At Outsider we are dedicated to working with natural fibre fabrics so it was a logical step for us to investigate natural dyeing techniques. Even though we currently use low impact dyed fabrics - Global Organic Textile Standard certified where possible – we really wanted to see if we could get even closer to nature.
So this season we decided to go blue and work with the beautiful woad plant.
What inspired us most about working with woad is its incredible history. Its use can be traced back to Neolithic times. Thousands of years before the opening of global trade routes and the arrival of indigo from the Far East, the woad plant (Isatis tinctoria) was the primary source of blue dye in Europe and North Africa. It's been discovered on ancient Egyptian mummy wrappings, while in Roman Britain it was supposedly used by the Picts and the Iceni tribe of Queen Boudica.
Today, only a handful of craftspeople worldwide still practice this most ancient of dyeing techniques and we have been very lucky to be able to work with one of them in the UK.
After picking the woad leaves they need to be softened in hot water - this releases the dye. The leaves are then removed and the solution is cooled and mixed with a natural alkaline substance like soda ash. The mixture is then aerated to allow the pigment to form. After a period of settling it is gradually filtered and dried. A solid blue residue is refined and then added to a fresh dye vat.
Now the fun begins. The magical part of the process is when you first pull the fabric out of the vat and it looks yellow. As it meets the air it begins to oxidise and the yellow changes to green and then into the beautiful blue shade you see on our dresses. Each time the garment is dipped into the vat, more dye is absorbed by the fabric and it results in a deeper shade of blue.
We fell in love with woad for several reasons but mainly because it’s completely natural. Ian Howard of Woad Inc. sums it up perfectly: “The benefit of growing woad again as a colouring material is to offer an alternative to the harmful chemicals used in synthetic indigo dyeing whilst using a sustainable resource. Synthetic indigo is made industrially from three toxic chemicals: aniline, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide, which are derived mainly from non-renewable resources.”
So here you are, we picked our two best selling shirt dress styles and have made a limited edition run using organic woad dye. Our organic cotton style is dip-dyed by hand for a playful look and once belted it appears you are wearing a white blouse with a delicate denim skirt. Our luxurious silk shirt dress has been fully immersed to create a unique all over blue hue.
The nature of hand dyeing means that no two dresses are alike – each garment has its own shade and each is completely unique.
Always one step ahead, the lovely Bel Jacobs, Fashion Editor at Metro borrowed our dip-dyed shirt dress for a shoot and very kindly shared this behind the scenes snap with us.
Outsider - The Home of Ethical Fashion