Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mucking around with dyes.

OK this blog post is going to be a bit lighter on with the research than my usual posts. That's because this post is about my experimentation with dye. In particular this post will be looking at my experiments into dying with Woad using a Fermented urine vat.

Going back to the previous post I used the Stockholm Papyrus to examine the way that woad was prepared and used as a dye. Woad was not just thrown in a pot with a bit of urine and which then successfully dyed wool it had to be prepared to do this. The Stockholm Papyrus does in fact describe this process.

104. Collection of Woad.
Cut off the woad and put together in a basket in the shade. Crush and pulverize, and leave it a whole day. Air thoroughly on the following day and trample about in it so that by the motion of the feet it is turned up and uniformly dried. Put together in baskets lay it aside. Woad, thus treated, is called charcoal.

105. Dyeing in Dark Blue.
Put about a talent of woad in a tube, which stands in the sun and contains not less than 15 metretes, and pack it in well. Then pour urine in until the liquid rises over the woad and let it be warmed by the sun, but on the following day get the woad ready in a way so that  you (can) tread around in it in the sun until it becomes well moistened. One must do this, however for 3 days together.

106. Cooking of Woad Charcoal.
Divide the woad charcoal into three parts including that which is above the infused urine. Mix one of the parts in a convenient manner, put it in a pot and build a fire beneath it. You will perceive whether the woad is cooked in the following manner. When it boils, stir carefully and not in a disorderly fashion, so that the woad does not sink down and ruin the kettle. When the woad cracks in the middle the cooking is perfect. You should take away the fire from the underneath, but should nevertheless stir within the pot. Cool the under surface of the pot by sprinkling with cold water. Then take and put it in the vat a half a choenix of soap weed. Pour enough of the cooked woad over (it), lay poles or reeds over the edge of the vat, cover with mats and build a moderate fire under it so that it does not boil over and (yet) does not become cold. Leave it 3 days. Boil up urine with soap weed, skim off the scum, and put in boiled wool. Then rinse off in a convenient manner, press out, card it, and put the wool in the dye liquor. When it appears to you to be right, take the wool out, cover up the vat against and build a fire beneath it in the same way. Put 2 minas of archil in the liquid, after you have boiled the archil and in doing so have skimmed off the scum. Then put the dyed wool in. Rinse off in salt water and cool it off. Dye in blue twice a day, morning and evening, as long as the dye liquor is serviceable.
(Caley, E. R. 1926)

Most of the description in the above three sections is about preparing the Woad. Only the last few sentences actually relate to dying the wool in the Woad and the Urine.

Woad does in fact need to be treated before it can be used to dye wool. As I didn't actually have the time or resources to treat the Woad I looked for a place where I could get Woad that had been treated in a traditional manner. I found which you will see processes Woad in a manner very similar to the directions given above. The eventual product is an extraction of Woad similar to the Woad Charcoal mentioned in the Stockholm Papyrus.

So to short circuit the whole process I got myself some Woad extract the theory being that not everyone would have it available at home even in the sixth century and so someone was probably selling Woad Charcoal as an extract so that people could dye their clothes.

The next step is basically adding archil which is another purplish dye substance (HubPages Inc. 20101) which probably just deepened the colour then put the already soaked wool into the dye substance- woad plus urine, which is heated slightly.

So where did this leave me. First of all to dye with woad I had to make the decision, was I going to try and use a technique that was likely to be used during the Migration Anglo Saxon period or not. As this whole project was to try some of these sorts of techniques the answer was fairly obvious. This meant that my next objective was to collect enough urine to be able to set up a urine dye vat.

It takes a surprisingly short period of time to collect 20 Litres of urine however a piece of advice if you ever decide to do this make sure you collect it in a smaller bucket and empty it in the shortest possible time into a bigger bucket once a day. The smell as urine starts to ferment is quite intense. Another thing that I had not thought through properly is the placement of my bucket. Looking back it should have been quite obvious that this was an outside job. At the time I put the large bucket of urine into my main bathroom, the one my kids use, because it would be warm, essential for the process, and because it was convenient. This lasted about two weeks until I realised that I was spending an hour or two per day with the window wide open trying to air the bathroom of the smell created from opening the bucket for about 30 seconds per day.

