[My Chamber of Textile Thoughts. No: XIV | By Viveka Hansen]

During my research of textile dyeing for the project “TEXTILIA LINNAEANA – Global 18th Century Textile Traditions & Trade”, I came across a most interesting volume. It was a rare Herbal including numerous plants possible to use for natural dyeing and on a few occasions the accompanying texts are also describing the herbs’ qualities as plants for dyeing. Even if this late 16th century work not will be a part of mentioned forthcoming publication, I would like to give a brief introduction and share some quotes and illustrations from this comprehensive folio book. 

The dyeing properties for ‘Garden woade’ and ‘Wild woade‘ are described as: ‘It serueth well to dye and colour cloath, profitable to some few; and hurtfull to many.’ (pp. 490-91).

The dyeing properties for ‘Garden woade’ and ‘Wild woade‘ are described as: ‘It serueth well to dye and colour cloath, profitable to some few; and hurtfull to many.’ (pp. 490-91).

John Gerard (1545-1611) was an English herbalist and botanist famous for his herbal garden, and his richly illustrated publication (Herbal or General Historie of Plantes) was widely known and used during the 17th century. Among numerous others, Gerard was also an important predecessor to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) the founder of the modern binomial nomenclature.

A Herbal of this kind was first and foremost a book describing the herbs’ medicinal and culinary properties, but some textile dyeing uses were mentioned as well. The edition studied was printed 1633, including a large number of woodcut illustrations of plant drawings and the said edition is also considered more accurate in many details than the original print. This is due to the fact that the botanist and apothecary Thomas Johnson (c. 1600-1644) made considerable revision work and extended the volume’s content.

Saw-wort was common for dyeing yellow during many centuries and the description is hinting on its dyeing possibilities with the Latin name of the species “tinctoria”. The text reads: ‘The later age doe call them Serratula, and Serratula tinctoria...’ (p. 713).

Saw-wort was common for dyeing yellow during many centuries and the description is hinting on its dyeing possibilities with the Latin name of the species “tinctoria”. The text reads: ‘The later age doe call them Serratula, and Serratula tinctoria…’ (p. 713).

Red madder or Rubia tinctorum has an extensive description, but nothing is mentioned of its unsurpassable qualities for dyeing red shades on yarn and cloth. The plant is primarily described from a medicinal point of view (pp. 1118-21).

Red madder or Rubia tinctorum has an extensive description, but nothing is mentioned of its unsurpassable qualities for dyeing red shades on yarn and cloth. The plant is primarily described from a medicinal point of view (pp. 1118-21).

Some of the illustrated plants suitable for natural dyes in the volume are: woad for blue colours, madder and northern bedstraw for red, while several herbs and trees gives good and light-resistant shades for yellow/brown. The most important were: saw-wort, white birch, common heather, safflower, lady’s bedstraw, common alder, tansy and wild marjoram.

The accompaning text to ‘Yellow Ladies Bedstraw” and “Ladies Bedstraw with white flowers’ do however not mention those plants dyeing qualities for respectively yellow and red colours (pp. 1126-28).

The accompanying text to ‘Yellow Ladies Bedstraw” and “Ladies Bedstraw with white flowers’ do however not mention those plants dyeing qualities for respectively yellow and red colours (pp. 1126-28).

To conclude, a few notes on the subject of spinning materials. Here depicted with ‘The Cotton bush’ which among other matters is described for its long history and the benefit for clothing as follows. ‘The upper part of Egypt toward Arabia bringeth forth a shrub which is called Gossipion, or Xylon, and therefore the linnen that is made of it is called Xylina. It is (faith he) the plant that beareth that wooll wherewith the garments are made which the Priests of Egypt do weare...’ (pp. 900-1)

To conclude, a few notes on the subject of spinning materials. Here depicted with ‘The Cotton bush’ which among other matters is described for its long history and the benefit for clothing as follows. ‘The upper part of Egypt toward Arabia bringeth forth a shrub which is called Gossipion, or Xylon, and therefore the linnen that is made of it is called Xylina. It is (faith he) the plant that beareth that wooll wherewith the garments are made which the Priests of Egypt do weare…’ (pp. 900-1)

[SOURCE: Gerard, John, Herbal or General Historie of Plantes, 1633 (first published 1597). The rare Herbal of c. 1,700 pages is kept at the Library & Archive, Whitby Literary & Philosophical Society, Whitby Museum, United Kingdom].

PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:

  • Hansen, Viveka, ‘Natural Dyeing – John Gerard’s Herbal of 1597 (1633)’, TEXTILIS (January 3, 2014); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)

❊ ❊ ❊