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Dear Ann:

The schedule for our week at Château Dumas had Thursday down for a “woad workshop.”  I knew that woad is a natural plant dye, and I think I vaguely knew that it was blue. It seemed kind of odd to have a day of dyeing in the middle of our sewing workshop, but I was curious, and game. On the first day after we arrived, as we headed out to explore Sunday flea markets in nearby towns, they suggested that we keep an eye out for vintage table linens and nighties to woad. I will admit that, as a very committed fan of indigo, I may have thought, “how good can this woad stuff be?”


Thursday dawned, and we headed up to the château’s picnic/dyeing area, where our woad master, Denise Simeon, had set up several large vats of murky woad soup. Each one had a flag of white cotton that had been dipped in the vat, to show the relative strength of the blue.


Denise knows her woad, and gave us a fascinating talk on its history. It is amazing to think that Napoleon’s army marched in woad-dyed coats, and that, centuries before that, the woad trade made vast fortunes in and around the city of Toulouse, in the heart of woad-growing country. The Church had the color red, dyed with madder; blue was reserved to the kings of France. The techniques for extracting and dyeing with woad were tightly held secrets, because they were so valuable. The knowledge dissipated when synthetic dyes were invented and people didn’t have to mess with fermenting woad patties and getting tavern patrons to pee in buckets anymore. (Peeing for the woad business was kind of a fall-back job in those days. You had to be male, and you had to drink acidic beverages. Today we use ammonia.) Another fun fact we learned was that the ubiquitous blue shutters of southwest France traditionally were painted with the leftover pigment from woad vats. Woad naturally repels insects, and people believed that bugs did not like the color blue.


Fun fact: one reason we in the United States are not as familiar with woad is that it is not native to North America. It is illegal to grow it in some parts of the United States, as it is viewed as an invasive species.


This was all very interesting, of course, but we were straining to get into the vats. Dyeing with woad was easy. The items to be dyed had to be soaked in plain water first, wrung out (so as not to dilute the vat), shaken out, and dipped. The dipping technique is gentle and kind of meditative: you want the item to slip into the vat, without splashing, and without trapping any air next to it.


(That’s Denise on the left, demonstrating broomstick skills.)

We got into the rhythm of slipping, lying the end of the piece on the surface of the vat, and then gently pulling at it from the bottom, with a deeply-blue broomstick, to submerge it entirely. A few minutes soaking, and then gently remove the item with the broomstick, and wring it out close to the surface of the vat, disturbing the vat as little as possible. Once removed, quickly shake out the item to expose its entire surface to air (let it “take a breath”), and watch it go from lurid yellow-green to beautiful mottled blue, and then solid blue. Subsequent dips deepen the color.


(The sheer silks took the color beautifully.)

I went kind of nuts. I was not the only one who kept running back to my room to fetch more of my clothes to dye.


(My old striped Euroflax pullover, before woad.)


(My old striped Euroflax pullover, fully woaded.)

The blue of woad is different from the blue of indigo. It’s warmer and more luminous. When indigo items are dyed pale blue, they can seem under-dyed; with woad you can get a gorgeous pale blue that seems like a real color and not a wash. Woad also has a teal undertone to my eye. It was easy to get an even color, but it always remains a vibrant blue with no black overcast.


It was a beautiful day of dipping, wringing, and hanging. They left the vats out overnight, and at least one person (not me! I swear!) got up early the next morning to dip a few more things before they were gone.

I have a lot of blue clothes now.





  • “….fully woaded…”
    Looks like a great day! A woad of fun, even!

    • Woad runner beep beep!

  • I want to woad! This post was the very best thing with my morning coffee.

  • Wow – what great service for a “woad tutorial!” I’ve been scouring the internet and learning more than I probably need to know to do this! I’m totally in and will do this soon to take advantage of the great “dying and drying” weather we have! I’m amazed at the eveness of the color…I thought the end results may be streaked – but not at all! What a bonus for an already perfect week with Natalie! Now on to the hunt for some great vintage linen and cotton…so much fun! Thank you so much!!!

    • Maureen,

      Some things came out so even on the first dip that I was tempted not to dip them again. It may have helped that the vats were so large? But Denise recommended that we dip twice at a minimum, for even coverage.

      It has been a while since I dyed with indigo but I remember that there was a big difference between the wet color and the dry color, which could be kind of disappointing if you stopped dipping too soon. I found the woad to be very similar in color both wet and dry. It did lighten when dry, but it was not a dramatic difference.

      I also do not think you can get as dark, ultimately, with woad as with indigo. I actually love the black cast that indigo gets when you dip and redip many many times for a very dark blue. But I cannot say for sure because I tended to stop when it got to a rich medium blue. It just seemed like the color that it wanted to be.

  • It looks to me like “Royal Blue.” Must be where they got that color name, if it was reserved for the Kings.

  • Dear Kay, I loved following every aspect of your trip to Château Dumas. It looked to be so much creative fun with friends — an ideal week if you ask me. I’m especially enthralled with the woad dying. So interesting. Inspired by you, I went online and ordered indigo dye and now, because of you, I’m walking around the house looking for things that would look good in blue. You may have gotten me off of mitered squares and cork boards for awhile!

    • Happy to lead you astray! Indigo is amazing.

  • I love woad! The blue is different from indigo, just as you say. I grew some in my suburban Maryland yard a few summers ago and got a small vat. If I had been confronted with those big vats, my entire wardrobe would be blue.What fun. Very envious of your trip-sounds wonderful.

  • I can’t wait to get my hands in this! I’m enthralled by the evenness and desirous of the large vats….
    Thank you for all of the fun facts, too.

