Natural Dyeing 101

Last Sunday, I hosted a Medieval Fiber Arts day, where we explored tablet weaving and natural dyeing. Since many people have asked about the dyeing, I am providing some directions and notes for your use.

While there are numerous dyestuffs you can experiment with, I strongly recommend starting out with red cabbage. It is a cheap dyestuff, and with a few products found in your kitchen, you can modify the dyebath into a range of colors.

Embroidery threads dyed with black walnuts (the brown threads) and red cabbage (the purple, blue and green threads)

Embroidery threads dyed with black walnuts (the brown threads) and red cabbage (the purple, blue and green threads)


  • Alum (optional – available through many online suppliers)
  • Cream of tartar (only if using Potassium Aluminum Sulfate)
  • Red cabbage
  • Water (if you have a lot of chemicals or minerals in your water, you can purchase water, just avoid distilled water)
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • A non-reactive pot (aluminum is fine)
  • A non-reactive stirring implement (a wooden or aluminum spoon just for dyeing)
  • Fibers – fabric or yarn to be dyed (we used silk embroidery thread and bleach cotton muslin)

Dyestuff – the product used to create the dye
Mordant – a substance or chemical that is used to help fix the dye to the material; they type of mordant determines when in the process it is used
Modifier – a substance or chemical that is used to adjust the pH of the dyebath, changing the color of the dyebath or improving the fiber’s reception of the dye (silk and wool often dye better in acidic dyebaths, whereas cotton and linen dye better in alkaline dyebaths)


To mordant:
Red cabbage will dye fibers without adding a mordant, but the final color will not be as strong. Alum (Aluminum Sulfate or Potassium Aluminum Sulfate) is a good mordant to start with, because it can easily be obtained through many online dyeing suppliers, and because it usually has little to no effect on the color for most dyestuffs. (Note: If you are using Potassium Aluminum Sulfate, increase the amount of alum slightly and add one-third as much cream of tartar.)

First, wet your fibers. Adding the fibers while dry can cause them to take the mordant or dye unevenly. Then, fill your pot with enough water for the fibers to float freely in. For every gallon of water, dissolve 3-6 tablespoons of alum into the water. Bring the water to a low simmer. Add the wet fibers and simmer for about an hour. Remove and drain the fibers. Adding the fibers to the dyebath without allowing them to dry results in a stronger final color.

To make the dyebath:
Chop the red cabbage very coarsely and add it to the pot. Cover with water and boil for an hour. Strain the cabbage, saving the liquid and discarding the cabbage. (Alternatively, you can remove as much of the cabbage as possible from the pot and go on to dye directly in this pot, but you will inevitably end up with bits of cabbage stuck on or into your fibers.)

Pour the dyebath into the pot. If necessary, you can add more water until there is enough water for the fibers to float freely in, but adding too much water can significantly dilute the dyebath, resulting in paler colors. Bring the dyebath back to a simmer and then take it off the heat.

Modifying the dyebath:
To obtain blue dye, use the dyebath without any modifiers.
To obtain a purple dye, add white vinegar until the water begins to turn purplish-pink.
To obtain a green dye, dissolve baking soda into the dyebath until the water begins to turn teal.

To dye the fibers:
Wet the fibers again if they have dried, then add the wet fibers to the dyebath. The longer the fibers soak, the deep the color will be, but the colors do not become intense, bright colors like modern synthetic dyes.

One you have finished soaking the fibers, rinse them thoroughly, until the water runs clear again. The dye can be set with salts or Synthrapol, but for red cabbage this is usually unnecessary.

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Persona Pentathlon Entries: Filled Eggs

This past weekend, I entered in the Persona Pentathlon competition at Atlantia’s Kingdom Arts and Sciences Festival. My five items were all for an Italian woman of the mid sixteenth century. I entered:

  • Filled Eggs
  • Mashed Bean Pottage
  • A Painted Coffret
  • A Pair of Pinked Sleeves
  • Bascia Marchese – a dance reconstruction

Over the next few weeks, I will post about all of these items. Today, I am starting with the eggs.

