Went to Woad a meadow.....
And it really was a meadow until April this year when one forward thinking generous farmer decided to allow the London Urban Textiles Commons access to it. CND Studio and LUTC put in an application to trial Woad growing in various locations and formats to the government Innovation fund. Unfortunately, as with two previous applications we got close but no cigar. The farmers had been approached re using their land and one in Suffolk was crazy enough to say go ahead anyway. So we did.
Buying 2kg of seed from Nature's Rainbow and having input from the legendary Ian Howard as to how to get started we went for it on Saturday 30th April. It was a bright sunny day and there had been no rain for weeks but as we scattered the seeds onto the prepared ground we were a hopeful bunch.
We went back in May to weed and realised that the 1/4 acre we planted was being over taken with weeds. It was an impossible task to weed the whole space in the brief 24 hours we had so decided to trial a control.patch of well weeded area and see how it took.
The idea was every 3 weeks we would return to weed, inspect and take notes. However life and festivals get in the way. Debbie got signed off work with a compressed nerve in her neck, Alice and Joel were chasing their tails getting the SweatShop going and our brilliant volunteers had their own work.
So our next visit did not happen until 2nd July and this was a mistake. With better rain and fai skies the land had opened up and thistles burst forth. Ian Howard and others had suggested a herbicide spray before sowing but we were against using such methods. We wanted out woad to be free from such chemical intervention. However now it was glaringly obvious why it was suggested.
At first glance late on the Friday evening there was a distinct lack of Woad growing. It really did look to be all thistle, and other pretty plants. After a few restorative drinks that evening and a lot of wonderful banter we ventured stoically into the field once more the next morning. Suddenly amongst the thistles woad was spotted...then more....then clumps of the stuff!
We had Woad plants! Not ready for harvest but definitely there. The next question was would there be blue? Debbie had brough with her some basic equipment to run a fresh leaf test using a recipe from Jenny Dean's 'A Heritage of Colour Book'. The.simple recipe uses vinegar and water to extract colour from fresh leaves via chopping and squeezing. Jenny states it works best with Indigo Polygum but Debbie has used the technique for years with Woad and it works well
Digging around finding clumps of Woad tightly packed together Debbie carefully thinned these areas out and took the young leaves for processing. Were they too young to have any pigment? What would happen if we only got green - that has happened in the past even with larger plants. When you are working with natural processes there is so much left to chance.
Amazingly though after squeezing for ten minutes and then putting a silk scarf into the resulting bright green liquid blue was found. The first signs came on Debbie's hands and finger nails with them turning a deep blue which will take days to rub off. The second sign was the amazing periwinkle blue scarf that emerged after soaking in the liquid, then being rinsed and allowed to air on a washing line. The colour was strong and unmistakable - we had indigo in that field!
The rest of the day was spent trying to clear a further area to see how the weeded plants will compare to ones that are left to get on with it. Alice and Joel will return in late July and then we will fix a date to feed the plants 3-4 weeks before harvest to get a higher pigment content.
So now all we need to do it work out how to process the leaves and which methods we want to try.
If you would like to find out more or are interested in a work day with us please drop us a message via firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Instagram. This project is part of the London Urban Textiles Commons and as such is open to all.
With thanks to Kiva Durkan for her photos and Steph, Angela, Clara, Maria, Alice and Joel.for all the sowing ans weeding. And a huge thanks to Allan and family for access to the land.