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Eric W. Norenberg





Joined: 18 Jul 2008

Posts: 265

PostPosted: Mon 25 Jan, 2010 1:50 pm    Post subject: Historical leather colors         Reply with quote

Hello All,
I've been pondering some of the available reproduction leatherware out there, and I am wondering if any of our resident craftsmen can weigh in on how colors were acheived and what colors were truly available "back then". I'm fairly certain that chrome-tanning and the colors that process has made possible began in the 1800's. Back when veg tanning was the process, was a saturated color like black really available? I know that some period artwork shows belts, scabbards, boots, etc. in pretty vivid colors, but it is hard for me to guess whether we're seeing tanned and colored leather, some kind of paint on top of the leather, or something not actually leather (fabric belts or possibly fabric covering, for example). Any insights?

Many thanks,
Eric
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Thom R.




Location: Tucson
Joined: 26 Jul 2007
Reading list: 30 books

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PostPosted: Mon 25 Jan, 2010 1:59 pm    Post subject: Re: Historical leather colors         Reply with quote

this was posted by Hadrian Coffin to a question I had last fall (which is why I have a quick response for you Wink

thread
http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t...lor+colour

link to medieval leatherworking discussion

http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~Marc-Carlson/leather/leather.pdf
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Eric Allen




Location: Texas
Joined: 04 Feb 2006

Posts: 207

PostPosted: Mon 25 Jan, 2010 2:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, I know you can get a wide variety of shades from quite light to dark almost-black just by altering the tanning process (i.e. which "ingredients" and in which quantities)

I have heard that vegetable-tanned leather "takes dye well". The links already provided will get you to this mid-16th century document detailing dying leather blue, red, and green several different ways.

And there does seem to be evidence for painting leather as well.

So there you go. Happy
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Jared Smith




Location: Tennessee
Joined: 10 Feb 2005
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Jan, 2010 3:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would guess that dyes which are still challenging to do today, with modern dye technology, were likely less common in antiquity. I would bet the veteran leatherworkers here can quickly give you a list of these colors that are difficult to use as dye on leather.

I have not even tried white, as I suspect that this would probably require a surface pigment completely obstructing natural grain and beauty of the leather. (I prefer to see the real leather grain after paying a lot of money for it.) A good bright/ "sunshine/gold" yellow has been my toughest successful dye job on a banner. Quality results seemed to require a high quality, very light tone vegetable tanned leather to work right. Sealing it without altering the color can be tricky too. Green required multiple coats if I wanted it as deep as something like grass or evergreen, but was easier than the yellow. Royal to deep blue was yet comparatively easier than green. Reds, browns, black.. seem fairly easy once you have test cases to show you how they will appear when dry.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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G. Bezanson




Location: Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada
Joined: 23 Feb 2009

Posts: 19

PostPosted: Mon 25 Jan, 2010 3:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My understanding in my recent research on vegetable tanning is that most tans come out as a yellow-brown or as a red-brown, depending on the specific tannins. Pyrogallols make a the yellow-brown, catechols more red-brown. It is also important to note that if the tanning 'liquor' (the liquid after soaking the crushed bark) is boiled, it is said to darken and dull the colour, like adding grey. Theoretically you should be able to end up with a black leather by doing this. For more on this you should check out http://www.braintan.com/barktan/1basics.htm . Despite the name of the site, the article on how to bark tan is good, and it probably wouldn't hurt to check out brain tanning if you are so inclined, I happen to know next to nothing on that subject.

After tanning, there are such things as tannin based dyes. According to my research, alder makes quite a fragile leather on its own, but it could be used to add a nice reddish hue to leather that has already been tanned.

As to more 'vivid colors', I would have to guess they weren't achieved with tannins.

Best of luck with whatever you are doing, buying, making or simply researching.
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Eric W. Norenberg





Joined: 18 Jul 2008

Posts: 265

PostPosted: Mon 25 Jan, 2010 9:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Excellent, good stuff, all! Many thanks, especially for the links to Carlson's site.

Cheers,
Eric
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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Location: Netherlands
Joined: 11 Mar 2005

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PostPosted: Tue 26 Jan, 2010 2:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mind that leather can also be tanned bright white, by brain-tanning. So that means you'll be able to get a lot clearer and brighter colors when dyeing this leather. I don't know if that tanning method was still used after prehistoric times, but it is a possibility. Alum tanning also gives a bright white leather (alome mentioned on Carlson's site, might that be alum?).

Regarding the dyes, keep in mind that modern synthetic dyes give a huge palet of colors, which are very intense. Natural dyes can sometimes be very bright, but a lot are more subtle.

Jeroen Zuiderwijk
- Bronze age living history in the Netherlands
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Ville Vinje




Location: Uppsala
Joined: 20 Apr 2006

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PostPosted: Tue 26 Jan, 2010 3:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It is absurdly easy to dye naturally tanned leather black.

You just put your leather in water and add iron. I have done this many times and have never failed. And when I say you get black I mean really black like liquorice black.

For some reason people think black is a color that is hard to get. when it acctually is one of the easiest colors to dye.
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Arne Focke
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Location: near Munich, Germany
Joined: 13 Mar 2006
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PostPosted: Tue 26 Jan, 2010 4:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ville Vinje wrote:


For some reason people think black is a color that is hard to get. when it acctually is one of the easiest colors to dye.


I am wondering too, why people think that black is hard to achieve.
Here is a picture of my winter boots. Dyed black using iron oxide.
I prefer using vinegar to dissolve the iron.
The brown spots are not leather showing through the dye, but some remnants of rust.


So schön und inhaltsreich der Beruf eines Archäologen ist, so hart ist auch seine Arbeit, die keinen Achtstundentag kennt! (Wolfgang Kimmig in: Die Heuneburg an der oberen Donau, Stuttgart 1983)
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Liam O'Malley




Location: New JErsey
Joined: 17 Jan 2010

Posts: 29

PostPosted: Tue 26 Jan, 2010 6:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i've done the iron filings in vinegar thing, and it works fairly well, esp with cider vinegar for some reason.

just screwing around i tried it with copper dust instead of iron and got a rather shocking shade of blue. woad also works passably on leather, but its more green than blue. you can also get a really strange but cool mottled brown and black effect on leather by applying beeswax and running it over a candle til the beeswax melts and kind of dries out, it doesnt actually make the leather brittle as long as its thicker than about 4 oz.

keep in mind i've only tried this with veggie tan, no clue if it would work on chrome leather.
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