The Filled Eggs I entered were taken from a recipe in Epulario. Epulario quale tracta del modo de cucinare ogni carne, vcelli, pesci, d’ogn sorte, & far sapori, torte, pastelli al modo de tutte le prouincie, con la gionta di molte altre cos le bellissime was first published by Giovanni de Rosselli in 1517 in Venice, and was republished in Italian at least six more times in the sixteenth century, and at least five in the seventeenth century. The first English translation of this book was printed in 1598. This cookbook was heavily plagiarized from Libro de arte coquinaria, written by Maestro Martino da Como in the early fifteenth century. Many of the recipes in Epulario were copied word for word from Martino’s work, including much of the recipe for “Filled Eggs,” though de Rosselli changed some of the syntax and terminology. The frequent republication of this book either shows the popularity of the recipes therein or a general fascination with historical books, including cookbooks.

The Transcription of the Recipe
Per fare oua piene.
FA bollire lova fresche in l’acqua fin che siano ben dure, & cotte mondaralle politamente & tagliale per mittade, & cauarai fora tutti gli suoi rosci, guardando de non romeere il bianco, & de quelli rosci ne pistarai vna parte con vn poca de uva passera frescha. Item del petrosillo mazurana, & menta tagliata o battuta bene minuta, aggiungendoui vno o duoi bianch di oua o piu secondo la quantita che vuoi fare con le specie dolce, o forte come te piace. Et questa tale compositione mesto lato ogni cosa insieme faralla gialla col zaffarano, & impirane quelli de oua soprascritti frigendoli in oleo molto adagio.
Nota per farli desopra el suo sapore conueniente.
Prenderai alcuni di quelli rosci de oua che sono remasi con vn poco de vua passera, & pistate insieme mol to bene gli distemprarai con vno poco de agresto o vino cotto cioe sapa, gli passarai per la stamegna giongen doui vn poco di zuccaro, vn poco di garoffani, & di canella assai facendo bollire vno pochetto questo tale sa pore & quando le dette oua vorrai mandare a tauola bu tali desopra questo sapore.

My Translation of the Recipe
An additional translation of the original recipe was made as some of the details and meaning were lost between the Italian book published in 1562 and the English translation published in 1598. John Florio’s dictionary, Queen Anna’s New World of Words, was used for this translation to confirm the period meaning of the terminology.

To make filled eggs
Boil fresh eggs in water until they are very hard and cooked, remove the shells cleanly, and slice [them] in half, and remove all of the yolks, heeding not to break the whites, and those yolks stamp one part with a little of fresh raisins . Item of parsley, marjoram, and mint cut or beaten very small, adding one or two egg whites or more according [to] the quantity that will be made, with the good spices, or [as] strong as you please. And this compound stir broadly everything together, making [it] yellow with Saffron, and repack these in the aforesaid eggs, [and] fried leisurely in oil.
Note for making over the sauce quickly.
Take any of these eggs yolks that remain, with a little of grape raisins, and stamp together very well distemper with a little verjuice or boiled wine that has passed through a strainer, adding a little sugar, a little cloves, and enough cinnamon, boil a very little that sauce and when the said eggs shall be sent to the table, throw over [them] this sauce.

Materials Used in Period and in the Reconstruction Presented
The original recipe called for the following ingredients: eggs, raisins, verjuice or wine, sugar, parsley, marjoram, mint, cinnamon, cloves, oil and unspecified spices. All of these items were used in this recipe except the verjuice or wine, as alcohol wass impermissible at this event site and verjuice is not available to me locally. A wide range of alternatives for verjuice are suggested in a variety of sources, with vinegar, sherry, and lemon juice being the most common suggestions. Sherry is, again, impermissible, so I experimented with using lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and white vinegar in the sauce and found lemon juice the most pleasing flavor, so it was used for this dish. Dry herbs were used for their availability, and ground spices to mix better in the sauce. Olive oil was used for the frying.

Final Recipe
Filled Eggs
18 eggs
3/4 C raisins
1/2-3/4 C lemon juice
2 T dried parsley
1/2 T dry mint
1/4 T dry marjoram
a pinch saffron
2 T sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
Enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan

Hard boil all of the eggs, and then peel them, being careful to keep the whites intact. Cut them in half lengthwise. Carefully remove the yolks, putting six yolk halves in one bowl and setting it aside, and the remaining thirty yolk halves in another bowl. Chop the whites of four halves and ½ cup of raisins all very fine, and add them to the thirty yolks, along with 2 tablespoons dried parsley, ½ tablespoon marjoram, ½ tablespoon mint and three threads of saffron. Mix this well, until the saffron colors the mixture yellow. Spoon this mixture back into the cavities of the 32 egg whites, packing it tightly into the spoon first. Fry these eggs in a pan lightly coated with olive oil over medium-low heat until lightly brown. Set aside.

