The Blue Message //
Messaggio nel Blu

Why does an Italian woman in the east German town of Erfurt dye special shades of blue with an ancient forgotten plant?

For Ros­anna Minelli, this plant, which has been cul­tiv­ated in Europe for more than 1000 years, has a fas­cin­at­ing his­tory. The fact that the leaves of this plant, which is sim­il­ar to rape­seed with its yellow flowers, shaped the blue fash­ion color for two cen­tur­ies, and much more has become vis­ible again through Rosanna's research and blue dyeing. How the blue pig­ment is cre­ated and how the dyeing pro­cess works is what she teaches in her dye work­shops.

Rosanna and her blue vision

In her small shop on the famous ‘Krämer­brücke’ in Erfurt you can exper­i­ence this blue world in many facets. Fine tex­tiles, hand-dyed and prin­ted, blue soaps and her blue pig­ment col­lec­tion are only a small part of her product range. But the blue grape leaf border she restored around the ceil­ing and the painted por­trait on the wall in the annex also shows that Ros­anna has a wide range of expert­ise besides blue dyeing.

"In my small man­u­fact­ory I give an insight into how, accord­ing to his­tor­ic­al recipes, the cul­tiv­a­tion of the woad and the pro­duc­tion of the blue pig­ment is cre­ated. Also my hand dyeing of vari­ous fab­rics that are made into unique tex­tiles show these won­der­ful blue colors. I achieve the deep, darker blue shades by repeat­ing the dyeing pro­cessesI com­ple­ment some tex­tiles with print pat­terns I have designed."

Ros­anna uses the Japan­ese 'shi­bori' print­ing tech­nique, which means using wooden forms to recess the area to be prin­ted, to pat­tern her tex­tiles. To pro­duce her unique tex­tile prints she uses old wooden print­ing forms from India and her own designs, which she makes with a master crafts­man in Erfurt. Region­al and hand­made to the smal­lest detail – every tex­tile is a true hand-craf­ted piece.

What will you learn at Rosanna's Plant Dyeing Workshops?

Also, at the dyeing work­shops you will dive into this won­der­ful blue world. Not only will you learn the basics of the blue dye pro­cess with woad, but in a guided tour Ros­anna will also teach you about the import­ance of this plant for the city of Erfurt and the sur­round­ing vil­lages in the Middle Ages. With the blue pig­ment pro­duced by Ros­anna from loc­ally grown woad, the sur­prise effect comes right at the end. In the blue dye bath, the fab­rics take on a yellow/green col­or­a­tion. Only in con­tact with oxygen does the blue color devel­op. To obtain deeper shades of blue, the fabric must be repeatedly dipped in the green vat and left to air dry again.

Erfurt, Weimar, Bauhaus & the Woad Blue

As a homage to the 100th anniversary of BAUHAUS 1919-2019 and to one of her famous teach­ers Johannes Itten, Ros­anna designs a 'BLUE­HAUSe' col­lec­tion. The blue of the woad with the prin­ted squares give her scarves a time­less look.

"With the care I take in dyeing and print­ing, I also choose my mater­i­als. Some of my fab­rics are woven in a small hand weav­ing mill in Sardin­ia. The yarn for the scarves is a mix of merino wool and Sardini­an coun­try sheep, fibers from the mohair goat, blen­ded with cotton and silk."

This is not where the cul­tur­al jour­ney ends for Ros­anna. Here, too, she uses her woad blue pig­ment made from the loc­ally grown plants from the coun­tryside around Erfurt. With this she hands dyes her tex­tiles also using her 'Made in Ger­many' wooden Shi­bori print forms.

Which blue actions has Rosanna already staged?

