Remember Mel Gibson in Braveheart? The battle scenes with the warriors and their blue painted faces? That blue paint or dye would have come from woad, a plant that has been used for about 2000 years to make a highly coveted blue dye. You start by picking the woad leaves, shown in above photo.
Making woad dye is a laborious and time consuming process. In my second book, I have a character named Gethin, and he is a woad-maker. Woad makers had to live far away from any other population because of the odors produced in its manufacture. The scent of cat urine and rotten cabbage mixed with feces is one description!
Woad villages existed solely for the production of woad. The woad makers and dyers would have had various shades of blue permanently staining their bodies, especially their hands. If you look at the photo above of a young man lifting wool out of a dye vat, you can see that the rubber gloves he has on are stained a deep vivid blue.
Woad dye produced a gorgeous blue color. It must have been quite a contrast to the drab reds, browns, greens, and yellows that were usually worn. Only the wealthy could afford garments dyed with woad.
Woad was also used by the Picts and possibly the Celts to paint their faces for battle. It’s also possible that the woad dye was used to tattoo men and women. The research I have done is inconclusive. I have a Pict character in my second book, too, and I chose to write that his tattoos were permanent.
If you would like to read more about woad, check out Teresinha’s site http://www.woad.org.uk/.
Last year I corresponded with Teresinha about some of the finer points of making woad while I was writing about my character Gethin. Her site is fascinating and it just might inspire you to whip up a batch of woad dye yourself!