Today’s post is about dyes. Or in fact dyed wool fabrics that are from the beginning of the 14th century and STILL in great condition. Check out thees seal bags, protective bags in fabric for wax seals on legal documents, written 700 years ago.
They have been stored in archives from when they were written until today. And they are dated on the exact day they were created and is by far the best source we have come across when it comes to textiles.
Now in the collections of The Swedish National Archives. Please cred us if sharing photos!
To unknown backside of the Ärentuna embroidery. Ärentuna is not one but two different embroideries. The big piece have red contours and the small piece have brown contours. They are made in the same pattern but in different colors. This is most likely a recycled bit from another embroidery. The yarn is a wool yarn.
The cushion is dated to 14-15th century. And the original is in the collections of the parish.
When making embroideries it’s a good idea to have many colors in to work with. We plant dye our threads ourself and to make brown we use walnut, sometimes in combination with iron to get a really dark nuance.
A selected mix of medieval embroidery with applications made in different fabrics. The medieval gilt leather embroideries often have several different fabrics, often in different colors and in different qualities. Here we can see applications from the coverlet Dalhem 1. The Ilsbo coverlet, unlike Dalhem 1, does not have gilt leather strips on the edge but twisted linen strips. Skepptuna have lovely hearts in gilt leather. Masku coverlet have cute flowers in purple.
There is also a chasuble with nice little applications on. It has silk, wool fabric, gold thread and wool yarn in a wonderful mix. The wool yarn is used a bit as a contour or here as a stem.
Bonus is the Bexheda coverlet, also this embroidery has gilt leather strips on the edge and appliqués in fun colors. This one is not 15th century as the others but from the 17th century. So the tradition lives on.
Applique embroidery is not a Swedish phenomenon, but since we have access to museum collections here, we often write about it, but there is a fine embroidery from today’s Germany. The Tristan wall hanging that is available at V&A is a wonderful example of just application. This embroidery is dated to the latter part of the 14th century and it is easy to see that the people in the embroidery have fashion clothes from the era. This one also have silk embroidery and additional spangles. And of course gilt leather.
Small pieces of wool fabric are invaluable when embroidering appliqué. If you also want to embark on embroidery with gold leather, gilt leather strips are very necessary. Even small pieces of gilt leather are good to have! Pieces of wool are also very good to have if you are going to repair clothes that have broken. Maybe you need to repair a hose? Then put on a patch! It can feel fancy to have a plant dyed patch under your foot.
A selection of blue linen linings. Quite often chasubles, copes, embroideries, purses have a lining made out of blue linen (or hemp) lining. Even queen Margaretha’s golden gown have a small piece of blue lining inside the dress, attached at the neckline. The chasuble from Ösmo have a lovely dark blue fabric. Dated 15th century. The embroidered altar frontlet from the Birtgittin nuns in Vadstena dates to 15th century and have lovely piecing on the backside. The linings are dyed as fabric and not as yarn. The dyes is most likely woad. There are also relic purses with blue linen lining.
Today, you find these finds in the collection of the Swedish History museum.
With a woad or indigo dyed fabric you could line the neck of your kirtle. Or use as lining in a small embroidered purse. Why indigo? Indigo and woad a chemical siblings and not even a color analysis can determine which pigment was used, we use indigo since we find the quality of indigo powder higher than wood.
/ Amica and Maria
CC-by please cred us/ Historiska if sharing the pictures
Bonus- Check out the pretty lousy sewing that was going on on the backside of the embroidery. White sewing thread to blue fabric is also very common.
A detail from an Icelandic wool embroidery. The embroidery is an antependium and is in really good condition consider it’s age. The technique is surface couching. The background is a linen fabric.
” Laid and Couched Work, is a form of embroidery where a thread (usually wool ) is laid on a ground fabric (usually wool or linen ). This stitch is created by laying a set of ground threads, that work from one side of the pattern to the other. Over these threads, in the opposite direction, are laid another set of threads at regular intervals . These cross threads are then held down by a series of couching stitches . The whole process results in an area completely covered in thread. This technique allows for large areas of pattern to be covered very quickly.” ref. Historical needlework
The yellow wool thread have faded over time, as yellow does, and was originally much brighter. The wool thread is thin and 2-plied.
The embroidery is dated to the 14th century.
We dye our own wool thread to be able to get a thin thread with a bright yellow. Reseda is the plant we use, as they did in the Middle ages too. To get is really neon-yellow, we add a small amount of ammonium. They used urin.
Red blood drops on Jesus body. The red wool yarn is a 2-plied and have a pretty high twist. Most likely dyed with madder. This is a detail from the Fogdö embroidery, Sweden. The embroidery is BIG and measures 0,9 x 7,9 meters long, originally it believed to have been over 15 meters long. The embroidery shows scenes from the life of Christ. The stitches are long legged cross stitch.
The embroidery is dated 1480-1500 AD.
When sewing long legged cross stitch, we always use a 2-plied thread like the original. And we also sew a bit more like the medieval style, in more or less in all directions. The medieval people were less neurotic then our crafts teachers in school..
Today the embroidery can be found in the collections of the Swedish History museum.
We have gotten questions about how we manage to get such bright red color with madder on wool. We thought we would should share the recipe that works for us.
100%! We use as much madder as the weight of the goods we dyes. If we dye 100g of goods (goods = yarn or fabric) then we use 100g of madder. In order to get a good color, you need to plan your dyeing.
1. Good madder- buy madder that is powdered. It simply gives more colour than the cut root pieces. There will be a lot to clean up, but it’s SOOO worth it.
2. Soak the madder in lukewarm water. A minimum is 24h. If possible, let your madder soak for 3 days. It can go moldy but this does not affect the color. However, be careful not to inhale the mold spores. Soaking over time can start a fermentation and then the colour will get a more cold red tone and pull more towards the blue direction. Do not filter off the bath, keep everything in the dye bath. Also add one beer to the soaking bath. If you like you can also have a beer to drink.
3. Mordant. We use only alum as a mordant. 30% of the weight of the goods. Pre mordanting is the thing, don’t put dyestuff and mordant in the same bath, this will dull the colour.
The dyeing 1. Insert the soaked madder solution and your gods into the dye bath. Heat up to ca 85 degrees. Maintain this temperature for at least 2-3 hours. Stir frequently. The madder powder sinks to the bottom of the tub! It will also get stucked in “pockets” in your fabric.
2. Let the goods cool down in the bath, but watch out for “pockets”!!
3. Take up the goods. Shake out excessive madder back into the dye bath.
4. Allow the goods to dry before washing.
5. Shake the dried goods to get rid of your madder powder. We usually do this over a big plastic sheet. Preferably outdoors! Make sure to cover your mouth and nose. It’s dusty!! The madder is put back in the dye bath.
6. Rinse the gods until the rinsing water is clear.
Use the dye bath for the after bath. You can dye as long as you think it gives color. A lightly dyed fabric and be over dyed with a fresh madder bath, starting with a apricot dyed fabric, instead of a white, will give you a stronger red.
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