  • This was some of the more intriguing part of your IG while you were away. What a great adventure you’ve shared with us. Thanks for taking us along. Now to contemplate how much of my wardrobe could be woaded before people would notice.

  • So funny: your “Woad Scholar” subject line was right above my Road Scholar payment confirmation for my upcoming trip to Cuba. For half a second I thought, wait, are they going to Cuba too? Cognitive dissonance of some type. Fun post! I would have dyed everything in sight too.

  • I have some woad seeds. Perhaps I can start an industry. Is it legal in New York? I don’t want to go down for dealing woad buds.

    • I’ll defend you Martha!

  • I loved reading about your woad dying. I was curious about woad when I saw your IG posts. And now, how exciting to read about it. Now, I want to find some woad and dye a bunch of clothes.

  • Love the woad. Such a nice post, that looks like so much fun. Those blues. I need a woad vat.

    Maiwa Supply is a good source for powdered woad in North America. They also have a free guide for organic indigo vats (either indigo or woad). Richters herbs sells woad seed, there is also a dye plant seed swap on the Ravelry natural dyers’ group.

    A Dyers Garden by Rita Buchanan has a good method for dyeing with fresh woad (or Japanese Indigo or true indigo).

    le Pastel en pays d’oc by Sandrine Banessy is great book on the history and current revival of woad in France.

    I won’t say who may have a few pairs of woad dyed CK underpants. (Plus yarn, tshirts, napkins, a shirt or two…)


    • P.S. Each gradient shade of woad has a name. The palest pearly silver blue is Bleu Naissant to the deepest Bleu d’ Enfer.

    • Trevor,
      Thanks for this information. I should have mentioned that in French, woad is called “pastel.” Denise has done workshops in the US with Maiwa. Ann and I met the Maiwa ladies at Shakerag Workshops in 2015. It’s a small, colorful world.

  • I have been reading The Modern Natural Dyer this summer and your summer of woad looks like Heaven!
    Such beautiful color!!!!!!

  • Beautiful! Thanks for this post!

  • Oh, woad is me! Please say you dyed some yarn, too! xoc

    • I was wondering about yarn also. How I would love to get my hands (well maybe the broomstick) into a vat of woad. Wonderful!

  • Gosh, that looks like a lot of fun. Blue is my favorite color, so I suspect I would have done the same as you and dyed everything I had with me.

    Woad immediately made me think of the book “Gathering Blue” (it’s a YA book that’s sort of the sequel to “The Giver”). It’s a lovely book, but there’s an awful lot in it about natural dyeing, and blue from woad is exceptionally rare and prized.

  • #love

  • I’m not usually a blue fan (I’m an “autumn” person. Remember having your colors done way-back-when?), but all this indigo and woad talk has won me over. Not the least of which is because it is just plain magic. Also, I have started a conversation with friends to plan our own get-away for a week in France sometime in the future. Thanks so much Kay for giving me a new thing to obsess about!

    • I think color analysis (to identify if one is a winter, spring, summer, fall) was to ascertain what shade (intensity) of any color would suit the individual. So (if that is correct) there would be some kind of blue for an autumn.

  • Totally cool. Thanks for sharing the info.

  • Gorgeous blues.

    Your poem could be “The Woad Taken.”

  • I love the color. I looked up woad, and in my state it is considered a noxious weed, so no planting of it is allowed here..

  • Jealous, jealous, jealous.

  • last photo is stunning! thanks for letting us be there vicariously!

  • Woad in France AND an Alabama Chanin workshop? You hedonist you! I am so jealous!

  • Thanks for my Saturday morning armchair adventure. The different shades are simply beautiful.

  • Great post, Kay! Also, I am so glad that you went on this vacation and enjoyed crafts you love with friends you love.

    • P.S. — Wild how you dipped your “old striped Euroflax pullover”! Love it.

  • I’m feeling faint with envy. In my mind that color is known as French Blue—perhaps because of the shutters. The early Brits (and Mel Gibson) used it as war paint. Thanks to Trevor, I’m going to order some.

  • I would have found those large vats irresistible too. Wowza! My botanical dyeing experiments are usually on the kettle scale. Now I’m looking at my 10′ trough and wondering how hard it would be to plug the drain holes in the bottom.
    And your sweater looks fabulous – those tones! Does it go perfectly with your new skirt? How in the world are you going to choose what to wear to Rhinebeck this year, Kay?

  • Thank you for such a great post!! I’ve been waiting since I saw the pictures on Instagram. What a fabulous vacation.

  • Lovely, lovely blues! But all this time I thought woad was easier to dye with than indigo, but apparently not with all the fermentation and the dipping and whatnot. Still lovely results and great photos. Thanks for sharing!

  • Chateau Dumas, indigo and woad…just left and will be back! I agree with you on the luminous nature of woad and I, too, now have many blue things!

  • Ha! Woad scholars.

  • How absolutely lovely. I’m blue with envy. You had a woad of fun and I wish I was there. Thanks for letting me live vicariously. Now I have a new area of knowledge to research.

  • Swoony! I want to dye a load of woad.

  • Hmmm – so you’re saying that these linens have been woad hard and hung up wet?
    Sorry, couldn’t resist. Great story, as usual.

  • A perfect day and I’m ready to do it again. I wore my woad shirt and Tee all over Paris. Oh, and my woad handbag. ps; thanks for inspiring me to give my bag her woad bath. She’s so pretty.

  • I still love this post and it continues to inspire me years later as I contemplate what to do with my plot of indigo plants!

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