HNW - Period Dyes, Class Status, and Web Sites

Margo Lynn Hablutzel Hablutzel at
Thu Aug 27 05:59:28 PDT 1998

For the non-SCA readers of the list, don't be put off by the first few
paragraphs, keep reading for some generally-useful source information (and
for thelady who wanted information about the SCA, the main website is -- it is not a reenactment group in the mountaineer or
Civil War or F&I period sense, especially as it covers much more ground,
not all of which is well enough documented to re-create precisely):

>I was working from the assumpton that *most*  SCA folk I know
>(myself  included) have aristocratic persona. When I see people make garb
>or enter garb in contests, it tends to spiffy upper class stuff. These
>(I joined 25 years ago) that may  not be the case, it's just been my
>personal experience (so far).

There are a number of errors in this.

FIRST, most of what you are seeing is probably not just "spiffy upper class
stuff," but "spiffy LATE PERIOD upper class stuff," because that is (1) the
best documented (just go look in any portrait gallery) and (2) takes about
a gazillion hours to make and therefore people are willing to do it as a

HOWEVER, I have seen some early-period garments and outfits entered, some
of which include nifty touches such as extrapolation from grave goods and
hand-spun, -woven, and -dyed fabrics and materials.  YMMV, and it may also
depend upon your Kingdom and local climate.  I'm Welsh because almost
everybody in my first group was Welsh (we had one Italian), and I'm early
period because I have limited interest in sewing and NO interest in

SECOND, I have heard often over the years that "because we are all at least
a Lady or a Lord, we are all aristocrats."  Since the widespread use of
title is so anti-authentic, and since people are needed to do the chores, I
have thought of people below peers as "just plain folks" or at best, middle
class.  Again, YMMV based upon dedication to authenticity and persona
choices.  (Not picking on the author above, just that my persona could not
and would not be an aristocrat, no matter how many titles I could rack up.)

THIRD, and this is a general comment, there are some web sites that talk
about the dyes and colours available, and even how to recreate them.  You
can start at:   which talks
about Celtic garb, and it has a link called "Dark Ages Colors" which has
photos of yarn dyed as they would/could have done in the Dark and Middle
Ages.  For the last two days, that particular link has not worked for me,
but there is also as part of that page the charts at  which offer for each colour family
the dyes and mordants which could achieve it, with the names in Gaelic and
Latin(? it's not up at the moment).  You can also link to other sites that
talk about dyes and colouring, as well as other elements of early-period
garments.  These give you an idea of colours available at various times.

FOURTH, I learned a lot about using natural dyes in the 19th-century
reenactment site where I worked before joining the SCA.  (Moved, new home
had SCA and not 19th Century, I figured it would be close enough.  Now
going back the other way, living in a place that has both.)  Some natural
dyes give very dark, rich colours (walnut hulls, anyone?) even after a
couple passes through.  Others start out pale nad never improve.  You can
overdye to get other colours or to deepen an effect.  True that some of the
darker dyes are imported and expensive (indigo, cohineal) but you can
experiment and get some very rich effects even with things growing around
you.  I have some mundane dyeing books that are useful as starting sources
and which show colours than range from palest to absolutely crayon-bright,
and not necessarily with modern chemicals.  While commercially-dyed fabric
might have been priced according to the cost of the dye material and the
depth of the colour (and does anyone have documentation that would indicate
this?), out in the sticks where people were doing their own, you could
pretty much come up with whatever colour and depth of colour you liked and
the local flora would allow.

So, to the person who said that most dyeign was done commercially, maybe in
later periods, and maybe near cities, but even in the 19th Century people
might be dyeing their own yarns to get the colours they needed.  After all,
stores had limited supplies in some areas, and my research on commercial
yarn production has turned up minimal information (more always welcome!). 
Fabric may have been dyed, but people still made things of yarn and these
needed to be dyed if the person wanted to make more than just
sheep-coloured items.

Just being my usual opinionated self,

                                                ---= Morgan

           |\     THIS is the cutting edge of technology! 
           |/   Morgan Cely Cain * Hablutzel at
                     Barony of the Steppes * Ansteorra
                          daytime: margolh at
                19th Century: Sara Freeman of San Marcos, TX

     "There is no such thing as a good war or a bad peace."
                                          --- Benjamin Franklin

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