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Topic: Natural dyeing with medieval dyes  (Read 7243 times)
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ptarmic wumpus
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« on: November 20, 2011 07:05:04 AM »

We recently held a dyepot "workshop" aka puttering around with dyes at a re-enactors crafting weekend.



Only a fraction of natural dyes were available in northern Europe during the medieval period. The most common dyes were weld (yellow), madder (red and orange), and woad (blue). Some other dyes were available, such as walnut (brown and black), kermes (scarlet and super expensive), cutch (browns), and brazilwood (reds, imported from Asia).

Before the weekend, the dyestuffs were extracted.

Black walnuts were harvested from a neighbors yard (they begged us to take more). These were soaked in water for several days and then simmered for several hours. This extract gave a light brown color in cool tones. A better result was gained from then allowing the hulls to sit in a bucket for several more days, then smashing them and re-simmering.  Smelly!

Walnuts on the stove:



The best result with madder root came from soaking the madder for several days, roughly chopping the root and putting it in a blender with some water, then simmering and extracting about three baths.

Madder extraction bath:


I only had dried weld. Soaking the weld and extracting once (hot, not simmering) with chalk in the bath gave only very pale color.  I then allowed the weld to soak until it started to ferment (several days) and was able to extract two batches of stronger color. The second bath became more tan than the first. A much brighter yellow was brought out by putting the fabric into an after bath with some ammonia.

Weld extraction:



The cutch came in a powdered form and was simply extracted in a single simmering bath.  Brazilwood was soaked and extracted once, but it can be extracted several times.

Setup: borrowed propane crab cooker and my Big Pot.  Extra buckets, chemicals, electronic scale. This was sooooo much easier to work with than trying to use the Big Pot on a tiny electric burner or on a stove. It holds at least 10 gallons of water with room to spare.

I premordanted most of my fabric and roving with alum.  A few pieces were mordanted in the pot.



The Big Pot was able to hold 2-3 yards of fabric, some yarn, and roving. Each bath was held at a near simmer for 1-1.5 hours.  

The weld bath was first


Then walnut was added to the weld bath to conserve water (water was taken from a rain barrel and was in limited supply).  The walnut bath was then dumped and a new bath was started with madder. When the madder seemed to be exhausted, brazilwood was added to the same bath. Then a second batch of walnut was added to this bath.

Brazilwood bath


Items dyed with walnut, madder, and brazilwood.


The cutch bath was done later. I also re-extracted and dyed one of the walnut fabrics, the weld fabric, and madder fabric.

Final yardages:


Left to right,
~1 oz cutch on 11 oz wool gabardine.
Single bath walnut on 14 oz shetland wool
re-extracted walnut on 11 oz wool gabardine
re-extracted madder (4 oz) on 14 oz shetland wool
fermented and extracted weld (500 g) on 11 oz wool gabardine, first extraction after fermenting. A second piece of 11 oz wool gabardine was dyed to a similar depth of color but with a more tan tint with the second extraction after fermenting.



« Last Edit: November 20, 2011 07:22:30 PM by ptarmic wumpus » THIS ROCKS   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2011 08:17:23 AM »

Cool! crafting and a history lesson at the same time!  Reading your post makes me really appreciate just how much work was involved in EVERYTHING people had to do back then.  this rocks!
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« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2011 08:19:09 AM »

Very cool!  I've done a bit of natural dying (though not a lot) so this is really interesting for me!  Your end result is beautiful.  Did you mordant your fabric first?
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« Reply #3 on: November 20, 2011 09:50:34 AM »

Cool! This reminds me of a book I read called "The Doomsday Book." It's about these academic people in the future who figured out a way to go back in time to the middle ages, and they have to make completely accurate costumes in order to fit in and study the people there.

Thanks for sharin'!
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« Reply #4 on: November 20, 2011 10:05:00 AM »

this is fascinating and something I always wonder about!  thank you for sharing the process, you are my dyeing hero ptarmic Smiley
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ptarmic wumpus
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« Reply #5 on: November 20, 2011 10:23:23 AM »

Whoops! Forgot to mention the mordant....yes, most of my stuff was premordanted with alum. A few things were mordanted in the dyepot.
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« Reply #6 on: November 20, 2011 07:15:58 PM »

Cool!  Was alum a period mordant?  Or just better than and alternative like old urine?
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ptarmic wumpus
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« Reply #7 on: November 20, 2011 07:26:02 PM »

Yep, they used alum, copper, and iron. Urine (ammonia) isn't really a mordant, but it is used with some dyes to manipulate the pH of the bath. I used ammonia from the grocery to change the brightness of the weld-dyed fabrics.
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« Reply #8 on: November 20, 2011 07:28:42 PM »

Thanks!  It's very interesting.  I didn't know that ammonia wasn't a mordant.  I just assumed since I have learned about methods where fibre was soaked in before dying (Indigenous people on the west coast of Canada dyed mountain goat wool this way).
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« Reply #9 on: November 21, 2011 05:10:41 PM »

This is fantastic Ptarmic!!  Really love all the colors you were able to achieve!
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