Woad: History of a natural color

A close relationship between nature, agriculture, textiles and craftmanship


The color of death and enemy

Isatis tinctoria, known by the term "woad", is a plant of the brassicaceae family, is of Asian origin and was almost certainly introduced in the European area as early as the Neolithic. Among the coloring plants, woad was the only one useful for dyeing textiles in blue. The Greeks and Romans did not like the blue: they associated it with the color of death and identified it with the barbarian populations...



The color of divine and nobility

From 1200 in Europe the woad blue - applied to textiles -became the color of the "celestial divinity", of prestige, of nobility. To tell us about the use and preciousness of this color in clothing, are the paintings and portraits that illustrated (between 1200 and 1600) noble characters and religious figures wearing woad blue dresses, mantles, accessories. The painters depicted people dressed in textile dyed with woad, but using mineral pigments that imitated as much as possible the shade of the naturally dyed fabric: they used for example lapis lazuli and azurite.


Woad disappears

In 1600 indigo was imported to Europe from the East: it was a plant useful for dyeing in blue, particularly convenient in terms of yield and cost. The cultivation of woad stops abruptly, supplanted by the importation of indigo: that's the first globalization that destroys the native economy and tradition.


Henry William Perkin definitively changes our lives

In 1856 Perkin discovers the first synthetic color. For only 164years, no more natural dyes have been used on textile and clothing production, but only industrial chemical dyes. Isn’t it strange that such an overwhelming and yet so recent innovation has made us forget how important nature has been?