HNW - Medieval Dyes

Jacquie Samples jacquie-samples at
Fri Aug 28 06:51:18 PDT 1998

Hello All,
Yes, I was referring primarily to the Medieval Period as the previous
discussion was centering around 16th to 17th century sampler colors. My
area of concern is in faithfully re-creating Renaissance to Pre-Cromwellian
English needlework, (with occasional delves into the Continent). I went as
far back as I did to establish the precedent of early dyeing, and to tie
the trend to what was happening in the New World settlements.

As a NON SCA person, I was also trying to establish that major "industries"
such as textile production (even in the American Colonies) quickly moved
from natural dyes done by individuals at home, to people purchasing either
ready-dyed materials or ready-to-use dyes.  

These ready-to-use dyes were carried onto the frontier settlements by
traveling salespeople and other settlers.  Although, I'm sure that these
were difficult to attain, I don't think that they were more difficult than
the fabrics and other dry goods. Woad was introduced to this country by the
settlers (it's a noxious weed out West), so we know that some dye plantings
of European species were going on instead of local experimentation.  We
also know that settler/frontier wives used pre-formulated dyes.

In the mid-19th century aniline dyes were invented and quickly took over
the place of natural dyes. According to Webster's an aniline dye "n. (1864)
a dye made by the use of aniline or one chemically related to such a dye;
broadly: a synthetic organic dye." These aniline dyes were popular on the
frontier as well as in cities.  I believe that these dyes would have stored
and traveled fairly well.

In the time period that I am interested in, the major natural dyes were
probably what were being used in needlework, especially in those pieces
produced by the upper class or in guilds and workshops.  These people
undoubtedly purchased their silks and linens, and whatever other fibers
were needed to complete their artwork.  

Just trying to clarify what my last post was about.

Jacquie Samples

At 09:08 AM 8/28/98 -0400, you wrote:
>Jacquie Samples pointed out that in medieval days, textile work was some of
>the first stuff that came into the towns.  This may be true, but I was
>thinking of US pioneers, since I had the impression that the person who
>asked about dyes was not in the SCA, although the discussion had veered
>somewhat strongly in that direction.  My discussion of people dyeing their
>own yarn should have more clearly pointed at the early USA.


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