Saturday, January 22, 2011

A&S 50 - 4: Madder Dyeing Wool

NB: This write-up is one section of a longer piece of documentation written for an upcoming A&S competition.

A number of natural dyestuffs were known and used in northern Europe during the Viking Age, principal among them madder, weld and woad. These would have been used along with mordants such as alum, iron, copper and tannin to produce a wide range of bright colors on wool, linen and silk.

Madder was the most commonly identified dye plant found in the Coppergate digs, and the most commonly identified dye found on textiles in the same area and might easily have been grown in the vicinity. Madder does require a mordant in order to adhere to fibers. While alum would have been difficult to find in England during the period, Walton argues that large quantities of imported clubmoss found in the area were probably used as an alum substitute. There is also evidence of iron having been used as a mordant on the caps found in Dublin. Copper and tannin were also used as mordants during the period.

Wool could have been dyed at any stage during processing, either as unspun fleece, yarn, or finished fabric. Fulling was not commonly used as a finishing technique until the medieval period (see Walton), so it is likely that most dyeing was done prior to weaving as the dye bath tends to continue the fulling process and most extant textiles from the Anglo-Scandinavian digs do not have a compacted, fulled appearance.

Not all cloth during the period would have been dyed. Wool comes naturally off the sheep in a wide range of colors, and many textiles from natural wool colors have been found. As seen on the Dublin caps and discussed above, not all caps were dyed, but colored caps were not unknown. In addition, utilizing the natural colors of wool in combination with dyes can produce a broader range of possible colors, Walton points to one textile from Anglo-Scandinavian York which had proved to be grey wool dyed with madder.

For my cap, the finished cloth was dyed using madder with an alum mordant. I elected to use alum as it is safer and easier to use than iron, and was was used in conjunction with madder during the period. The fulled cloth was wetted and soaked overnight. I then dissolved 4 ½ tsp cream of tartar and 4 ½ tsp alum in boiling water, added this to cool water in my dye pot and added the cloth. The mordant bath was heated slowly to simmering, and held there for an hour. The cloth cooled in the alum solution over night.

While my fibers were in the mordant bath, I prepared my dyestuff. I used 4 ounces of madder root, and chopped it roughly and set it to soak overnight. I removed the wool from the mordant, filled my dye pot with clean water and added the soaked madder root and liquid. I then replaced the wool, and gently heated the dye pot, taking care not to overheat the dye as this can result in duller shades. I stirred the pot occasionally and after a day was able to exhaust the bath and produce a bright reddish-orange cloth.

According to all of the sources on madder dyeing I had consulted, the roots needed to be soaked overnight prior to dyeing. Unfortunately, all I was able to find to put the roots in was a plastic pickle jar. Knowing that vinegar is an acid and that acid is a modifier which will significantly change the color natural dyestuffs, I took care to wash the jar thoroughly before soaking my roots. The next day I carried on my dyeing, but noticed after about an hour that my wool was turning a brilliant shade of reddish orange rather than a clear red. After soaking the wool for a day in a warm bath, the result was the exact color my dye book said I would get if I followed an alum mordant with an acid modifier, rather than the clear red I had intended. Apparently the plastic had retained just enough acetic acid to alter the color of my dye bath.


Crowfoot, Elisabeth. Textiles and Clothing c.1150-c.1450. Medieval Finds from Excavations in London, 4. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1992

Walton, Penelope. The Archaeology of York: The Small Finds Textile Production at 16-22 Coppergate. The York Archaeological Trust, 1997.

Lead, Drea. Dye Recipes from The Innsbruck Manuscript c.1330 ( Last visited January 18, 2011.

Dean, Jenny. Wild Color. Watson-Guptill Publications, 1999.

Priest-Dorman, Carolyn. Colors, Dyestuffs, and Mordants of the Viking Age: An Introduction
( Last visited Nov. 18, 2010.

Mckenna, Nancy. Madder dyeing. Medieval Textiles issue 29. Sept. 2001. ( Last visited Nov. 18, 2010

Leed, Drea. A Lytel Dye Book ( Last visited January 18, 2011.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A&S 50 - 5: Tablet Weave Monochrome Twill Band (Museum of London Braid 450)

The original band was woven in silk with four strands of silk threaded through each card hole and may have been used as a girdle or spur strap.   The band is a total of twelve cards wide, with the center eight cards creating the twill pattern. The original recipe for the pattern required that the cards be divided in packs, and each pack turned in alternate direction to achieve the twill effect. I quickly discovered that I could simplify this by alternating the threading of the center cards, which allowed me to turn them all in the same direction as a single pack, leaving only the border cards with a different turning pattern.

I elected to use linen, which produced a less soft, somewhat wider band, but will work well as a garters against linen hose.   The ends of the bands are finished in simple braids, held together at the end with wrapped threads.  Reproduction buckles from Ramond's Quiet Press  complete the garter.

Threading Pattern:
Cards 1,2 11 and 12 are the borders. These cards will always turn forward. The remaining cards will turn two turns forward, followed by two turns backward






1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Crowfoot, Elizabeth. Textiles and Clothing, c.1150-1450 (Medieval Finds from Excavations in London). Boydell Press, 2001.

Carolyn Priest-Dorman. Three Recipes for Fourteenth- and Fifteenth-Century Tablet Weaving. ( Last accessed Aug. 31 2010.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Revising expectations

I guess I am the only one who cares, but it bothers me when for one reason or another I don't get things done on time.  Really, I should have known trying to get two fairly major projects done and competition ready soon after the holidays would be unrealistic, but I am still vaguely annoyed with myself.  That being said, I've decided to scrap my plans to enter our local 12th Night competition at all, and will be entering a partly finished project into the Interbaronial Championship at KAS.  The incomplete project really upsets me, but the embroidery pattern ended up taking a whole lot longer than I thought it would, and I have two other completed relic bags to go alongside the incomplete bag, so it should not be so bad.

On a plus note, I should be able to get a Triathalon entry together for Ymir in mid-February, which will even get a few steps closer to my A&S 50 goal.  I still have some hand-woven madder dyed wool I will be making a Jorvik hood out of, along with a soapstone spindle whorl and a nice mustard recipe (or two) to round it out.  The hood is basically done,   I just need to hem it and make the ties.  The spindle whorl has been shaped, I just have to polish it and make the shaft, and I already have the mustard sauce recipes picked out.  Hopefully this means I'm getting past my mid-winter malaise and will get back to my usual productive self soon!