Monday, January 15, 2018

Everything you need to know about garbing you learned in Kindergarten part 4! Orange, Green, Brown, Pink and Purple!

I was thinking of splitting up these colors and doing a separate post just on pink and purple because of the mythology regarding those two colors.  It's really just sad how many people believe that purple was only worn by royalty and that pink isn't a period color.  The truth is that a specific dye to make purple was only allowed to be worn by a select few in England in the later Renaissance and that the word pink didn't come about to mean a specific color until after the SCA period.  They had pink, they just called it light red. 

Orange, green, and brown were all very, very common colors in the middle ages and renaissance.  Of course, most people are familiar with Sherwood Green thanks to a well beloved outlaw. The part most don't understand is how bright green could be.  As you will see lime green, safety cone orange, and every shade of brown you can imagine are perfectly period correct.

Orange: So safety cone orange. Orange is pretty easy to get with madder and saffron mixed together. I've also seen wool dyed with yellow onion skins turn pumpkin. Really, there are multiple ways to get orange depending on what dyes you have available.

Detail from The Luttrell Psalter, British Library Add MS 42130 (medieval manuscript,1325-1340), f54r

I love the above little guy. He has a lovely bright orange lining on his lavender garment (a color we'll come to in a bit) and green shoes!  He's colorful and, being an archer and lacking any ornamentations, he's not rich.  He's just a regular peasant and yet, he has access to some fabulous colors. 

The Marriage of the Virgin 1490 Luca Signorelli
I took the above photo myself in DC.  The orange you see is really quite...bright.  I'll cover the pinkish mauves and the vibrant greens as well soon.

1410 - The Book of the Queen - the Duke of True Love - by Master of the Cite Des Dames
In this one, we can see pretty much every color so you know that orange is a vibrant, safety cone, orange.  In the doorway, there is a blond guy with a red collar.  We also have the guy wearing primary color blue and the guy with the grey hat wearing a soft burgundy.  The tablecloth is a lovely green.  And then we have mister black and orange.   Very bright, can't miss it, orange.

Now, there are faded oranges and other associated orange colors.  In the previous post, I showed the madder dyed wool that was an orangy red.   However, with this, I want to show that bright, vibrant colors are not unknown.   If you want to wear safety cone orange, go for it!


Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia's Bible part V: 20/66 (14th c)

I love this manuscript for a variety of reasons.  One, the bubblegum pink - a color I'll come to in a bit.  However, the color I'd like to focus on bright lime green.  Yes, the faces look a little green but that's because of the oxidation of the copper that, originally, made the faces glow with a slight golden hue.   The lime green can be achieved using a slight bit of either woad or indigo and safflower or saffron.   In fact, before oxidation, indigo dyes fabric lime green.   When I showed the above image to my class a Pennsic, one guy's eyes nearly popped out of his head.  If the colors aren't ridiculously late 1980's bright to you, adjust your monitor.

Adoration of the Shepherds,  San Vicente, Juan Vicente Macip (Juan de Juanes),  1525-30, Museo Diocesano de Segorbe, Castellón 
I love showing the shepherds because they weren't rich. If they are wearing the color, then pretty much anyone with a half way decent pay rate could afford it. Yes, in some paintings, they might be in their Sunday best but this is about what different stations could afford, not when they might wear it.

I have heard a myth about the green dye that I thought was odd the moment I heard it. According to the myth, green was not possible in itself without mixing weld and indigo or some other yellow and blue dye together. While it is possible - and was done to get Sherwood or Lincoln Green - my immediate reaction, upon hearing it was "Did the person that state this never mow their yard?" Anyone who has worked outside every knows one thing very quickly - grass stains are a nice yellow-green color and they are ridiculously hard to get out.  Also, foxglove which is native to Europe, produces a green dye bath. Verdigris which is oxidized copper was also used to make green dye. Basically, there are a ton of ways to get green dye naturally.
British Library MS Harley 4961, Late 11th/Early 12th C

The guy juggling is wearing a fabulous green cape and a lovely purple tunic.  If you look closely, you can also see he has red embroidery around the cuffs of his undertunic. 


Brown occurs naturally with wool.  There are brown sheep.  Leather is typically brown once it's been tanned.  

