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colour me poor

Posted: Thu Apr 04, 2013 8:20 am
by Brian la Zouche
okay this my sound a daft question, ( although one teacher told me the only daft questions are those people dont ask ) I saw recently a comment on another topic about townsfolk/ villagers always portrayed on screen in brown clothing, so I'm wondering was there a colour dye used on wool that was 1, readily available, 2, cheap 3, easy to make/use (in 14th century England) I would assume plain unbleached wool would have been the cheapest etc,, but as i have yet to see many re-enactors or on screen loads of people in white, i take it most would dye (or of course buy clothes) them

from what little I know, it seems 'most' primary colours were available, but which colour would most fit the 3 factors as mentioned above, I realise some colours may have be 'restricted' for certain classes/roles, but again I 'assume' they would fall under factor 2

no biggie , just wondering........... tis how i learn :D

Re: colour me poor

Posted: Thu Apr 04, 2013 8:34 am
by sally
saturation is the key here, multiple dips of colour cost more, so you see a lot of pale blue (often called 'watchet') and pale reds/pinks in lower class garments as well as the full range of undyed browns/greys/'whites'. For 14thc you might also be wearing rayed cloth, so simple stripes, usually worn horizontally across the body. There is at least one sample on the MoL that has an undyed warp and a coloured (madder I think?) weft, that would probably have been a cheaper cloth to produce than a piece dyed option

Re: colour me poor

Posted: Thu Apr 04, 2013 10:49 am
by Brother Ranulf
I'm thinking of starting a campaign in defence of "brown" as it has recently become fashionable to denigrate it as a colour for peasant clothing, or clothing generally. In its defence I give you some English terms from the 14th century:

broun (adjective): of a brown colour

brounmedle: variegated cloth of a predominantly brown colour

burnet (noun): relating to cloth, a garment: brown; coarse dun or brown woollen fabric

taunde (noun): A colour somewhere between brown and yellow or between brown and red; tan, tawny; also, a fabric of this colour

yelwe (adjective): Of an animal, an animal's fleece or hair, a reptile: light brown in colour, brownish, yellowish brown, dun, fawn-colored; also, of the colour of a hart: yellowish, golden brown, buff.

The type of cloth often worn by peasants was called burel (burrel, burle, borrel, berel, birel) and this is defined as inexpensive coarse woollen cloth of a loose, plain weave. In literature it usually appears without any mention of colour, the term burel alone being sufficient to imply cheap, sturdy and hard-wearing cloth not generally worn by wealthy people. It was used for the mass provisioning of troops from the 12th century onwards. It makes sense that such cloth would be inexpensively dyed with whatever colours were available locally; these might include (among more vibrant options) alkanet root (dull brown), elder leaves (dull grey-brown), bramble shoots (oatmeal or dun), madder (red-brown) or nettle (greyish-greenish-brown).

This is from the Smithfield Decretals of the early part of the 14th century - note varying shades of brown:
smithfield-decretals brown.jpg

Re: colour me poor

Posted: Thu Apr 04, 2013 1:33 pm
by Colin Middleton
I'm afraid that I disagree entirely Brother Ranulf. It looks to me that the picture you posted has no-one wearing brown cloth. She appears to be wearing red cloth (weakly dyed over an off-white wool) and he an orange (proably red and yellow (must be richer) over an off-white). Alternetively, they may also be wearing mixed colour fabrics, which we wouldn't see as we're too far away, so the colours 'merge' in our sight.

I suspect that Burrel could be undyed fleece, which as Sally mentioned could cover a wide range of browns and grey, from almost white to almost black. It's just that we don't see that many of the different coloured sheep anymore because everyone wants white (if only because it's easy to dye over).

As far as I know, Wode (blue), Weld (yellow) and Madder (red) were the baisis of most Medieval colours. However, as Sally said, the key markers of quality are in the shades. Wealthier fabrics get repeated dying, which gives stronger, brighter colours, they may also have access to 'grain' (or kermese), which imparts a luxurious red and is often overdyed onto other colours to 'improve' their shade.

