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Woad is derived from a plant, Isatis tinctoria, growing in the North
of France and in England. It was the only blue dye in the West before
Indigo was introduced from India. Since then woad has been little used
except as a fermenting agent for the Indigo vat. It dyes woollen cloth
a greenish colour which changes to a deep blue in the air. It is said
to be inferior in colour to indigo but the colour is much more
permanent. The leaves when cut are reduced to a paste, kept in heaps
for about fifteen days to ferment, and then are formed into balls
which are dried in the sun; these have a rather agreeable smell and
are of a violet colour. These balls are subjected to a further
fermentation of nine weeks before being used by the dyer. When woad is
now used it is always in combination with indigo, to improve the
colour. Even by itself, however, it yields a good and very permanent

It is not now known how the ancients prepared the blue dye, but it has
been stated (Dr. Plowright) that woad leaves when covered with boiling
water, weighted down for half-an-hour, the water then poured off
treated with caustic potash and subsequently with hydrochloric acid,
yield a good indigo blue. If the time of infusion be increased, greens
and browns are obtained. It is supposed that woad was "vitrum" the dye
with which Caesar said almost all the Britons stained their bodies. It
is said to grow near Tewkesbury, also Banbury. It was cultivated till
quite lately in Lincolnshire. There were four farms in 1896; one at
Parson Drove, near Wisbech, two farms at Holbeach, and one near
Boston. Indigo has quite superseded it in commerce.

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