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First try with a fresh Woad VAT

A few week ago we decided it was time to harvest some Woad and try a fresh level VAT with it. It is our first year growing it and we are not at all sure about harvesting time and how it will work. At the end of June we performed a fresh salt extraction and achieved some pale turquoise colors (very pretty) but decided to wait for sunnier days before trying a full indigo VAT.

On the top is the one we obtained from the fresh leaves VAT. On the bottom the left (pink) is from cooking the leaves and the right is the color we have got from the salt extracting method.
Figure 1: Woad plants and Woad dyed skeins.

As you can see, the blue we ended up with is not the super strong, sometime even royal blue, expected from the woad VATs. This however did not discouraged us and we will try again soon. But the result, give it was a first try, made us extremely happy!

Here we tell you each step we took in order to get de pale grey-blue top skein in the show in the picture above.


  • We harvest about 580 grams of fresh Woad leaves.

  • We prefer to create Fructose VAT (use no bad chemicals and is easier to discart), so we have at hand some lime and fructose.

  • 2 big plastic buckets

  • Big stick for mixing

  • Heating plate (for heating water)

First we harvest the Woad leaves. We picked the one on the bottom and kept the middle small leaves on the plant to allow fighter growth. In total we picked 580 grams of leaves. We washed the leaves, removing insects and dirt. Last we torn coarsely all of it and put into the bigger bucket. In the picture below you can see our Woad garden.

Figure 2: Woad garden.

While we were preparing the leaves we brought a large pan of water (about 13 laters) to just before boiling point. The water temperature was 90 degC. We then purred all the water in the bucket making sure it was filled to the top not allowing any air between it and the water/leaves mix. We closed it and let it sit until the temperature has dropped to under 60 deg C (it took about 1 hours and a half).

Once the temperature was below 60 degC we opened the lid and removes the leaves, squeezing it as much as possible to recover all the liquid. At this point the liquid was a dark brown-reddish color!

We then added some lime to the liquid until the overall ph was around 10. The liquid changed color instantaneously to a very dark green color.

Then it is time to add some oxygen to the mix. For 15 min I poured the liquid between one bucket to the other until I could see a faint hint of blue-ish on the foam not he top. I must say this made us extremely hopeful.

After we were happy with the foam we added some fructose, and we believe here is where we took a wrong turn. We were not at all sure how much to add since we did not know the amount of indigo inside the bucket. We added some fructose, closed the lid and let it tis for about 45 min. When we were back there was nothing much, the liquid was yellow however there was not really any indigo flower nor coppery layer on top, both are indications your fructose VAT is working fine. We then added more fructose, tried to raise the temperature of the water in the bucket and let it site for another 20 to 30 min. This time around we did see some copper color and a tiny flower and were super happy!!

Now was time to dip some fibre in the bucket. The liquid was a very bright yellow and everything looked just perfect! We added some Jämtland yarn and let it be inside for about 10 min. Needless to say, we were a bit disappointed when the yarn came out very very pale blue...

This took us a whole day, we worked hard from 10 am until almost 18! Non-stop. After this first try we agreed we will research a bit further and re-try before the Fall, now all we needs a week of nice strong sun and not so much rain. It should not be too hard :)

I hope you enjoyed and I will leave you with a picture showing all the color Woad has given us so far. We personally think that, although not very saturated, they have a beauty of their own. Those skeins are super special for more reasons too, they are your own yarn and in a way the are as close as we can get from a Fibershed wool (do you know what a Fibershed is? If you are curious, take a look here). The wool come from sheep from south of Sweden and are spun in a small mill here in Skåne (Karlsbergsgården Spinneri) and are dyed using material we grew ourselves, I think it cannot get better than this right?

Figure 3: Woad colors. Form top left to right bottom - VAT, salt extraction and leaves dye bath.

Cheers and until the next time,

Natalia and Betina

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