The Woad Workshop: European Blue

by - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

2009 Maiwa Textile Symposium
Instructor Henri Lambert

Historically the French referred to woad not as a dye but as an ennoblement – for they believed that its subtle shade gave the cloth great dignity.

In this workshop students will have the opportunity to work with European woad specialist Henri Lambert. The class will discover the biology of isatis tinctoria or woad, a remarkable plant whose leaves provide pigment and whose final flowering stage yields seeds which can provide essential oils. Medieval dye processes will be explained with descriptions of the harvest of the plant, the preparation of the leaf compost, and the method by which ancient vats were maintained.

Students will learn how to start a mother vat with woad and how to troubleshoot specific problems that can occur. Dyeing procedures specific to the use of woad will be explored in detail. Students will have the opportunity to dye natural fibres.


Inspired by both the colour and the plant, the Lamberts created Bleu de Lectoure in 1994. Soon their lives were given up to woad.
It took more than two years working with chemists from the University of Toulouse to uncover the original fermentation, extraction, and dyeing processes. In an antiques store one day, fate helped them out. They stumbled upon a notebook that belonged to Napoleon’s chemist.

The couple, driven equally by curiosity and a desire to collaborate, has big plans for woad. Today they partner for research and for farming of the woad and have an industrial unit able to process up to 20 tons of leaves per day.

The farmhouse contains a gallery and store. In the historic hill town of Lectoure and in the larger centre of Toulouse, exclusive shops sell Bleu de Lectoure fashion designs, scarves, hats, decorative items, creams, and soaps. Together with their partners they have developed quality essential oils for use in cosmetics and skin care products, plastics, and a wide range of paints.

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