madder plant

Dye cultivation
 Recording the events of September 1066
raven sketch

Find out about the battle of Fulford



The battle of Fulford website


Panel 1 - Scarborough


  Panel 2 - Rampage through Holderness


  Panel 3 - Preparing for battle


Panel 4 -Confrontation


Panel 5 - Outflanking at the ford  


Panel 6 - King Harald enters York

Visiting Fulford

Map York

MADDER (Rubia tinctorum) but grows like a creeper

Madder plant

Madder is a low creeping plant that will cover an area of ground quite quickly. It does not need a great deal of looking after apart from the occasional weeding. The plant matures at 5 years old. The flowers are small and yellow/green in colour. The berries are dark when ripe and can be used as seed stock to multiply the crop.

Use as a dye

The part of the plant used for the dye is the tuber type roots. The plant should be pulled from the ground after loosening the soil. The leaves can then be stripped off the plant and the roots put in a sheltered place to dry out. When dry the roots can be ground up into a powder. Alum gives a deep red on wool. Copper will brighten the colour.

Ratio (by weight) of fresh to powder is 3:1. Use 100g material and 4l water for a strong dyebath. Likes hard water so add some chalk.

The max temp is 158f or 60 c. But 140 is better for brighter reds.


WELD  (Reseda luteola)

Weld (dyers rocket) plant


Also known as 'dyers rocket' because of the speed and height that it grows to. The seed is very small and fine and should be planted in rows a foot apart. It grows at an amazing speed up to the height of 6 foot plus. The head of the plant flowers with small yellow clusters which set to seed pods.

Cultivation details

Easily grown in any well-drained neutral to slightly alkaline soil in a sunny position or in some shade if the summers are long and hot. At one time this plant was commonly cultivated for the dye obtained from the leaves and seed but with the advent of chemical dyes it has fallen into disuse. A good plant for bees and butterflies. Plants dislike root disturbance, they can be transplanted but care must be taken not to break the tap root.


Seed - sow in situ in the spring and only just cover the seed. An autumn sowing usually succeeds in areas where winter temperatures do not fall below about -10c. The seed germinates in the autumn in the wild.

Use as a dye

The whole of the plant can be harvested and dried. You can chop it up to make storage easier. The whole of the plant is put in boiling water to extract the yellow dye. Use alum as a mordant with wool, and you will get a lemon-yellow colour

WOAD (Isatis tinctoria - second year in flower)

Woad plant in flower

In the first year it looks like a dandelion! This is what it looks like in the early summer of year 2.

Woad seed can be sown in the garden to provide leaves for dyeing in the first year and to flower as an attractive garden flower in the second. The seed can be sown about 5 cms deep in March or April. The seedlings can also be transplanted. Keep it clean weeded. By the end of June the leaves will be full size for the first year, about 20 cms tall. In the second year the Woad grows to about 1.5 metres with masses of small yellow flowers. Use first year leaves from July (best) until November. It is also possible to use the small leaves which occur in the second year.

Dyeing with Woad

bulletDrop the leaves into fast boiling water with a pinch of cream of tartar. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes.
bulletRemove the leaves and cool the liquid as quickly as possible.
bulletAdd ammonia until the Liquid is yellowish in colour.
bulletBring the liquid to 60 degrees Centigrade while adding ammonia until yellow again.
bulletAdd sodium dithionite to de-oxidise the liquid.
bulletStir gently without splashing until a bronze scum appears.
bulletPut in the hot wet wool then remove it and shake in the air.
bulletDip it again if not blue enough.

It is a fast dye that fades little in sunlight or in washing.



Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)

Pick in the hedgerows in early summer when the plant has flowered. It is so plentiful that there are no known restrictions on its harvest but always worth checking.

BUT it comes from the same family as hogweed and hemlock (as well as carrots) so take care if you are not familiar.

Use as a dye

Chop the plants and bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour before straining. The wool you use must be mordanted (alum works well) and simmer for an hour. The result is a green-yellow.


Juglans family

Use as a dye

This is a superb resource and a harvest will do no harm to a healthy tree.

The young leaves make a reddy-brown, mature leaves a darker, but warm brown, and the nuts (husk and all) give a black-brown. 

Boil the walnut plants for an hour and use the liquid by simmering for up to an hour. The wool will look darker in the dyebath than once it is washed, so leave it a bit longer than the colour you require to pick up the hue you desire.

Although this is known as the native Walnut, the name is though to come from the old English word wealhhnutu, meaning literally 'foreign nut'. (This has the same root as Welsh - meaning Foreigners).

Illustrations by Amanda Pollard





Read about the battle that inspired the tapestry

Panel 1 from the coloured design

The author of the content is Charles Jones -

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launched May 2012

last updated Dec 2012

Panel 6 from the original sketch

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