The earliest example of humans using pigmentation occurred around 36,000 years ago, dyed flax fibres were found in a cave in the Republic of Georgia dating back to 34,000BC while in Pakistan a piece of cloth dyed with Madder was recovered from an archaeological suite dating back to 3000 BC.
It has taken us a little while longer here at Dartmoor Sheepskins to catch up, but we now offer our own range of natural dyes, from the arresting blues of Indigo, the vivid purples Mimosa to the unique brown heartwood of the Acacia Catechu tree.
Woad and Indigo have a history that dates back to the Picts who used Woad as body paint (the name Pict means painted) and have been used commercially as late as the 1930s to dye police uniforms.
The traditional methods for producing Woad were a lot less pleasant than the modern day techniques with urine playing a big part in the production, Queen Elizabeth I banned any production of Woad anywhere near her as she found the smell so offensive.
In traditional production, after harvesting, the leaves were chopped and made into balls that were left to dry, Woad balls were valuable, so much money could be made from growing it that in the mid 1580s restrictions were made on the amount of Woad that could be grown as it was feared it would threaten grain supplies.
Once dried, the balls could be stored, when needed they were broken down and water and urine were added, the mixture would then be left to ferment before being used for dyeing.
Whilst we wouldn’t recommend dyeing your finest silks in vats of fermented urine, no matter how far away from the queen you happen to be, if you fancy trying your hand at traditional dyeing our natural Bio Indigo Woad Dye click here.