My husband had the delightful job of transferring 20 Litres of stale fermenting urine down the stairs and out into our backyard where, to keep it warm it was wrapped up in blankets and plastic bags and a brew belt put around the dye bucket.

 Illustration 1: Urine dye vat wrapped up to keep warm.

After the vat had fermented for a number of days wool was added to it. While I was successful in getting a quite lovely woad blue, as shown in my previous post it was nowhere near as fast as using a straight indigo vat, even though the chemicals from Woad and Indigo are the same. With the woad to get a good rich colour takes 1-3 days in the vat. Again this fits very well with the timings in the Stockholm Papyrus.

Illustration 2: Wool after one day in the Woad Urine Fermentation Vat

Illustration 3: Wool carded and spun after 2 days in the Urine, Woad Fermentation Vat.

What about other dyes.
The two other dyes that can be seen in the above picture show wool dyed in Weld and Madder, two colours that were available in Migration Period Anglo Saxon England. While there is not as much information, especially about Weld in the Stockholm Papyrus, the information on how these dyes could be used was available. First and foremost both of these wools are Mordanted. The Stockholm Papyrus gives details for Mordanting wool with Alum and other mordants.

94. Mordanting for Sicilian Purple.
Put in the kettle 8 chus of water, a half a mina of alum, 1 mina of flowers of copper (and) 1 mina of gall-nuts. When it boils put in 1 mina of washed wool. When it has boiled two or three times take the wool out. For when you leave it therein a longer time then the purple becomes red. Take the wool out, however, rinse it out and you will have it mordanted.
(Caley, E. R. 1926)

Alum is not actually readily available in England so to use it as a Mordant for clothing from the Anglo Saxon period in England would be unreasonable for large amounts of yarn or fabric. However aluminium collecting plants such as Clubmoss do grow in England and these would be a source of aluminium for mordanting fibres (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:37).

While I cold have experimented with using copper and other forms of Mordant for dyeing I had not done a lot of dyeing with traditional plant based dyes and so thought that it was better to start with a mordant that was safe enough to be used in my kitchen. So I have used Alum as the Mordant. During the Anglo Saxon period I would have used the Clubmoss to obtain my Mordant.

The directions form mordanting wool using alum is basically to boil up the alum, put in the washed and soaked wool and then leave it for a while, I usually left my wool overnight. Dyeing is pretty much the same. The basic directions for dyeing wool once you ignore the addition of different sorts of colour preparation, is to prepare a pot of colour, put the soaked pre-mordanted wool into the colour, boil it up and then leave it overnight. This is exactly what I did for to colour my wools. I left the preparation of the colour to the experts who prepare their extracts in traditional ways, and dyed my wool.

100. Another (Recipe).
To dye with mulberries. Take and crush unripe bunches of grapes and mordant the wool therein for 3 days. On the fourth day put this grape juice in another pot and boil the wool therein, but when it boils lift it out, rinse it with water and let it become cold. Then take juice of mulberries and boil up until it boils twice. Put the wool in and let it become cold therein and it will be a fine excellent purple.

It is amazing how many different colours can be obtained by different strengths of dye and by using the exhaust of the dye pot- this is dying one skein of wool and leaving it overnight and then using the same pot to dye another skein a weaker colour.

Illustration 4: Wool mordanted with alum and dyed with Madder. Dark- twice dyed, medium- once dyed. Pale- exhaust for the dark wool.

Illustration 5: Wool mordanted with alum and died with Weld. Bright- once died with Weld. Greenish/ yellow, exhaust pot for a much brighter Weld, not shown that looks almost fluorescent yellow.

Caley, E. R. (1926) “The Stockholm Papyrus : An English Translation with brief notes”  Journal of Chemical Education  IV:8 : 979-1002. Accessed 18/09/2012

HubPages Inc. 2010. 'Dye Plants II: The Atlantic Purple Wonder Archil lichen Roccella tinctoria.'

Walton Rogers, P. 2007. 'Cloth and Clothing in Early Anglo-Saxon England: AD 450-700'. Council for British Archaeology, York, UK.

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