Breed of sheep that has been around since the 12th C
Walnut and acorn can be used to dye things brown as well as many, many other things.   However, despite all that, brown just wasn't all that popular of a color.  Reds, blues, greens - pretty much every single other color will pop up long before brown.  Now, there could be a couple of reasons for this: the paintings and manuscripts we have are almost always of people trying to look their best and brown wouldn't be your Sunday best for the most part.  The other reason is that people in the middle ages and Renaissance just found it boring.

Now, that's not to say there aren't any browns in period artwork - there are- but it's just not a popular color.  Red is far more common - and studies on medieval textiles bare this out.   In a study, almost two thirds of the medieval textiles tested were positive for madder.  Given that, I'm going with that medieval people just found brown boring.

 Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, apse fresco work of Andrea De Litio, Annunciation

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 5054. In father's hands Paris, 1485.
Valerius Maximus. Facta et Dicta Memorabilia. MS Harley 4375, fol. 179; French c. 1475. British Library, London. 

Pink: We've all heard the myth: Pink is not period. I always giggled at the idea until someone actually posted that pink wasn't period and ranted about ladies wearing it to the Renn Faire of all places. A few of us started showing her period artwork to which the lady responded "that's just because it's so old and the sun faded it. They really didn't have pink!" ....Why she couldn't get it through her head that if the sun faded the red to pink, they could have achieved that in period is still a bit beyond me. However, we then inundated her with at least 50 images of period artwork showing both pink and red together. Only after that did she relent.

Pink can be faded red. Linen dyed with boiled, acidic safflower can be bright, bubblegum pink. Really, it can be quite pink even with silk.  Of course, berries will also dye fibers various shades on pink.

Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia's Bible  1390s
1401-1500 Ms-5070 réserve Folio 25v

1401-1500 Ms-5070 réserve Folio 84r

Purple: Okay, the most common myth: Purple was reserved for royalty. The origin of this myth is from the Henrican and Elizabethan sumptuary laws. The actual text of the law is this:

None shall weare in his apparell any{ Silke of the colour of purpure.—Cloth of {golde, Tissue.—}But onlye the —{Kyng— Quene} {Kinges {Mother. Chyldren. Brethré & Sisters. Uncles & Auntes}and Except {Dukes & Marquesses, to be may weare in dublets and sleevelesse cotes, Cloth of Gold, of Tissue, not exceadyng. v. if. the yarde, and Purpure in mantelles of the Garter.

So what is purpure?  It's a very specific dye, also known as Tyrian Purple. It's made from snails blood. The dye itself could give the range from purple to red - it mostly came out as a maroon based on ancient and medieval paintings. It's the dye that is restricted, not the color. This is very important to understand. Purple and violet are considered two separate colors in the middle ages. We use them interchangeable today. You could, absolutely, overdye a madder garment with woad - and, as mentioned previous, this was done. Purple itself is not restricted, purpure or Tyrian Purple dye is. Also, this law only deals with England - different countries and areas of Europe had different rules.

Another, very popular source, for purple dye were the lichen dyes. There are several examples of lichen dyes which get a very grape-y purple. Several people have dyed with them in this modern age because you get a fabulous bright purple. The dye was used from at least the 9th century. There is some evidence that it was being used as early as the classical age.

Roman de la Rose, MS M.245 fol. 2v 
The above shows an older, clearly poorer woman wearing...lavender.  You can see the full page here that is comes from.  I've already posted a few images with lavender.  This one, the lady with holes and tears in her dress, shows that she's poor.  This busts the "purple is for royalty" myth.  Although, some might argue "well, she's not wearing purple purple!"
Tacuinum Sanitatis; early 15th Century Italian 
And the lady is wearing...purple!   
Image from an italian breviary,c. 1380
Very, very purple.  And the lady wearing purple above is not a queen.  She may be nobility, but not royalty.   

So wear purple!  Wear pretty much any color you please!  I've personally seen teals, pastels, and all sorts of crazy colors in artwork throughout the middle ages and Renaissance.  

If you'd like further information on natural dyes, I highly suggest this list. It goes by color and the dyes that can achieve that color. Not all are period correct for the SCA but enough are that it's an invaluable resource. You'll hear a lot about mordants if you do any natural dying. For alum, you can buy that at the store pretty cheaply. I used to get it from my local "Amish" market in the spices area. For iron, which was a popular mordant, just wait a couple of days for your SOS pad you use for cleaning pots to rust. It works beautifully. Different mordants will get you very different colors.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask.  The next and last section will be on free patterns for SCA garments available online.  

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the information on Purple! Huge fan of cooler colors!