Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Use of Dyed yarns in the Early Anglo Saxon period

According to Walton Rogers, P. (2007:62-63) it is extremely difficult to conduct dye analysis on textile samples from the early Anglo Saxon period. However of a group of samples from the 5-7th century that were analysed results showed that two thirds of larger fabric pieces had no detectable dye and that of those that do have traces of dye the most common colours are mostly shades of;
  • blue
  • green
  • brown
  • yellow
  • with reds and purple being used for narrow woven bands and accessories such as bags and headdresses.

This limited use of colour is possibly also indicated by the limited number of terms in Old English that were used for colour suggesting that colours were poorly differentiated before the 7th century (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:63).

Of the colours that were identified the plants that were identified as producing those colours are;
Blue- Woad Isatis tinctoria identified from the presence of indigotin
Yellow- Weld Reseda luteola or Greenweed Genista tinctora, identified from Luteolin which can be produced by either plant.
Red or pink- Plants from the Madderwort family. Dyers Madder Rubia tinctorum was readily available during the Roman period however other possible sources of red from the Madder family included Ladies bedstraw Gallium verum and Wild madder Rubia peregrina evidence suggests that these native species may have been in more common use as a dye source throughout the 5th and 6th centuries.
Purple- Lichen
Walton Rogers, P. 2007:63

Origin of Dyes
Dyeing of cloth has a very long history with fragments of dyed cloth being found as early as 2000 B.C. Early colours were probably stains or from iron rust and different coloured clays (Liles, J. N. 1990: 1). Colours other than clay colours have been found in a linen fragment of cloth dated to approximately 3500 B.C found in Thebes. The colour is an indigo colour probably derived from one of the many indigo bearing plants, the most common of which, in Europe, is Woad (Liles, J. N. 1990: 54).

The Dye Process
While there analysis has been done on the presence of dyes in Anglo Saxon fibres and we can identify likely plants for the colours in textiles I have not been able to find much to indicate how textiles were dyed and what sort of process they have gone through. While some dyes such as woad do not need a mordant most vegetable dyes need a mordant to help set the colour permanently in fibre (Barber, W. J. W. 1990:235-238). A mordant is a separate chemical that combines with the dye in such a way as to attach the colouring matter to the fibre with a lasting chemical bond. Some mordants such as copper and iron also change the hue or the tone of the colour. While we know in some cases light fastness was not a focus on early period textiles it is obvious that in some cases it was and that mordants must have been used.

One place that we can look for evidence of mordanting and of dyeing processes is Roman literature and pre-Roman literature. It is reasonable to assume that although there are some differences between techniques used in Roman Britain to those used in Anglo Saxon Britain that some knowledge of textile production and processes would have remained. As we are able to see that dyes that were used in the Roman period were also used in the Anglo Saxon period we can assume that at least some of the techniques used in Roman Britain remained in Anglo Saxon England.

The Stockholm Paypyrus c. 300 AD contains multiple recipe's for mordanting cloth-

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.

Another (Recipe).
Take the wool and clean with soap weed. Take blood stone and put it in a kettle. Put therein previously boiled chalcanthum. Put in the wool previously mordanted in urine, alum, and misy. Lift the wool out, rinse it with salt water, let it become cold, and brighten the purple with gall-nut and hyacinthe. It has a very beautiful foreign appearance.

Dyeing in a Rose Color.
Rose color is dyed in the following way. Smear the rolls of wool with ashes, untie them, and wash the wool in the liquid from potter’s clay. Rinse it out and mordant it as previously described. Rinse it out in salt water after mordanting and use rain water (which is so) warm that you cannot put your hand in it. Then take for each mina of wool a quarter of a mina of roasted and finely pulverized madder and a quarter of a choenix of bean meal. Mix these together by the addition of white oil, pour it into the kettle and stir up. Put the wool in the kettle and again stir incessantly so that it becomes uniform. When it appears to you to have absorbed all the dye liquor, however, brighten it by means of alum, rinse it out again in salt water, and dry it in  the shade with protection from smoke.
(Caley, E. R. 1926)

The Stockholm Papyrus shows use of mordants such as alum, copper and iron all still in use today to mordant fabrics. I have specifically included the above recipe for dyeing a Rose Colour as not only does it use alum as the mordant but it specifically uses madder one of the herbs known to have produced reds and pinks in Migration Period Anglo Saxon finds.

Similar evidence for long term use of Woad can be found. Later in the same text methods for using Woad to produce indigo coloured dye are given.

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.

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)

These methods are still commonly used when mordanting and dyeing with vegetable dyes now. Examples of some of the colours that can easily be obtained using herbs known to be available in Migration period England using methods similar to those given in the Stockholm Papyrus can be seen in the image below.

Illustration 1: Top- Weld, Mordanted with Alum. Middle- Madder, Mordanted with Alum. Bottom Woad done in a Urine Fermentation Vat.

Barber, W. J. W. 1990. 'Prehistoric Textiles' Princeton University Press, West Sussex, UK.

Caley, E. R. (1926) “The Stockholm Papyrus : An English Translation with brief notes”  Journal of Chemical Education  IV:8 : 979-1002. http://www.clericus.org/etexts/Stockholm%20Papyrus.htm Accessed 18/09/2012

Liles, J. N. 1990. ;The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing: Traditional Recipes for Modern Use' The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, US.

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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At September 18, 2012 at 5:46 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found an excellent note about dyes in an article of Gale Owen Crockers - "I have had a good deal of discussion on this subject [dyes]. Significant points which have been made to me are that (i) the processes associated iwht dyeing would make woollen cloth much less durable and waterproof and therefore impractical for all but the highest ranks of society and (ii) any colours achieved by dyeing would have been likely to fade and wash out."

The theory of major clothes not being dyed because they'd loose their waterproofing strikes me as a good one. Until I got my awesome woollen cloth from the UK and started mucking around with spinning raw fleece (which I'm hopeless at being a lefty) I didn't realise just how much lanolin is in wool.

Source for Gale Owen Crocker - "Early Anglo-Saxon Dress - the Grave Goods and the Guesswork," Textile History 18(2) 1987, p 156 n. 8.


At March 18, 2013 at 11:24 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

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Dyed Yarn Manufacturers

At March 15, 2015 at 3:28 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

At West Stow - www.weststow.org - we have cloth dyed with woad, weld and madder. Surely they would also have dyed with onion skins as this gives a nice yellow dye and we know they had onions from riddles in the book of Exeter


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