Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Dyestuffs in the stock of 17th century dyers

Title page of Der Volmaakte Verwer CC

I have blogged in the past about colours of clothing, and recently people have been discussing dyes, so here is some information about what dyestuffs dyers had in their stock in the 17th century. These very few examples are extracted from the several thousand wills and inventories I have trawled through for the Stuart Tailor project. 

Dyeing was a very specialist occupation and was often concentrated in a single place, for example when the Gloucestershire village of Bisley, in the north of the county, had a manorial survey done in 1608 there were 140 adults for whom we have occupations:  41 were engaged in agriculture and 63 in textiles, and not only weaving, as the manor had six fulling-mills, four dye-houses, and fourteen rack-rooms. For those interested in Stroudwater reds, Bisley is only four miles from Stroud.

The dyers examined here are small to medium sized, having between one and three dye vats with two to three furnaces, plus copper and lead cisterns, presses, tubs, etc. None of them are on the scale of the sixteenth century John Winchcombe (a.k.a. Jack of Newbury) who, on the basis of orders and receipts, used an average of half a ton of woad a week, and was reputed to have employed forty men in dyeing.

The dyestuffs

Some of the dyers, such as John Paine of Marlborough (1634) only list their equipment and not their dyestuffs. Others have only a general comment such as George Smalredge of Lichfield (1670), “Dying goods £25 10s 0d” and William Smith the elder, of Stratford on Avon (1683), “In the dyehouse, goods there, oade [woad], scales, weights and dyers cullers £10”

The blues 

Woad was probably the most common dyestuff. Katherine Sewell of Lincoln (1664) has two tons in stock worth £35 and Thomas Wright in Shropshire (1662), has six hundredweight worth £4. Woad was one of the dyestuffs which Sprat says “will not yield their Colours without much grinding, steeping, boyling, fermenting, or corrosion by powerful Menstrua” Although woad was grown in this country most was imported from France, mainly the Toulouse area, which even today has Le museum du pastel celebrating the industry’s importance. 

Indigo, which like woad also gives blue, was held in much smaller quantities.  Thomas Wright had “10 ho. [hundred] weight £1”, Katherine Sewell had an unspecified amount worth 8s and Anne Smalldridge of Litchfield 1679 (widow of Thomas, not George) had a mere 9lb of indigo  but valued at £1 5s 6d, which may mean that it should read hundred weight rather than pound.

The reds

Madder was also held in large quantities, Wright had “Three hundred [weight] of madder £4,” Sewell “7 hundred of madder £14 0s 0d“ and Smalldridge a more complex, “One end of madder: 300lb £4 10s 0d, One end of madder more 500lb £5 15s 0d and A small parcel of mull madder, 15s 0d” Mull madder is madder of an inferior quality and according to Partridge was only used “in dyeing blacks, bottle-greens, and dark browns”.

Brasil and redwood. The first thing to say about this dyestuff is that the country is named after the dye, not the dye after the country. The Asian tree Cæsalpinia sappan was known to produce a red dyestuff as early as Chaucer, in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale he compares it to grain (kermes); “colour for to dyghen with brasile, ne with greyn of Portyngale.” When South America was discovered the Cæsalpinia echinata tree also came into use for dying reds. Sewell lists both red wood (two and a half hundred weight) and brasil (an unspecified amount), while Smalldrige has “halfe a hundred of old red wood £1 10s 0d” and Wright has a mere “two quarters of red-wood 10s”, plus a further one shilling’s worth. Sampson Buckley of Broseley (1711) has 3lb of brasil worth 1s. It may be that the older western dye is referred to as brasil and the newer American version as red-wood.

Other red dyes. There is no kermes (graine) in these inventories. Smalldridge has £1 worth of cochineal (cucineale) in the cloth house; she also has 100 lb of sanders, with no price given. Sanders, or red sanderswood, is sandalwood from India, in 1672 the Privy Council received a petition against its importation by the Dutch East India Company, sanders wood being  “a very fading cheeting dye”.

The Yellows

Weld and Dyer’s greenwood.  Strictly speaking weld is Reseda Luteola and dyer’s greenweed or greenwood  are various forms of Genista; especially G. Tinctoria which is sometime referred to as woodwax. Sprat mentions only weld, and in the inventories the references are to woodiwiss or woodwash, so probably dyer’s greenweed. Sewell had “barks and woodwash” worth £4, while Smalldridge had 100 stone of woodwiss. Sprat points out that “although Green be the most frequent and common of natural Colours, yet there is no simple ingredient, which is now used alone, to Dye Green with upon any Material.” Hakluyt writing in 1599 of Turkey said, “Yellowes and greenes are colours of small prices in this realme, by reason that Olde [woad] and Greenweed wherewith they be died be naturall here”.

Fustic. This is another dye that was known in a western version, and then a similar plant with similar properties was discovered in the Americas. Firstly we have the wood of the Venetian sumach ( Rhus cotinus) and later the wood of the Cladrastis (Chlorophora, Maclura) tinctoria sometimes called for distinction old fustic. Sewell has “3 hundred weight of fustick  18s 6d and Wright has 5s 6d worth of fustic, plus a further amount listed with logwood. Smalldridge has “shamesd fustick” half a hundred worth 6s, and Buckley has one bag worth £1.

The blacks

Galls. Galls are also sometime referred to as oak apples. Wright had “One hundred weight of galls £2 16s” and Sewell had 10s worth. Sprat says of galls that “Of a thing truly useful in Dying, especially of Blacks, nothing increases weight so much as Galls”

Logwood A dye from the  American tree Hæmatoxylon Campechianum. In theory logwood was banned in 1581, and this was not repealed until 1673. The 1673 repeal was supposedly because “the indigenous industry of modern times hath taught the dyers of England the art of fixing the colours made of logwood,” a more plausible reason is that we now had logwood plantations of our own, and didn’t need to rely on Spanish imports. If you ever want to be really grossed out read William Dampier’s experiences of cutting logwood in 1675. Although banned Sewell has “Halfe a hundred of logwood” in stock for 16s in 1664 and Wright in 1662 has an unspecified amount. In 1679, after the ban was lifted, Smalldridge has “Loggwood 200 lb at £2 0s 0d,” so the price seems to have gone down considerably.

Sumac Sumac comes from the Rhus genus, especially R. Coriaria, which is native to southern Europe. It has a high tanning content and was widely used to dye leather black.  Wright has sumac and galls listed together, while Smallridge has “Sumack 200 lb at £1 4s 0d”

Other dyestuffs  

Orchil (lichens) appear in the inventories as archil or argell and are held in small quantities. Sewell has “One parcel of argell 3s 4d” and Buckley has “One bag of argil £1” and “One barrel of archill £1.” Orchil will mainly dye a violet or red colour.


As Sprat put it, “many of the said Coulouring materials will of themselves give no Colouring at all, as Copperas, or Galls, or with much disadvantage, unless the Cloth or other Stuff to be Dyed, be as it were, first covered or incrustated with some other matter, though Colour-less, aforehand, as Mather, Weld, Brasil with Allum.”

Alum In the sixteenth century and before alum had to be imported to Britain. In was only at the beginning of the seventeenth century that we started extracting alum from alum shale, and not until 1635 that we became self reliant in alum, with something like 1800 tons a year being produced near Whitby.  Wright has in stock “Allum 1 c 2q [one hundredweight two quarters] £2”, and Sewell has “2 hundred of allam £2 10s 0d”

Copperas Which is ferrous sulphate, otherwise known as green copperas, or green vitriol. An Act of 1565 stated that “No Person..shall dye..black, any Cap..but only with Copperas and Gall.” Wright had “Copperis 3 c [hundredweight] £1 10s”, Sewell had “2 hundred of copras 14s 0d and Smalldridge “Copparris 600 lb at £3 0s 0d”

Victoria Finlay (2003) Colour. London: Sceptre
Richard Hakluyt (1599) Principal Navigations  II. i. 163 
William Partridge (1853) Madder and indigo. In Scientific American
David Peacock (2013) Dyeing Winchcombe Kersies and Other Kersey Cloth in Sixteenth-Century Newbury, Textile History, 37:2, 187-202
Thomas Sprat (1667) General Observations upon Dying. In The history of the Royal-Society of London for the improving of natural knowledge. London,: printed by T.R. for J.Martyn

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Clothing the Past – Book Review

Clothing the Past: Surviving Garments from Early Medieval to Early Modern Western Europe, by Elizabeth Coatsworth and Gale Owen-Crocker. February 2018. Brill, ISBN: 978-90-04-35216-2, £198

This is a seriously expensive book, which I have not bought for that very reason. However I can give an outline of what it includes and to an extent what it excludes. For even more information go the the Brill website at https://brill.com/abstract/title/27148

The first thing to say is that although it says “to Early Modern” in the title, the scope of the book is actually to the end of the fifteenth century though, as the authors say, they have extended slightly into the sixteenth century by looking at the gibbones (doublets) of Cosimo and Don Garcia de Medici, but none other of the Medici grave garments, nor any other 16th century items are included, except Archbishop William Warham’s glove. 

The garments covered are grouped into chapters by type: Headwear, Outer garments, Priestly garments, Body garments of wool and linen, Rich body garments, Upper body (coat like) garments, Leg coverings, Minor vestments, Footwear, and Accessories. 

For each garment you are given the date, where it is, a general description, the materials it is made from, construction details, dimensions, a list of further reading, and an image. 

Obviously many of these garments survived because they were associated with a particular person, some of the examples included are Eleanor of Castile’s pellote (sideless surcoat), and the pourpoint of Charles of Blois. Others garments are from archaeological sites, particularly the Greenland garments, but also the Orkney hood and the Bocksten tunic. Some of the Lengberg Castle finds are also included. 

The book brings together one hundred surviving, mainly complete, medieval garments.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Gown, cap and slipper sets

What does the early seventeenth century gentleman wear for lounging around the house? Possibly a [night]gown, [night]cap and slipper set, perhaps with a waistcoat. We do have a very few survivals of, and references to, these sets.
Charles, Prince of Wales nightcap. Burrell Collection

A gown, cap and slipper set thought to have belonged to Francis Verney (1584 –1615), the black sheep of the Verney family, is at the family home Claydon House, which is now in the ownership of the National Trust. Unfortunately the items are not on display and there are no photographs of the outfit on the National Trust website. The record on the website says: “A purple silk damask man's robe, cap and slippers. The robe is lined with slate blue silk shag which is a fabric with a long pile simulating fur. The robe is decorated with gold and silver braid and has matching buttons. It was reputed to have belonged to Sir Francis Verney and to have been sent back to Claydon from Messina in Sicily where he died. Sir Francis left England and his family in 1608 and became a pirate on the Barbary coast of North Africa.” Janet Arnold took a pattern of the gown in her Patterns of Fashion, vol 3. (Arnold, 1985) All the photographs of the gown in that book are black and white. There is a colour photograph of the gown here, and in 17th century men’s dress patterns. (Braun, et al., 2016) Also a colour close up of the gown appears in The Art of Dress (Ashelford, 1996 p. 64), this shows the gown as a much more vibrant colour than the full length photo available online and you can see the damask patterning.

Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset has a similar set in his 1617 inventory. The gown is described thus: “one faire tufftaffetie gowne of tawney laced with two faire gold laces about two downe the back and twoe down the sleeves, with faire buttons and loopes made of the same lace, lyned with a tawney unshorne velvet.” The matching slippers and cap appear in the inventory as “one paire of slippers of tawney tufftaffetie laced with six gold laces of a slipper” and “one capp of tufftaffetie laced with gold lace suteable to the gowne”  (MacTaggart, 1980)

In 1634 King Charles I purchased a nightgown “of skiecullor brocated sattin lined with rich aurora cullor plush and a waistcoat to the same of aurora cullor sattine, trimmed with a gold and silver frenchwork open compass lace and buttons.” He also purchases a chamber gown; “ of crimson wrought velvet with two broad laces, and short sleeves laced all over, the lace being six times sewd on verie thicke with bigg buttons and large loopes on all the santes, and all the sleeves lined with plush.” (Strong, 1980)

The online image of the Verney slipper is taken from above which gives it a rather strange aspect. Similar “slippers” do survive. In the V&A museum we have a heeled pair from the 1650s of red velvet with silver gilt embroidery. Another pair with silver gilt embroidery, this time on salmon pink satin, and also dating from the 1650s is in the Museum of London. This slipper in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, has a slight wedge heel and is earlier, from the first quarter of the 17th century. Another slipper, which was found in Scotland, has been dated to 1640-1660. King Charles in one year spends £28 19s 2¾d on slippers.

On a further occasion King Charles I purchases a waistcoat that is the same sky blue colour as his gown. The waistcoat is; “of skiecullor sattin, lined with sarcenet and ratine” and comes with “a nightcapp laced with gould and silver lace all in rich workes lined with taffaty.” The waistcoat and nightcap together cost him £11 16s 3d. Sky blue seems to be his colour for this type of garment as the following year he purchases, “a skie cullor sattin wastcoate with one gold and silver lace in a seame lined with plush, with a nightcap suitable wrought all over in rich workes with gold and silver lace.” (Strong, 1980)

The matching slippers, Burrell Collection

A waistcoat, nightcap and slippers set, reputedly belonging to Charles II when he was Prince of Wales is in the Burrell collection in Glasgow, and I have already blogged about them. The nightcap and matching slippers are shown here.


Arnold, J. 1985. Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and women c. 1560-1620. London : Macmillan, 1985.
Ashelford, Jane. 1996. The art of dress. London : National Trust Books, 1996.
Braun, M, et al. 2016. 17th-century men's dress patterns 1600-1630. London : Thames & Hudson, 2016. 978 0 500 51905 9.
MacTaggart, P and A. 1980. The rich wearing apparel of Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset. Costume. 1980, Vol. 14.
Strong, R. 1980. Charles I's clothes for the years 1633 to 1635. Costume. 1980, Vol. 14.