For the 2017 ‘Kramer­brücke’ Fest­iv­al, Ros­anna bathed the famous bridge of the medi­ev­al mer­chants in Erfurt with her ban­ners in a blue light. As in the Middle Ages, blue panels of fabric hang between the houses. Prin­ted with mes­sages from import­ant European poets and thinkers, trans­lated into 8 dif­fer­ent lan­guages: Latin, Hebrew, French, Itali­an, Rus­si­an, Japan­ese, Arabic, Eng­lish. An art install­a­tion that shows how import­ant it is for Ros­anna to show and to believe in the European ‘togeth­er­ness’. She also seeks exchanges with other woad inter­ested people in Europe when it comes to her blue dyeing research and pro­cess. Nat­ur­al dyeing with woad is exper­i­en­cing a renais­sance not only in Erfurt, but also in parts of France and her native Italy.

How does an italian art restorer get to Erfurt in Germany?

After study­ing art res­taur­a­tion in Genoa, Ros­anna works on vari­ous pro­jects in Switzer­land, such as the cathed­ral in Lausanne, in Neuchâtel and in Basel. Then she moves to Bav­aria and Thuringia in Ger­many The work on a mural in a famous villa in Erfurt Friedrich cre­ates a new oppor­tun­ity. She opens her first art supply shop with paints and restor­ers mater­i­als. There she organ­izes monthly art lec­tures and comes into con­tact with the blue of the plant ‘Isatis Tinc­tor­ia’ -the woad- through a local master crafts­man.

The historical 'Blue Dye Business'

As a sought-after city guide for Itali­an, French and German guests in Erfurt and Thuringia, Ros­anna repeatedly comes across the topic of woad cul­tiv­a­tion and blue dyeing in her research on the medi­ev­al Hanseat­ic city of Erfurt in the east­ern part of Ger­many.

“Com­mer­cial woad has been grown mainly in Thuringia since as early as the 9th cen­tury. The 'blue gold' from Erfurt was an import­ant trade good in the medi­ev­al time and ensured the city's wealth. The city of Genoa has also his­tor­ic­ally grown with this blue color. The well-known name 'Jeans' means Genova. As early as the 16th cen­tury, thick fab­rics were woven from cotton and dyed with woad blue for the sail­ors’ pants. It was only much later that Levis Strauss impor­ted this cotton fabric from the cities of Genoa (jeans) and Denim in France to the USA and had it dyed there with the South Amer­ic­an Indigofera Tinc­tor­ia (blue from India). But that was soon replaced by the arti­fi­cially pro­duced indigo pig­ment.”

The ‘Woad ball’ - a forgotten commodity

It is amaz­ing that so little know­ledge was saved from a dye plant that alone determ­ines blue dyeing in Europe for more than 400 years. In the Middle Ages, the woad ball, which con­sists of dried and pressed woad leaves, was an import­ant com­mod­ity and led to prosper­ity not only in Erfurt but also in other regions of Europe includ­ing Genoa, Rosanna's Itali­an homet­own. In the 17th cen­tury, woad blue was replaced by the cheap­er nat­ur­al indigo from India. And at the end of the 19th cen­tury, the arti­fi­cially pro­duced indigo pig­ment was already being used. You can buy these woad balls in Rosanna's shop, trans­port them to your homet­own and try dyeing them there. Or you can dir­ectly grow your own plants with the seeds of woad.

Art restorer and ‘blue dyer’ – what is the connection?

As a restor­er, Ros­anna knows the vari­ous artist­ic and tech­nic­al tech­niques of using paint to restore a paint­ing or a mural. Dif­fer­ences arise depend­ing on the style epoch and the local con­di­tions. When it comes to woad blue, she is not only inter­ested in the theory, but also in the applic­a­tion. So Ros­anna starts her first attempts at dyeing, researches fur­ther and finds a local woad farmer to pro­duce her own pig­ments. An excit­ing blue jour­ney also through Italy and France begins for her.

Rosanna and her blue knowledge

Over the years Ros­anna builds a small but fine center of ‘blue dye’ excel­lence and know­ledge in Erfurt. Because for her it is very import­ant to revive and to invest­ig­ate the 'old blue dyeing' pro­cess and the nat­ur­al resources. Ros­anna is fas­cin­ated by how envir­on­ment­al con­di­tions influ­ence the col­or­ing power of the dried woad leaves. With her blue pig­ments, which she has been pro­du­cing in recent years from the local har­vest of a woad farmer, she doc­u­ments the blue intens­ity depend­ing on the weath­er con­di­tions of those years. Depend­ing on the growth phase in which dry and moist con­di­tions happen, all of this influ­ences the blue of the pig­ment and the dying shaded. Nice to think that the blue hues of Rosanna's tex­tiles are vin­tage colors – unique each year.

