Weld and Woad are historically important when it comes to natural dyeing. It’s a peculiar quirk of natural dyes that no one dyestuff produces a good, true green. The only way to achieve green is by overdyeing a yellow dyed yarn with a blue. For centuries weld and woad was the go to combination in Europe. Both plants were cultivated for this purpose.
Although I’ve been growing woad for several years now it has taken until this summer to use weld. I started some from seed a couple of years ago, but a house move got in the way. One little seedling survived the move and was transplanted into the new garden. It survived and this year it was substantial enough to take a small harvest.
Weld (Reseda lutea), also known as Dyer’s Weed or Dyer’s Rocket is a biennial or short lived perennial. It grows as a rosette of thin, slightly serated leaves throwing up spires of tiny yellow flowers. For a good colour it should be harvested before the flowers open. All of the plant, leaves, stems and immature flowers can be used.
I dye WOOL, so this process relates to wool or other protein fibres. The term Lincoln Green was used historically specifically for woollen dyed cloth, and sometimes referred to the cloth itself. Linen or other plant fibres will behave differently and require different treatment.
Dyeing with weld is straight forward. You need an equal weight of dyestuff to dry weight of yarn. Chop it up, boil it up, leave it to steep and cool down, then strain the dye into a big pot. Recipes say to add a small amount of chalk for a brighter colour, I ground up a stick of regular chalk and stirred that in. Use alum and cream of tartar mordanted yarn (or cloth or fleece) . Put yarn into the pot, heat it up slowly to a simmer until the dye is taken up, leave to cool, then rinse.
The result was a skein of good, clear yellow yarn.
So onto the weld and woad combination. Weld flowers early in the summer, but the woad needed a few more weeks until it was ready for its first harvest in July so there was a bit a of a wait.
The first Woad dyeing of the year is always exciting. It’s an altogether more complicated process covered in a previous post – you can read about it here.
The weld dyed yarn went in along with undyed yarn.
And there it is in the middle. Perhaps not the truest of greens. But it’s definitely more GREEN than any other green achieved with natural dyes.
But is it Lincoln Green? The colour beloved of Robin Hood and his merry men. Who can say. Natural dyes vary from batch to batch. And overdyeing one colour with another just adds to those variables. It would come down to the eye of the dyers and what they found pleasing. According to HTML colour codes it is a ‘dark, highly saturated shade of green.’ But in a pre-industrial and pre-Patone colour age who’s to say what it really was.
The plan is to save weld seed. Sow more weld and have enough for a good harvest next year.
To achieve a green that Mrs Arnolfini would be proud to wear.