so late last
a class in
Woad, or Isatis tinctoria, is a plant
that for centuries has been used for
its magnificent blue color. The plant
itself is not blue at all–it’s quite weedy
looking, and has small yellow flowers–but
processed the right way, it will give you a
fantastic blue dye. So fantastic, in fact,
that for centuries the only people that
could use this shade of blue were royals.
When I heard this royal fact, I decided that
I had to attend this class–I love blue and I
am a royal, at least in my own head.
Our teacher Denise Lambert flew in
from the south of France to teach us the
ancient craft of woad dying. She runs Bleu
de Pastel de Lectoure, a company that
not only grows woad but makes products
with it, for fashion, paints, cosmetics, and
She started off telling us about woad,
and its history is amazing. The Egyptians
used it for wrapping mummies, and in the
Middle Ages it was used for medicinal and
healing powers. It was the Moores who
introduced woad to the south of Europe.
Woad was soon found all over Europe,
and was used to dye the uniforms of
Napoleon–this is why woad is also known
as French Blue.
The real fun started when Denise
prepared the dye baths. Woad is very
temperamental and has to be dealt with a
certain way in order to get the its famous
blue color. It’s all about the right pH.
External factors, like humidity in the air
and the temperature of the seasons, will
change its color. But I tell you, once it’s
out–wow. This color is amazing.
We all had so much fun dying. We
carefully dropped our fabrics in large
buckets, with the help of wooden sticks.
When you first take the fabric out of the
dye bath it looks green, but when it reacts
with oxygen it turns blue. It’s like magic.
People were dying all sorts of things,
from old tablecloths, to napkins, yarn,
and clothing. Colin’s sons threw in a few
T-shirts by the end of the day. But the
most spectacular sight of all was the
ropes Colin had hung up in his garden–
they were soon draped with gorgeous
blue fabric, our labours of love. It was like
a scene from a movie–surrounded by
all the blue was so beautiful. It was
almost like the artist Christo had taken
over the garden.
At the end of the day I came home with
a tablecloth, four napkins, a runner, and a
shirt–all in beautiful woad blue. Whenever
I wear the shirt, I feel like I am wearing a
part of a fantastic history.
For more info on Denise Lambert,
For more info on future workshops in the
New York area, contact Colin Cooke at