Medieval Dyeing: Blue

There are two sources of natural blue dye: woad and indigo. The woad plant was widely used in Britain right through the medieval period and earlier whereas indigo was a later immigrant to Europe. Both plants produce the same colourant 'indigotin' which makes it impossible to tell by chemical analysis which was used in any particular find. Therefore archaeologists have relied on information about what plants were grown, and on documentary evidence of trade in both dyestuffs to decide whether any specific textile find was dyed with woad or indigo. There is an excellent article about woad in The Thirty Year Journal of Academic Papers published for the SCA's 30 year anniversary.

Woad

My first experiment with woad was from plants grown in my own garden. The method used and described below is NOT a medieval method. This gave a nice soft blue - like faded jeans.

Make the dye liquor

Prepare the fibre

Three skeins of woad blue

Dye the wool

Indigo

Indigo is an eastern plant which came into Europe in a big way in the later medieval and early renaissance period. The following method of dyeing is again not the period method - it uses indigo blocks purchased from a local craft shop and is similar to the woad recipe.

Prepare the dye liquor

Dyeing the fibre

Indigo blue

Rainbow of colours