The madder plant (Rubia tinctoria) is a useful root for dyeing, producing a deep red colour. The roots are brown but after soaking and simmering become dark red and the shades of colour can then softened using modifiers such as wood ash water. In a woodland setting, Jennie James from the East Sussex Archaeology and Museums Partnership (ESAMP) shows what these plants look like and discusses how to use them, along with the use of iron pyrites. She also looks at the importance of temperature in dyeing. The last of our three programmes on dyeing in woodlands using plants and barks, such as woad, weld, and alder buckthorn.
Alder buckthorn bark, woad and weld can all be used for dyeing. Jennie James from the East Sussex Archaeology and Museums Partnership (ESAMP) shows what these plants look like and the sort of colours they produce. A variety of different dyeing techniques such as overdyeing or using a mordant can then be applied to get different colours. When dyeing with woad, stale urine used to be used although nowadays spectralite is used instead. Jennie also has some woad seeds and a woad ball.
Experiments with dyes using evidence from scraps of material found at archaological sites from the Saxon period. Using natural products from woods and woodlands such as madder, weld, woad, barks from alder buckthorn birch, and walnut, and wild plants such as yarrow Jennie James shows the varieties of colours that can be achieved. Other techniques to produce different colours include overdyeing, and the use of a mordant such as alum. Much of the research is inspired by the books about dyes by Jenny Dean. Jennie James and Rachel Collins are part of East Sussex Archaeology and Museums Partnership ESAMP. Following this fascinating introduction to dyes and dyeing the next programme looks at some of the natural products and the colours they produce.