Chapter 12. Marie (Dyes)


105. Dyeing in Dark Blue. Put about a talent of woad in a tube, which stands in the sun and contains not less than 15 metretes, and pack it in well. Then pour urine in until the liquid rises over the woad and let it be warmed by the sun, but on the following day get the woad ready in a way so that you [can] tread around in it in the sun until it becomes well moistened. One must do this, however for 3 days together.

145. Cleaning by Means of Soap Weed. Take and treat soap weed with hot water. Make a ball from it as if from tallow. Then steep this in hot water until it is dissolved. The water, however, should go above the wool. Then boil up the water. Put the wool in and prevent it from becoming scorched. Leave it there a little while until you see that it is clean. Lift it out, rinse it and dry it.

146. Mordanting. Take lime and hot water and make a lye from it, let it stand and take away thereby the impurity existing upon it. When you see that the water has become crystal clear, then put the wool in, shake and leave it there again a little while. Lift it out and rinse it.

152. Shading off of Colors. When you desire to shade off the brightness of a color then boil sulfur with cow's milk, and the color will be easily shaded off in it.

 The Stockholm Papyrus, ca. 200 AD[1]


No doubt you are wondering why I am treading ankle deep in a vat of woady piddle. The reason is actually quite simple. First of all you will recall that human beings have been wearing clothes for something like 20,000 years. The earliest clothing styles, Figure 6-1(L) for example, providing for neither warmth nor modesty, evidently communicated the reproductive status of the wearer. In time clothing became more elaborate and communicated not only reproductive but economic and political status. Consider, for example, the perennial problem of distinguishing a queen from a call-girl. From a distance after all, one naked woman pretty much looks like another. "Pardon me, Mademoiselle, I have this large sack of money and am in desperate need of a favor." I can tell you that you had better know which one you are talking to before you elaborate on the nature of such a favor, and telling them apart became much easier once they began to wear different outfits.

To cite another example, in the pre-clothing days the king often suffered from laryngitis. "I do not believe we have met. I am the King." "Hello, you must be new around here. I am the King." "King here, how is it hanging?" It was much easier for everyone once the king began to dress, well, like a king. Wearing his royal garments, he could assert his authority merely by being seen and the poor subjects were not left wondering whether they had just handed over their savings to the village idiot. Unless, of course, the village idiot had the same tailor as the king. So of course the king needed finer and finer clothing to outclass the idiots and butchers and farmers, and the key to this was color.

You see, most sheep are white, so if you can find a sheep of any other color, usually black or gray, you can demand a higher price for its wool. Since only the rich can afford colored wool, anyone wearing colored clothing must be rich. It might occur to you, as it did to me, to stain white wool with grass or flowers or berries and so produce colored wool for fancy dress without paying through the nose. But most of these stains are fugitive, that is, they come out in the wash. And so we are in the peculiar position of complaining that the laundry got our clothes too clean. There are, however, some dyes which produce colorfast colors on wool. Black walnuts, for example, make a beautiful chocolate brown which will not wash out. Many vegetables will produce colorfast colors when the wool is pre-treated with a mordant. But the most popular dye of all times, indigo, produces colorfast blue only under rather specific conditions; the dye-bath must be both alkaline and reducing, conditions that are met with in stale pee-pee.

And so I am treading about in fermenting urine which creates a reducing environment for dissolving indigo from the woad plant so that thread may be colored blue, this thread to be woven into increasingly complex patterns so that the prince may be distinguished from the pauper, the bride from her bridesmaids, the Yankees from the Confederates and the Dallas Cowboys from the New York Giants. The demand for more and brighter clothing will in time create a demand for sulfuric acid, the first chemical to be produced on an industrial scale and even today the chemical produced in the greatest tonnage. Soap will be needed to launder these clothes which will increase the demand for potash to the point that the price of wood ash goes through the roof and new sources of alkali are sought, the budding alkali industry providing such innovations as air and water pollution. To comply with anti-pollution laws, the waste products will be turned into bleach, which of course makes possible even brighter colors to be supplied from coal tar, whose waste products will be used to manufacture fertilizer so that crops may be grown more efficiently from limited acreage, increasing the global population and the demand for more clothing. But I am getting ahead of myself.



Reference [5].