Woad balls


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Woad ball in formation1) Woad in Europe from Neolithic to Present

2) Indigo replacing woad

3) Woad in Britain from Iron Age to Present

4) Woad Production revival

5) History of Woad Mills

6) Making Woad Balls

7) Woad in other languages

8) Woad in place names

Making your own woad balls

Chopped woad leaves ready for crushing
Wear rubber gloves, unless you want to stain your nails and have your hands smelling of woad for two days! First you need to harvest and wash the woad leaves as you need fresh leaves to make woad balls. You now need to break the leaves up to end up with long fibres. Do not use a blender or food processor, as they cut up the fibre in such small pieces that you will not be able to make woad balls. I cut the leaves into one inch long pieces with a pair of secateurs and then place them on a concrete slab.

Grinding woad leaves with paverI then use a solid brick or a paver to crush the leaves to a pulpy paste with a circular grinding motion. You can also grinding the leaves between two bricks or put the leaves over a piece of wood or in a wooden barrel cut in half and chop them repeatedly with a sharp spade. You will find that this action produces a large amount of thick green liquid run-off. Apparently this liquid is mainly chlorophyll, and contains almost no pigment.
Kneading woad balls on plank
Leave the pulp to drain for a couple of hours, squeezing it from time to time. You can then knead the pulp into balls the size of a small orange. I found that by placing a piece of wood against my knees, bending down over the wood like the waddies did, and kneading the woad against the wood, any remaining liquid runs down to the ground. You need to remove as much liquid as possible; otherwise the balls are likely to go mouldy.

Two woad balls ready for dryingLeave the woad balls to dry in an airy place. You might need to cover the balls with netting to protect them from flies. When dry, the balls will last for years. I have not made enough woad balls to figure out how to couch them, but I am wondering whether placing the ground woad balls in a moist a propagator kept in a dark place would work. Watch this space!

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Last updated on 05 April 2024
Website & photos - Mike Roberts © 2006-24 woad.org.uk