The next blue step!

There is no stand­still for Ros­anna. She is always look­ing for new net­works. In Bal­lenstedt, a small vil­lage in the coun­tryside, the asso­ci­ation 'heimat­BE­WE­GEN' has opened a com­munity center for cre­at­ive people. Ros­anna now dyes larger amounts of fabric in her blue colors. Anoth­er step to imple­ment new bigger pro­jects. Ros­anna com­bines her Itali­an tem­pera­ment and energy with her never ending idea. Now she also offers other nat­ur­al plants which can pro­duce other won­der­ful nat­ur­al dyes. Not only the blue from woad, but also the yellow from dye chamo­mile and golden­rod or the red from madder root are now part of her dye work­shops.

The blue color vision - and you?

Maybe the blue fever grabs you too, the oppor­tun­ity to com­bine newly researched and old know­ledge? The enthu­si­asm for this won­der­ful gift of nature that needs to be pre­served and revital­ized.

“I have been involved in blue dyeing for many years. Since my work­ing hours are finite, I would like to put what I have built up in someone else's hands. I am look­ing for a suc­cessor over the next few years who will accom­pany me a part of the way, who wants to learn and help to shape the next blue step."

If you're inter­ested in Rosanna’s pro­ject or want to par­ti­cip­ate at her dyeing work­shop first, get in touch with Ros­anna. She's happy to hear from you.

Name: Ros­anna Minelli

She is: Restor­er of wall and canvas paint­ings, nat­ur­al dyer, 'Erfur­ter Blau' shop owner, freel­ance lec­turer, city guide

She can be found in: Erfurt, the medi­ev­al Hanseat­ic city in Thuringia, East Ger­many, in her shop on the famous 'Krämer­brücke'  the medivi­al mer­chants street

She likes: Having a coffee in the morn­ing and start­ing the new day

Art with a cap­it­al K - that means: Art that can touch the soul, art that can give emo­tions and cre­at­ive new impulses, no matter in which cen­tury it was cre­ated.  From Pablo Picas­so, Michelan­gelo Merisi da Cara­vag­gio, Jack­son Pollok, Jacopo da Pon­tormo, Leonardo da Vinci, Man Ray, and many others.

She admires:

  • Vir­gin­ia Wolf - Brit­ish nov­el­ist and pub­lish­er (1882 -1941)
  • Grazia Deledda - Itali­an writer and 1926 Nobel Prize winner for lit­er­at­ure (1871 -1936)
  • Mar­guer­ite Durat - French nov­el­ist, play­wright, screen­writer and film dir­ect­or (1914 – 1996)
  • Cam­ille Claudel - French sculptor and paint­er (1864 -1943)
  • Oriana Fal­laci - itali­an journ­al­ist and writer (1929 – 2006)

Her WIASOLA tip:

"Always ask ques­tions, seek the answers, and never be sat­is­fied or think, 'I've accom­plished, done, and sought enough.'

Her favor­ite art:

  • Music: 'Stabat Mater' by Per­golesi
  • Com­pos­i­tions by Arvo Pärt - The Esto­ni­an com­poser is con­sidered one of the most import­ant rep­res­ent­at­ives of the New Sim­pli­city
  • Films: 'Bicycle Thieves' by Vit­torio de Sica & 'Met­ro­pol­is' by Fritz Lang
  • Lit­er­at­ure: "A Man" by Oriana Fal­laci

Her 5 favor­ite museums:

  • der ‚Louvre‘

  • das ‚Centre Pomp­idou‘

  • die ‚Uffizien‘Pompeji

  • und viele, viele mehr!!

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