To the remaining six yolk halves, add ½ cup lemon juice, ¼ cup finely chopped raisins, 2 tablespoons sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon ground cloves. Mix well, thoroughly mashing the egg yolks. Heat this mixture in a saucepan over low to medium-low heat until it just starts to simmer, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat immediately. Poor this sauce over the eggs just before serving.

The Filled Eggs were generally well received by everyone who tried them, especially as they taste nothing like Deviled Eggs, though they do look like them. The major critiques that were received were that fresh herbs would be preferable and that the sauce may be better with pureed raisins, rather than chopped. Additionally, I would like to experiment with actual verjuice for the sauce in the future, to consider how it changes the overall flavor.


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The Language of Clothing: Part II

This installment of the Language of Clothing examines the different terminology of shoes.

English/Category Spanish Italian French Definition
Shoes Çapato Scarpe Chaussures
Pantofles Pantófole pantofles, slippers, chopines
Chapino Alcórque cork slipper or pantolfle
Chapin de Mugér a woman’s shoes, such as they use in Spain, mules or high corked shoes
Médiós Çapátos pattens with soles only, tied over the food with a latchet of leather
Zoccoletti little or low pattens, chopinos, startops or galashes of wood
Zóccoli wooden pattens, startops, galashes or chapinos, so called because they are made of a Zócco (a log, block, stock, stump, snag or shive of wood)
Zóccoli a Scácca Fáua a kind of galoshes or chopinoes, open in the midst, tied with ribbons, and close at the heels
To shod Scarpáre to shoe or put on shoes
Chausser to shoe, shod, serve, fit or furnish with shoes, also to hose, to put on, or fit with hose, (less properly) gloves
Chausseure/ Chaussure a hosing or shoing
Shoemaker/ Cobbler/ Cordwainer Chapinéro/ Çapatéro Scarpatóre shoemaker, a cordwainer
Zoccoláro a maker of startops, galashes, or wooden pattens
Shoemaker’s Shop or Street Chapinería/ Çapateria Scarparía the place where such shoes, pantofles, and slippers are shold, such as a shoemaker’s shop; a street or other place where shoes are made and sold, a shoe-street
Zocconáto [he or she] that weareth Zóccoli
Zoccoláre/ Zocconáre to go on wooden pattens, startops or galashes
Chapinázo beating with slippers


Alcega, Juan de. Tailor’s Pattern Book 1589. ed. Cecilia Bainton, Jean Pain and J.L. Nevinson. Hollywood, CA: Costume and Fashion Press, an imprint of Quite Specific Media Group, Ltd., 1999.

Cotgrave, Randle. “A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues.” Accessed Accessed October 28, 2012.

Florio, John. “Florio’s 1611 Italian/English Dictionary: Queen Anna’s New World of Words.” Accessed Accessed October 28, 2012.

Minsheu, John. “1599 Spanish-English Dictionary.” Research at King’s College: Early Modern Spain. Last Modified January 234, 2006.

Stubbes, Phillip. “Stubbes on Fashion: Excerpts from Phillip Stubbes ‘ Anatomie of Abuses, 1583.” ed. Drea Leed. Elizabethan Costuming Page. Accessed October 28, 2012.

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Comparing Italian Renaissance Dance Steps

Only a mere fifteen sources are available to us today about Italian dance in the Age of the Galliard (a period of dance from about the 1490s to early 1700s). Within these sources, there are just barely more than 200 choreographed dances, 175 of which come from only three sources by two different authors. Yet even more limited than the choreographies are the explanations of how to execute the many steps. Five sources include sections in which many of the individual steps are explained: Caroso’s Il Ballarino (1581) and Nobiltà di Dame (1600); Negri’s Le Gratie d’Amore (1602); Lupi’s Libro di Gagliarda, Tordiglione, Passo e Mezzo, Canari e Passeggi (1607); and Santucci’s Mastro da Ballo (1614). However, Lupi’s work explains only twenty steps, most of which are not used in the choreographed dances, but may be used in the Gagliarda, Tordiglione, Passo e Mezzo, and Canari sequences which follow the two choreographed dances. In addition to these five sources, two steps are defined within the choreographies of the Chigi manuscripts: the Cambio and the Seguito of the Tordiglione. Within these scant sources, most of the step executions remain similar, yet some small changes can be seen across the period. One of the steps that clearly demonstrates these changes is the Ripresa.

