Wednesday, July 22, 2009

woad wednesday at chateau dumas

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On Wednesday we learned about woad, an ancient blue pigment taken laboriously from the leaves of a local plant. Before indigo changed the market, woad blue was the only blue dye available, the "blue blood" dye of the royals, making the medieval Counts of Toulouse wealthy men and Toulouse, the city they built, a center for dyeing textiles. Only the leaves of the first year's growth yield dye, which makes the plant a weed when it grows wild. After a lengthy extraction process, the dye first turns fabrics yellow, then green, then blue as it oxidizes with exposure to air, all of which made woad dyeing changeable and almost magical.


Dr Denise Lambert, our modern-day woad master, mixed up the woad dye bath in a clearing in Lizzie's woods early in the morning. Soon we were transforming our flea market finds, linen cloths, pieces of lace, hanks of yarn and even straw hats. With Denise's instruction, we all took turns dipping the fabric into the dye bath, poling it down into the vat, wringing it out and watching it turn its colors, then hanging it on the lines to dry. For a deeper blue, we repeated the process. The lines were filled and refilled with various glorious deepening blues as they glowed against the green forest.



Above, Lisa's tie-dye shirt for one of her twins, one of the stamped cloths we made in Rowena's studio, Kaari's embroidered trim, my one flea market sleeve (to be used in an altered project).

In the center, an embroidered tablecloth I couldn't resist turning blue.




One interesting side note: The leftover woad dye baths, when the color wore thin, were used to dye the local medieval farm shutters and doors, not just for the lovely color, but because the leaves are a natural preservative and pesticide that treated the wood.

Post note: Drs. Denise and Henri Lambert have an interesting story of researching the blue color they found on an 18th-century find at a flea market, collaborating for years with chemists at U de Toulouse, finding by chance at another flea market the diary of Napoleon's chemist, and spending more years working to revive this craft and finding their niche in preparing haute couture fabrics. In Lectoure you can visit their workshop and gallery. He even drives a woad-dyed Jaguar. AND -- Kaari and Lizzie are planning another week at the Chateau next summer (2010). Lizzie already bought her own large tub for the woad dye bath, and I'm sure she's planning on offering woad day again. So keep checking Kaari's blog.
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2 comments:

Korie B. said...

Oh Pam, that looks absolutely heavenly. Any chance you can acquire the materials to re-create it here? I'd give anything to learn!

Lori said...

how cool is this? that is a lovely shade of blue...that must have been lots of fun!!!