Wandering Minstrel News



From Sheep to Shawl:  Stories and Patterns
 for Fiber Lovers

Joan Jarvis Ellison, author

From the back cover...

I planted ten woad seeds in my garden. All I knew about woad was that it was a biennial, it had blue flowers, and was the source of a blue dye so ancient that the Picts used woad to dye their bodies before they went into battle against the Romans.

The next summer, the woad flowered, nine plants of it, delicate yellow flowers. I obviously knew even less about woad than I had thought. I dug out one of my natural dye books to see what to do with my woad flowers. The book said to use the leaves just before the plant flowered!

The following summer I planted a twenty-five foot row of woad. Finally, early the next summer, I was ready to harvest the crop. I read my reference book again… The first recipe called for four gallons of stale urine. "Keep in a tightly capped jar for five to six weeks," the recipe said. Impossible!  I wasn't sure I could collect four gallons of urine in five to six weeks, and furthermore, I would no longer have fresh woad leaves in five to six weeks; it would be October and the plants would be dormant.

The recipe that called for the smallest amount of urine (only 3 quarts) specified that it must be collected from a boy child, preferably in the morning. My daughters were 17 and 21 and I didn't know any boy children well enough to ask them for 3 quarts of urine. I began to see why this dyeing technique had gone out of favor.

             - “Woad Blues,” From Sheep to Shawl                             



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