, i suppose, but is still going to fall to drying/smudging

in a short time period.




<the end>

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