Another very common denominator of wealth was the quality of the cloth, mostly in terms of how heavly finished it was (i.e. can you see the weave, or does it look more like felt).

For a poorer role, look for fabric with a more visible weave (NOT NECESSARILY A LOOSE WEAVE), either in normal sheep colours, or in pale shades of blue, pink, orange or yellow (the last is less common). Other clues might be mixed colours in the weave (as Sally described) or uneaven colours as this denotes a different method of dying.

If in doubt, ask Sally as she clearly knows what she's talking about, but couldn't be bothered to write as much down as I did! :D

Re: colour me poor

Posted: Thu Apr 11, 2013 9:22 am
by Alice the Huswyf
Agree. [with Colin]
Agree. [about Sally]
Also take into account fading: vegetable inks and dyes are not always permanently fixed or lightfast (lets talk about oak gall ink changing shade over time despite its' permanence) - so allow for some degradation of shade/ colour even in a closed book. From textile experience, the woman's gown in the book is actually probably a faded pale madder red - which can yellow or brown down as it fades depending on original depth/repeat of steeping. Certainly in wear even modern chemical dyes will fade over the shoulders and top-facing body planes with continued exposure to light. Turning a garment against surface wear wasn't the only reason the work was worth the effort - remaking a worn garment to flip wrong side outwards also reveals the unfaded colour as well as a less abraded or surface-stained / mothed / singed face.

And why waste subsistence money dying things brown when fleece is available already pigmented? It is the well-off and clambering wealthy who advertise their status on their own and wive's backs with excessive quality and statement dressing - hence need of the non-economically driven part of the sumptuary rulings.

(And yes, being female, I can see shades only dogs can hear. )

Re: colour me poor

Posted: Fri Apr 12, 2013 10:56 am
by guthrie
White also gets dirty quickly and looks dirtier, as I have found with my white doublet.

Madder is one of the cheap colours, I thought woad was too. Then there's the variation in natural sheeps wool, some can get very close to black.

Re: colour me poor

Posted: Fri Apr 12, 2013 11:39 am
by Sophia
The lighter shades of woad are relatively cheap, deep shades particularly on wool or silk are luxury items. IIRC the lighter shades are predominantly associated with serving men and apprentices, particularly for coats and jerkins in C16th (think Bluecoats school).

Woaded cloth may well have been more common in some areas of the country than others. Beth the Weaver at Kentwell has suggested it might be more common in that area (in the lighter shades) due to the level of cloth industry particularly in blue cloth in that area. IIRC she mentioned something about blue say being imported for aprons in the C15th/C16th before weaving of this cloth started in England (was brought over by Protestant refugees, there are references to "strangers" weaving bays and says in Colchester).

Re: colour me poor

Posted: Fri Apr 12, 2013 12:48 pm
by Colin Middleton
Sophia wrote:The lighter shades of woad are relatively cheap, deep shades particularly on wool or silk are luxury items.
I'm guessing that this means "if you're dying a deep shade, you do it on wool or silk and make a luxury item", rather than "dying a deep shade on wool or silk is difficult, so only done for luxury items"? The latter would imply that dying a deep shade on linen was easy and consequently cheap, but I had understood that dying linen deep shades was almost impossible and so never done (and besides linen seems to be a 'not so cheap' cloth).

Many thanks


Re: colour me poor

Posted: Fri Apr 12, 2013 2:21 pm
by Alice the Huswyf
"I'm wondering was there a colour dye used on wool that was 1, readily available, 2, cheap 3, easy to make/use (in 14th century England) "

It is also very easy to forget palette-drift by period (whether for aesthetic or economic reasons) . I'm talking C14th. C15th is different to some extent: early C16th different again becuase of the acceptance of tawny as a fashionable colour and the growing predominance of black as it worked it's way back down the social ladder.