Since ancient times the woad plant has been cultivated and used to make blue dyestuff in many European countries. It was already known in Egypt, possibly as far back as 1000 B.C.
In 1498 Vasco da Gama brought the Indian indigo to Europe. The woad industry was such a cash crop for Europeans, and the early indigo traders certainly had a rough time establishing their product. It actually became illegal to dye fabrics with this new dyestuff. In parts of 17th Century France and Saxony the use of indigo was threatened with the death penalty. The German government called it a pernicious, deceitful and corrosive substance – the devil’s dye.
But on its better properties the Indian indigo slowly prevailed over woad based dye and was finally legalized in the mid 1700s. The devil’s dye became the king of colours.
Nowadays the vast majority of indigo used to dye garments is synthetically produced. But thanks to an enthusiastic community of people in Marche, Italy, the traditional way to produce indigo from woad, or guado as they call it, has been revived.
The woad is a flowering plant that looks like a kind of cabbage. It’s commonly known as “Dyer’s Woad”. The green leaves can be harvested six times in a year. But it is only the first year the leaves can be used for dying.
The process is labour intense. It takes 1000 kilos of leaves to make 1 kilo of dyestuff. To be able to dye our woad collection we bought all the dyestuff the farm could produce in a year.
When the pigment is extracted from the leaves you get a green liquid. As the liquid is gradually reduced into sludge it turns blue. The sludge is dried to rock hard lumps of intense blue dyestuff.
The dyestuff is solved in a mixture of soda and water. When the oxygen is removed, the solution turns green. Woad has its own alchemy in the dyeing process. The garments are slowly lowered into the dye bath and left to soak for some time, depending on the thickness of the fabric.
When lifted up from the dye bath the garment is yellow, when it reacts with the oxygen it first turns green and then blue. It’s pure magic!
Since there is only so much dye stuff to extract from each years harvest this production is made in a very limited edition. Each garment has a special Woad/Guado stamp and a unique number from 1–700.