FABRICS AND DYESTUFFS OF THE 5th CENTURY

(An educated guess by a 20th Century textile technologist)

FABRICS

UNDERTUNIC

Women-then

One or possibly two undertunics seem to have been worn, the wealthier the wearer the more likelihood of two tunics being worn. The first is one of linen, is generally of tabby weave. Silk was recorded from the earliest Anglo Saxon times and may have been used by women whose men had been gifted such fabric. The second or only undertunic(or more prevalent undertunic) would be of very fine wool in tabby or twill weave of various types. As a group we tend to wear a linen style undertunic of base coloured fabric, ie undyed(undyed includes white as a dyed fabric).



Men-then

There is even less evidence for a mans undertunic, but it would seem likely that some, possibly only the richer worn a linen undertunic, as there is little evidence we can only guess that it would be a similar fabric construction to the women's.



What to use now

Modern acceptable equivalent fabrics include cottons, and calicos, preferably in the scoured or unbleached condition. Curtain lining fabric works well and is cheap. Calicos with slub that is a raised texture and some seeding also work well. Particularly with the calicos wash before making up the garment as these fabrics have very poor dimensional stability (they shrink) and it is very annoying to wash your garment to find it is then too small. Finally on washing do not use modern biological powders these will bleach the fabric and input OBAs(optical brightening

agents) which give you a whiter white, that you simply don't want, use powders with a mild action such as Dreft.



OVERTUNIC/TROUSERS/TUBEDRESS/WININGAS



Then

Sheep's wool garments were all the rage, woven in both tabby and twill weaves, including lozenge and broken diamond weaves on luxury fabrics. 2 x 2 twill is most popular for women's garments. Some sources suggest that a tablet weave piece was used as a starting border to directly weave the rest of the fabric onto, to prevent fray, and topped by another tablet weave. Fabrics tended to be worsted, that is not woolly cloth. As to colours , well here's the really sad bit. Sheep come in all different blacks, whites, browns and greys and the evidence suggests than most common scum didn't actually dye their fabric, they more than likely wove stripes, checks and patterns from the different coloured wools. Dyed fabrics were probably the prerogative of the wealthy (well who wanted to be scum anyway)



What to use now

Well unless you're the thegn I guess your stuck with the boring greys, browns, black and whites(that's off white not brilliant white). Not keen ? OK so we'll discuss various colours that could have been achieved with natural dyes available in the period.

Firstly fabric-Old worn woolen blankets, provide a cheap basic and reasonable facsimile fabric, worn are best as they are not so woolly. These also dye easily. Wools and wool blend modern fabrics can also be used, but in general the colours are too full to replicate natural dyes, the bonding processes of a synthetic dye being much better than that of a natural dye. Therefore care has to be taken when selecting your colours if buying predyed cloth.



WEAVES

2 x 2 twill

Tabby weave

Diamond weave



DYEING



Wool is dead easy to dye anyway so why not have a go.

Generally I would recommend garment dyeing that is dyeing up a garment after you have made it, you need less dye this way (so it's cheaper)and any unlevelness works better in garment form, you also have less fabric so you can use a smaller dye vessel. You can use natural dyes or I have listed the way to get close approximations with Dylon dyes which are readily available and easy to use. For pre dyed brought fabric the colour guide can also be used.



Dyes for the really rich



Madder

Red

Dylon Bordeaux

50% Recommended

colour





Woad

Blue

Dylon French Navy

25-50%

recommended

strength





Weld

Yellow

Dylon Golden Glow

50% recommended

strength





Woad and Weld were probably grown locally, but Madder probably had to be imported. These dyes could be combined to produce other shades eg Red + Blue =Purple, Blue + Yellow=Green, this makes them even more expensive.



Dyes for your average warrior and his woman





Greens

Possible with

logwood and onion

skins , also faded

elderberry or a

combination of the

expensive dyes,

however unlikely

and best avoided

Dylon Olive Green

Dylon Forest Green

25-75%

recommended

strength





Yellows, golds,

oranges, pale

browns

Lots of choice of

plants here onion

skins being great,

nettles are also good

Also bracken, carrot

tops, birch,

goldenrod to name a

few

Dylon Golden Glow

Dylon Havana

Brown

Dylon Desert Dust

Dylon Koala Brown

up to 70%

recommended

strength





lavenders, greys and

purples

logwood and

elderberry give good

purples that fade to

lavender that fade to

grey. Dylon won't

fade so take your

pick of suggested

range

Dylon Elephant

Grey

Dylon Cerise

Dylon Bordeaux

Dylon Lilac

Dylon Charcoal

Dylon Pewter

up to 100%

recommended

strength

(the less % the older

it is)

up to 60%

recommended

strength





Pinks

Easy to achieve, but

I bet most warriors

of the 20th century

won't go for pink.

From twigs and tree

prunings.

Dylon Rose of Paris

Dylon Cerise

Dylon Cherry Flame

up to 100%

recommended

strength





Orange, rust and

brown

Again loads to chose

from onion skins,

henna, cutch,

possibly walnut

hulls, Lichens

Dylon Bordeaux

Dylon Reindeer

Beige, Dylon Desert

Dust, Dylon Havana

Brown, Dylon Koala

Brown

Dylon Tangerine

up to 95%

recommended

strength







This is a little

bright, it would be

better flattened by a

brown eg 75%

Tangerine to 25%

brown





Dyed black is defiantly out, as are most full(dark) colours. However if you can find a sheep of a dark colour you could use that !



Remember if you garment dye either use a natural thread or chose a thread colour close to the desired end fabric colour.



Finally this list of dyestuffs and their colours is produced from assumptions made on current knowledge and reproductive technology, it is possible that our ancestors used different auxiliaries, which gave different colours from the above dye plants, unfortunately our knowledge of past crafts is rarely ,if ever, complete.



The Dylon trademark, name etc is owner by Dylon International Ltd, UK

Return to Maering's Pages