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Brian Robson





Joined: 19 Feb 2007

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PostPosted: Thu 26 Jul, 2007 1:23 am    Post subject: Black dyes         Reply with quote

Hi,

I'm wondering if anyone can help with this. I heard that black was a rare colour for clothing in the 12th-13th centuries, and also that black dyes faded quickly - especially in the sun.

I'm considering depicting a hospitaller of that period. So here's the question. Would the wollen Cappa (And I suppose this applies to the standard Benedictine robes too) have actually been black? if not, then what kind of colour was it? If the colour fades in sunlight - wouldn't that fading have been especially severe ni the holy lands?

If black was so rare, why were several orders (military and religious) wearing it?

Was the black different in wool to linen?

Would the shield be painted in exactly the same pigment?

Many thanks,
Brian
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Jonathan Blair




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Jul, 2007 4:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I stand corrected (see below).
"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." - The Lord Jesus Christ, from The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, chapter x, verse 34, Authorized Version of 1611


Last edited by Jonathan Blair on Thu 26 Jul, 2007 9:39 am; edited 1 time in total
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James Barker




Location: Ashburn VA
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PostPosted: Thu 26 Jul, 2007 5:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Black can be done with lots of over dyeing many colors. The Hospitallers did wear black, it was thought of as a pious color, and it is hard to say who long the black lasted. We do know that in the 13th century brothers were issued two "suits" a year that included a new mantel (monk’s robe). Also the Hospitallers wore the most up to date equipment and spent lots of money on the order so black would not be out of their price range. As a funny side note they did not indulge in expensive fashion thinking it was sinful while they used expensive cloth and top armor Big Grin.
James Barker
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Brian Robson





Joined: 19 Feb 2007

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PostPosted: Thu 26 Jul, 2007 6:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James Barker wrote:
Black can be done with lots of over dyeing many colors. The Hospitallers did wear black, it was thought of as a pious color, and it is hard to say who long the black lasted. We do know that in the 13th century brothers were issued two "suits" a year that included a new mantel (monk’s robe). Also the Hospitallers wore the most up to date equipment and spent lots of money on the order so black would not be out of their price range. As a funny side note they did not indulge in expensive fashion thinking it was sinful while they used expensive cloth and top armor Big Grin.


That's one of the things that's been confusing me. There are specific rules for the order not to own/wear decorated items/clothing - that it had to be plain. Also I understand that funds were severely limited, and that for a while new brothers could only be admitted with the ageement of the master - becasue they could only afford to support so many brother-knights and brother serjeants-at-arms. Also there were statutes about not being able to take arms back to the west, all arms/clothing going back to the marshall to be 'handed down' to other brothers, and on returning from the west, having to bring 3 mounts for the order - which makes me ask - if they're so short on cash, why all the expensive black?

I'm wondering if that was part of the reason of the change to red in the mid 13thC - especially since they brought it in first for the brother serjeant-at-arms only - those that were more cheaply equipped. I understand red was pretty cheap in comparison to black.

So anyway - If I wanted to buy black wool and linen to portray a hospitaller. Should I be going for a very dark brown? Or is black ok (assuming that its new and not faded yet?).
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Michael Clark




Location: Welland, Ontario
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PostPosted: Thu 26 Jul, 2007 6:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Are we so sure that the Hospitallers wore black? I had heard, and seen replications, that indicated that they were a deep, rich brown.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Jul, 2007 6:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Isn't there naturally black wool coming from " black sheeps " ? If yes, is the color more durable when exposed to the Sun ?

Since black sheep are rare the wool would tend to be expensive and in limited supply: So cost of naturally black wool might be more expensive than dyed wool but would keep it deep color better.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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James Barker




Location: Ashburn VA
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PostPosted: Thu 26 Jul, 2007 6:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The group I am in that is kind of forming talked about using dark brown until it was point out to me that there is contemporary writings that the Hospitallers used black to distinguish themselves from another religious order that wore dark brown.

(edit to add on for Jean question)

Black sheep did exist in the middle ages but contemporary accounts tell us major producers of cloth would not use that wool as it was coarse; how ever the Greenland finds have naturally black wool mixed with brown wool. Also black wool on a sheep is not really black but a dark grey and it fades too. It is unlikely the military orders used black from black sheep.

James Barker
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Ken Nelson




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Jul, 2007 7:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Looking at our own sheep, we have two Finns, that have a very dark brown wool. At the base it is nearly black, but it does fade to a muddy brown in the sun. Their wool is similar to Jacobs wool, a medium to medium-fine. While it may not work as is, it will accept dyes. Using a dark wool with black dye should be more resistant than using either alone. I will ask Christel, as she is more involved with fiber arts than I am.

Ken

"Live and learn, or you don't live long" L. Long
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Jul, 2007 7:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken Nelson wrote:
Looking at our own sheep, we have two Finns, that have a very dark brown wool. At the base it is nearly black, but it does fade to a muddy brown in the sun. Their wool is similar to Jacobs wool, a medium to medium-fine. While it may not work as is, it will accept dyes. Using a dark wool with black dye should be more resistant than using either alone. I will ask Christel, as she is more involved with fiber arts than I am.