The Ripresa appears only in Il Ballarino, Le Gratie d’Amore, and Mastro da Ballo, being omitted by Caroso in Nobiltà di Dame. Caroso begins by a small step to the side which is then closed with the other foot, ornamented, like so many other steps, with a rising as it progresses and a lowering at the end. Yet he then presents a strange alternative for the quickened Ripresa, wherein the dancer moves both heels to one side, followed by his toes. On the other hand, Negri executes the slow Ripresa in the same manner as Caroso, and then goes on present a Ripresa in sottopiede (Ripresa under foot). In this new type of Ripresa, the dancer leaps onto the first foot in place of second, raising the second behind, and then putting the toes of the second foot down under the heel of the first. Finally, Santucci abandons the original execution of the Ripresa, presenting a step closer to Negri’s Ripresa in sottopiede. His step has the dancer to make a small leap forward onto the first foot, and then slides the second in place of the first, raising the first forward. While the Ripresa began as gentle, ornamented side step and close,  the step transformed over nearly forty years into a more ornate step, leaping from one foot to the other.

Ripresa grave Ripresa mimina Sottopiede Ripresa grave Ripresa mimina Ripresa minuta for Ladies Ripresa in sottopiede Ripresa forward or to side Ripresa behind
Il Ballarino Il Ballarino Il Ballarino Le Gratie d’Amore Le Gratie d’Amore Le Gratie d’Amore Le Gratie d’Amore Mastro da Ballo Mastro da Ballo
1581 1581 1581 1602 1602 1602 1602 1614 1614
Begin with the heels together and toes apart Thrust the left foot forward
Move to the left Move both heels to the left Small leap to the left, raising the right behind the left Move the left foot to the left Move both heels to the left Move the heels apart and toes together Hop onto the left in place of the right, raising the right behind Leap (forward or to the side) onto the left foot Jump backward, landing on the left toes and raising the right behind
Raise both heels Raise both heels Move the toes apart and heels together
Step onto the right toes next to the left Move both toes to the left Slide the right foot forward in place of the left while raising the left foot Step onto the right toes next to the left Move both toes to the left Move the heels apart and toes together Hop onto the right, on the toes, in place of the left heel, raising the left foot Hop onto the right foot in place of the left, raising the left forward Hop onto the right toes in place of the left, raising the left to the side
Lower the heels Lower the heels Move the toes apart and heels together
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Sleeve Questions…

As I was pulling images for another project today, I came across a pair of portraits of Elizabeth of Valois that left me pondering the possibilities.

The first painting is in the Toledo Museum of Art (click on “Enlarge Image” under the portrait to see the details). This painting was made by the French court painter, Francois Clouet, in 1559, probably just before she left for Spain and to celebrate her marriage to King Philip of Spain. In it, she is clearly wearing French style of clothing.

The second portrait is in the Museo Nacional del Prado (click on the portrait, and then on the next image that loads, to view the largest version). This one was made just a few years later, around 1563-1565, and was done by her friend, art teacher, and one of the Spanish court painters, Sofonisba Anguissola. This one clearly shows her in the Spanish style of clothing.

Despite the drastic differences in the clothing, both portraits show the exact same sleeves, with the same gold and pearl embroidery, and the same slashing pattern. But each sleeve is in a different color and has a different lining. The first pair are white with gold lining that looks more smooth than the lining of the second pair. The second pair are red, with heavily gathered white fabric lining them.

This interesting tidbit leaves me intrigued. Did Anguissola copy Clouet’s portrait, simply changing the clothing that wasn’t Spanish in style, or did Elizabeth actually own these sleeves? If the latter, what colors were the original sleeves? Was the lining changed in the 3-5 years between the portraits, or are the differences merely interpretation by the artist? Or were the sleeves unlined, and what we see is actually a second sleeve in gold and the white of the shirt? We’ll never know for certain, but the possibilities fascinate me…

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