The brightest or darkest colours were more expensive to produce and therefore limited to higher status clothing.The color and its brightness helped determine the dye’s value. The lower classes wore colors of yellow, russet (a reddish brown color), orange, green, pale blue and pink. The production of dyes was a time consuming and often unpleasant process. The demand for dyes increased and in 1472 King Edward IV had incorporated the Dyers' Company of London. By the early 1500's France, Holland and Germany had begun the cultivation of dye plants as an industry - contributing to the 'unnecessary foreign wares' being imported to England and a reason for the Sumptuary Law of Queen Elizabeth 1.
Cheap Dye used for coloring cloth during the Elizabethan Era
All of the dye used for coloring fabrics in the Elizabethan era were produced from natural sources. The four major cheap dyes used for coloring cloth during the Elizabethan era were called woad, madder, lichen and weld.
- Woad was a European herb (Isatis tinctoria) of the mustard family grown for the blue dyestuff yielded by its leaves - cultivated as a source of blue dye
- Madder was a European herb (Rubia tinctorum) the root of which was used in dyeing cultivated as a source of red dye
- Weld was a European plant (Reseda luteola) cultivated as a source of yellow dye - also called dyer's rocket, dyer's mignonette and also known as dyer's broom
- Lichen - A plant of the division Lichenes which occur as crusty patches or bushy growths on tree trunks or rocks or bare ground etc - a source of green dye
Production of Cheap Dye
To produce varying colors the fabric was heated with the dye. Other elements were added to the dyes to produce a variety of different colors. These included wine, salts, shells, mosses, sheep urine, lentils, fungus, vinegar, wild cucumber, walnut, oak galls, insects, iron oxide (rust), barley malt, plants, barks, roots, berries and flowers. Many dyes, such as woad, were produced by being composted with manure. The smell was revolting.
Expensive Dyes used for coloring cloth during the Elizabethan Era
All of the dyes used for coloring fabrics in the Elizabethan era were produced from natural sources. But the expensive dye had to be imported, at great cost, from abroad. These expensive dyes included:
- The source of the dye for Tyrian Purple was made in Tyre, Lebanon by crushing thousands of sea shells - Mediterranean Murex
- The source of the dye for Indigo, the deep, rich dark blue was from the indigo plants and the dye was imported from India
- The source of the dye for Crimson cloth was cochineal from the bodies of the Cochineal insects of Central America produced by the Aztecs
- Another, older, source of the dye for crimson and bright scarlet cloth was Kermes a Mediterranean insect.
- The colorfast yellow dye produced from saffron, the dried stamen of an oriental crocus
Tyrian Purple Dye
The color of purple and its association with royalty dates back to the Roman Emperors. The purple color was produced from an extremely expensive dye called Tyrian purple which originated in Tyre in Lebanon (William Shakespeare wrote the play Pericles, Prince of Tyre). The Phoenicians owned the monopoly on this purple dye which was was made by crushing thousands of sea shells - Mediterranean Murex. It took ten thousand Murex mollusks to make dye just one toga. This purple dye was worth more than its weight in gold and therefore came to symbolise both wealth and power. Production of Tyrian purple almost ceased with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, when Queen Elizabeth was twenty years old, and was replaced by other cheaper dyes like lichen purple and madder. Indigo Dye
Indigo dye held colors fast and this rich color was worn by the wealthy and should not to be confused with the color blue which was produced by using cheap blue dye obtained from woad. The source was the indigo plants ( Indigofera tinctoria of India )and the dye was imported from India at great expense. Indigo dye was produced by a process of fermentation, filtering and finally drying into cakes of dye.
Crimson / Scarlet Dye
Crimson dye was produced from two sources - the Cochineal insects from South America and Kermes a Mediterranean insect. The words crimson in English and carmoisine in French, are derived from the word kermes.
Cochineal ( Crimson ) Dye
The Cochineal dye was discovered by the Spanish explorers of South America from the Aztec Indians. The source was a tiny insect ( Dactylopius coccus ) that lived on the flattened stems of prickly pear cactus. Cochineal dye was produced by a process of crushing, boiling then drying. Spain possessed the lucrative monopoly of the expensive cochineal dye. Not surprisingly the cochineal dye was initially declined by many Europeans in preference for the older kermes dye although it had about one-tenth the coloring power of cochineal. Kermes ( Crimson ) Dye
The Kermes dye was obtained from the dried bodies of the female insects ( Kermes vermilio Planchon and Kermes ilicis ) which were found in southern Europe on the small evergreen kermes oak ( Quercus coccifera )The history of the Kermes dye dates back to the ancient Egyptians and Romans. Kermes dye was produced by a process of drying the bodies of the insects and then fermentation.
Saffron ( Yellow ) Dye
The saffron dye comes from the bright red stigmas of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) found in areas of the Mediterranean including Spain and Greece and the orient. The Crocus sativus stigmas are the female part of the flower and saffron dye was produced by drying these and boiling with other plants then drying
Madder ( Red ) Dye
Madder was a European herb (Rubia tinctorum) the root of which was used in dyeing cultivated as a source of red dye. Used to produce cloth dyed in various shades of red based colors including orange, russet, pink, coral, light red, dark red, russet and brown.
Woad ( Blue ) Dye
Woad was a European herb (Isatis tinctoria) of the mustard family grown for the blue dyestuff yielded by its leaves - cultivated as a source of blue dye. Woad was one of the most common dyes used in England and its production produced a terrible smell. The leaves were dried, crushed and composted with manure. The dye was produced through fermentation over several weeks. The smell was so bad that Queen Elizabeth, forbade the production of woad within five miles of any her royal estates.
Weld ( Yellow ) Dye
Weld was a European plant (Reseda luteola) cultivated as a source of yellow dye - also called dyer's rocket, dyer's mignonette and also known as dyer's broom. Used to produce cloth dyed in various shades of yellow.
Lichen ( Green ) Dye
Lichen - A plant of the division Lichenes which occur as crusty patches or bushy growths on tree trunks or rocks or bare ground etc - a source of green dye. Used to produce cloth dyed in various shades of green.
Brown and Black Dye
Brown and Black dye was obtained by using Black walnut, Oak galls, or iron oxide (rust). For additional facts and information please click the following link: