Dyed Icelandic Wool

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SCA documentation for a project involving dyeing Icelandic wool using dyes found in archaeological finds in Denmark.

Text of Dyed Icelandic Wool

  • Dyed Icelandic Wool

    Grazia Morgano

    1 February AS XLVIII

    Abstract

    This project includes locks of Icelandic wool totalling 50g. Thewool started out as a raw fleece, so it was cleaned before being mor-danted with alum. The wool was separated out and dyed using twodyes: indigo and madder. Some of the madder-dyed wool was overdyedwith indigotin to alter the shade. Madder and indigotin are the mostcommon dyes found in Danish Viking Age wool textiles, along withmadder that has been overdyed with indigotin. The source of the in-digotin in Danish textiles is unknown (it could be woad or indigo), andindigo was used for this project due to availability.

    The two types of wool that seemed most appropriate for this projectwere Icelandic and Splsau. Both are dual-coated breeds dating to theViking Age. Icelandic has been an isolated breed since the Vikings tooksheep with them to Iceland in the tenth century (Robson and Ekarius,2011, p. 168). Splsau is a breed particularly found in Denmark thatdates back to the Viking Age and was used for making sails on Vikingships. It would be tempting to say Splsau was not used because ofrecent inter-breeding with other breeds meant to improve the breed(make them larger to produce more meat) which means todays sheephave lower quality wool (Robson and Ekarius, 2011, p. 325), but re-ally Splsau wool is not available for purchase anywhere I could find.Halfway through this project, someone mentioned having spun Spl-sau before. When asked where she acquired it, the answer was thather Danish friends brought it in their suitcase on their last visit.

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  • Contents

    List of Figures 3

    1 Background 5

    2 Dyeing 72.1 Preparation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72.2 Madder . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 92.3 Indigo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 92.4 Overdyeing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

    3 Conclusions 14

    A Wool Preparation 15A.1 Cleaning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15A.2 Combing and Carding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15

    Bibliography 17

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  • List of Figures

    1.1 Frequency chart of dyestuffs across the Viking world (Ewing,2006, p.155)Black represents indigotin, hatching is Yellow-X, dark grey is madder, and light grey is purple lichen. Barredareas represent overdyeing. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

    2.1 Preparing wool . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8a The first soak in soapy water . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8b Wool, looking much cleaner . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8c Drying wool . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

    2.2 Soaking the wool . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82.3 Dyeing with madder . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

    a Wool soaking in madder dyebath . . . . . . . . . . . . 9b Madder-dyed wool . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

    2.4 Dyeing with indigo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10a A layer of shiny scum floats on top of the dyebath,

    which is a yellow-green tone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10b The wool in the dyebath highlights how green the liquid is 10

    2.5 Rapid oxidization of indigo-dyed wool. Note the bottom-mostpart of the wool is still green . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

    2.6 Overdyeing madder with indigo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12a Adding the madder-dyed wool to the indigo dyebath . 12b The overdyed wool emerges a darker shade of red . . . 12

    2.7 Drying dyed wool . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122.8 From left to right: madder, indigo single dip, indigo double

    dip, madder with single indigo dip, madder with double indigodip . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

    A.1 Period depictions of textile production . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

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  • Grazia Morgano 4

    a Weaving, spinning, and combing flax. MS Fr. 598, f.70v, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris; 15th c. France . . . 16

    b Weaving, spinning, carding wool, and hackling flax.MS Royal 16 Gv, f. 56, British Library, London; 15thc. France . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

  • 1. Background

    Scandinavian dyers used aluminum from clubmoss for mordanting (Ewing,2006, p. 156). Today, a commonly available aluminum salt used by dyers isalum.

    According to Roscoes thesis on the use of color in Icelandic sagas, blueand red are the most commonly referenced colors of dyed clothing (Roscoe,1992, p. 25). Additionally, Penelope Waltons 1989 chart of the results ofdyestuff analysis (reproduced in Ewings Viking Clothing, see Figure 1.1)shows indigotin as the most common dyestuff found in Denmarks archaeolog-ical finds. Indigotin can come from either woad or indigo plants, and tellingwhich is the origin plant is impossible. The red dye shown in Waltons chartas being common in Denmark is madder (Ewing, 2006, p. 155). This is incontrast to Roscoes assertion regarding kermes being much more commonthan madder in the Viking period and regions (Roscoe, 1992, p. 20). Thiscould be due to Denmarks location on the European continent. Accordingto Waltons chart, there is also a yellow dye known as Yellow-X, an uniden-tified dyestuff, and purple lichen found on Danish textiles. Another purpleis also represented: madder overdyed with indigotin (Ewing, 2006, p. 155).

    Working with indigo is different from working with other dyes. It needsto be reduced (deoxygenated). This has traditionally been done via fer-mentation, often using urea from urine. Urine from drunks and diabeticswas preferable, due to the higher urea content, at least in days before dia-betes was a treatable condition. The fermented or reduced indigo is knownas indigo white (Liles, 1990, p. 7981).

    There are many types of lichen, producing a wide range of colors depend-ing on the particular variety of colors. I could not find lichen commerciallyavailable for dyeing. It must be gathered from fallen branches, and it needsto steep for 23 months before being used for dyeing (Allen, 2013).

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  • Grazia Morgano 6

    Figure 1.1: Frequency chart of dyestuffs across the Viking world (Ewing, 2006,p.155)Black represents indigotin, hatching is Yellow-X, dark grey is madder, andlight grey is purple lichen. Barred areas represent overdyeing.

  • 2. Dyeing

    2.1 Preparation

    This yarn was produced from raw fleece purchased online, meaning the woolwas dirty and full of vegetable matter (see Figure 2.1a). The first step was towash the wool. This was done in a bath tub with Dawn detergent. The woolwas soaked in soapy water three times, and then it was rinsed. The wool wasthen laid out to dry for a couple days. For information on how wool wouldhave been cleaned in period, see A.1.

    First, 12g of madder was soaked in hot water overnight. Likewise, 0.5ozof indigo (by weight) was soaked overnight in hot water.

    The wool was first soaked in cold water for an hour to ensure the mor-danting process would occur evenly. The wool was mordanted1 using alum,an aluminum salt. This approximates the results of using clubmoss, a plantwhich accumulates aluminum and was used in Scandinavia (Ewing, 2006,p. 156). The wool was soaked for one hour in a gallon of hot water contain-ing 12g of alum.

    1a chemical reaction that makes the fiber take up the dye better and makes the dyemore permanent, usually using metallic salts

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  • Grazia Morgano 8

    (a) The first soak in soapywater

    (b) Wool, looking muchcleaner

    (c) Drying wool

    Figure 2.1: Preparing wool

    Figure 2.2: Soaking the wool

  • Grazia Morgano 9

    2.2 Madder

    The wool was roughly divided into thirds. Two thirds of the wool was soakedfor one hour in a gallon of hot water with the 12g of soaked madder added,for a total of 1gal 2c water (see Figure 2.3a). The wool was then rinsed incold water and set aside.

    (a) Wool soaking in madderdyebath

    (b) Madder-dyed wool

    Figure 2.3: Dyeing with madder

    2.3 Indigo

    I followed Dharma Tradings instructions for making a dyebath that can dyeup to 1lb of fiber. I decided I would store the dyebath for later use, havingbeen previously taught by Mistress Brienna Lindsay how to recharge an oldindigo dyebath.

    Dharmas instructions for an indigo dyebath call for 23gal water, 0.5ozindigo, 0.5oz dye remover (with a note to start with 0.25oz and add more ifnecessary) and 0.5oz soda ash (also called laundry soda or washing soda).Soda ash naturally occurs as wood ash, which pushes the pH of a solution inthe basic direction (Liles, 1990, p. 55). The call for dye remover is really forThiourea dioxide (Trading, 2013). Thiourea dioxide naturally comes fromthe urea in urine, present in large amounts in those who have gout. Theoldest recorded indigo dyeing includes stale urine for this purpose (Liles,1990). The reason for the Thiourea dioxide is to reduce the solution. Thatis, it removes the oxygen from solution (Trading, 2013). This is a syntheticversion of the urea which would naturally occur in the historically-used urine.

  • Grazia Morgano 10

    The soda ash, indigo, and 2gal of hot water were mixed together in a 5galbucket. This was allowed to steep for 1520 minutes. Knowing the package ofSpectralite-brand Thiourea dioxide contains 2oz and that I needed to startwith about 0.25oz, or just enough for the solution to reduce, I sprinkleda little bit on and mixed it in gently. The visible effects of the expectedchemical reaction is for the liquid to turn yellow-green and develop a scumon top, as shown in Figure 2.4a. This is known as indigo white (Liles, 1990,p. 55). The wool initially turns green with submersion (see Figure 2.4b).