Green is blue and yellow is also blue… isn’t it?

Close view of the dye garden bed

Anyone who’s ever tried to remove beetroot stains or tomato sauce from clothes will know how hard it is, but did you know that many of the fabric dyes we use today were originally derived from plants.

Lavenham’s history, medieval super-wealth and subsequent decline were as a result of the rise and fall of the cloth trade based here. The town became famous in medieval times for the production of Lavenham blue cloth, an expensive, sought-after material, highly prized and exported to the farthest corners of the world nearly 500 years ago.

This cloth dyeing process made Lavenham one of the richest towns in England and the merchants who controlled the trade were the medieval equivalent of today’s global billionaires. They built extravagant houses, meeting places and churches and it’s partly due to the vagaries of Lavenham’s medieval finances that many of the houses they built remain to this day.

Today we’re much more conscious of conservation, using renewable resources and natural materials; be it for  building, for products, for fuels and indeed our own clothes. Wool is perhaps one of the most ancient materials we use in the production of clothes and this July for one weekend only, we’ll be demystifying some of the magic surrounding the medieval skill of colour dyeing and spinning. We’ll be using natural extracts from some of the same plants you can see growing in the Guildhall garden, such as woad, weld and madder, and demonstrating close-up the hand dyeing process from plant extract to coloured yarn.

In the guildhall garden we’ll be dyeing fleece with woad extract which starts off yellow, turning blue as it dries and oxidises in the air, as well as using other natural plant dyes to produce yellows, reds and greens. Inside the Guildhall itself we’ll be hand spinning some of the fibres into yarn and there’s plenty of opportunity to see the process up close and ask questions.

Drop by and we’ll show you how medieval technology combined colour with wool, creating a cloth that made Lavenham famous. We’ll tell you something of the fascinating historical connections Lavenham has with the cloth trade; tell you how it made princes and paupers of some of the medieval merchants that lived here and ultimately created the village we see today.

You may never see a piece of cloth in the same light again.

Plan your visit here.