Ken


Thanks for the reply: I know next to nothing about dyes or " black sheep " except as an expression and had no idea that the black could be just very dark brown. ( With the base very black ).

More detailed information will be appreciated.

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Peter Lyon
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PostPosted: Thu 26 Jul, 2007 12:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have a friend who is very experienced with dyes and has experimented with them for years, so I have her to thank for this morsel of knowledge. Over the year this question on black dyes has been asked many times, so I went out of my way to learn more about it.

Black or something very near it was possible; the problem, as with most medieval dyes, was to make it colour-fast. Very bright colours were possible (screaming pink anyone? Dayglo orange? Already been done, and I've seen the colours she produced used plant dyes and various mordants - those bright manuscript colours were all possible, at least temporarily). Black could be done cheap or expensive; the cheap one was done with crushed walnut shells, using iron as a mordant (EG stew the dye in an iron pot) to make it colourfast. The result was near-black, or a very dark brown; I suppose more overdying made it darker with each repeat. The downside was that iron damages fabrics long-term, basically it makes it perish or rot, so the garment would last years but not several lifetimes. It also faded over time, but could be redyed to darken it again. Another black was possible that was more long-term and less damaging to the fabric, but I don't recall anything about how it was done, except it was much more expensive to do.

Peter Lyon
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Glennan Carnie




Location: UK
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PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 1:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oak galls will give a very dark grey (almost black) . Logwood gives a rich black - so even and deep that it almost looks chemical-dyed.
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Brian Robson





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PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 3:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for all the replies!
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Taylor Ellis




PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 8:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I was looking through Regia Anglorium's costume do's and dont's, and noticed they ban black clothing and leather of all descriptions. If dying black was definately possible, why would such a respected group ban it outright?
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 9:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Because even though possible, it was still quite uncommon. So as policy, most groups don't allow blacks because if they let one person use it, then others will want to use it, and then suddenly just about everyone will have some black in their kit. Its easier to outright ban it than to try and ration it out so that it doesn't become overrepresented. By far, in period black was uncommon to rare, particularly in the pre and post conquest period Regia does.
A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sat 28 Jul, 2007 9:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I do not know if it is really all that rare in period, at least the late medieval period. The accounts of incoming and outgoing items here in Southampton found in the port and brokage books are loaded with entries of black fabrics usually specifically listing the number of ells of it as well. I do not see it being all that uncommon in comparision to other colours personally but this is a major port town so likely had a number of things other towns did not have much of. If it were arriving in such quantities I doubt it would be restricted to those of any reasonable wealth though likely outside the majority of common folk. I see no problem with a person of gentle class of wealthy merchants in black. If you were an average Joe plowing a field everyday or cleaning the muck off of Watergate here it would be a different story though.

The Close rolls at times give inventories of textiles and black appears fairly often with other colours as well. These records are clearly of the wealthier tiers of society but not necessarily nobles.

I think groups ban all sort of things that likely were in use. Who knows what reasons they have at the time and place they chose to do so. I would hardly go by what any group tells you. Find a books written by someone in the know and nose it out. It is a much better system than relying on reenactorisms. Some of the most interesting 'facts' I have ever heard have come from reenactors.

RPM[/b]
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Brian Hook





Joined: 12 Jan 2006

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PostPosted: Sat 28 Jul, 2007 1:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:
I doubt it would be restricted to those of any reasonable wealth though likely outside the majority of common folk. I see no problem with a person of gentle class of wealthy merchants in black. If you were an average Joe plowing a field everyday or cleaning the muck off of Watergate here it would be a different story though.

Randall most reenactment groups only ban black to common folk, not to gentle or wealthy class portrayals, The problem is in reenactment everyone and their brother wants to wear black clothing then go el cheapo on their armour.
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David McElrea




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PostPosted: Sat 28 Jul, 2007 1:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In a different thread James Barker wrote:
Quote:
For instance one order of monks became known as the gray brothers because their black robes faded so quickly; black was thought to be pious.


It seems appropriate to reply to (and challenge) this here. Throughout the early Medieval period black was a common color within the ecclesiastical setting, even among those who were by no means wealthy. As various orders formed, (or were reformed), the brothers would often choose a distinct coloured habit in order to distinguish themselves from other orders. So, for example, the Carmelites and Cistercians wore white habits; the Dominicans (Black Friars) wore black; the Franciscans, who were divided into different sub-orders wore different colours depending on their order. One order (Franciscans Minor, I think?) wore grey habits and became known as the Gray Friars (or Gray Brothers-- Friar = Brother).

All of which is to say, they were not called grey friars because their black habits faded quickly. Their habits were grey when new, and therefore cannot be used as an example of the poor quality of period black dyes.

Lastly, there were periods when the Church was extravagantly wealthy. There were periods when it wasn't. Even when the Church at large was wealthy many of the orders were bound by vows of poverty. Those orders would sometimes betray those vows (at least on a communal level) but there were always those who did not. You could bump into a Dominican mendicant friar who was begging his way through Europe, "as poor as a church mouse", and his habit would be black.

I think Peter Lyon is correct in saying that there were different qualities of black available depending on one's means, and that black was far more available than many argue.
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