Viking costume inspiration: Natural Dyes

Viking costume inspiration: Natural Dyes

Although I’ve read a bit about the wide colour range available before when researching other eras, while I was looking around online, I also found some other information.
The examples below are from and are from the UK, but likely show what would have been available to the Vikings as well (if not native to Scandinavia, then certainly through settlement…)

Natural Dyes

Natural Dyes

Natural Dyes

Natural Dyes

In creating the above examples, the author explains that she (?) used over 150 plants, and used roots, bark, leaves, shoots, berries, fungi, flowers, along with alum, iron, copper, urea, salt, vinegar, tanin and lixivation as mordents (fixatives). For instance, for the greens, the original poster used nettles, and then used alum, copper and iron as a mordant, where as the bright orange, yellows, and peaches came from Madder.

Natural dyes used by the Navajo - from the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto

Natural dyes used by the Navajo – from the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto

In North America, plants were also used as original dyes, and when I visited the Bata Shoe Museum, they had a chart of how different colours, ranging from purples and dark pinks to bright yellows were created using natural plants. For instance, Indian Paint Brush gives a dark rose, Mount Mahogany root gives a strong coral, small Sunflower gives a bright yellow, Brigham tea gives a bright orange, Scarlet Bugler gives a light tan, Brown onion skin gives a rich orange-yellow, and Vetch Weed gives a lavender. Sumac leaves Pinon Pitch and Ocher resulted in a dark green, Purple Bee Plant gave a light grey, Red Gilia gave a soft pink, Snake Weed gave a barely there yellow, Cliffrose gave a light brown, Juniper Mistletoe gave a medium grey, and Red onion skin a light olive green. Other plants were also shown (but I cropped off their names… )

So. while more muted colours might ‘look’ more authentic, realistically pretty much any colour is possible!

More natural dye inspiration on the Anjou clothing blog!

August 2014 update

Rather than making up a whole new post, I thought I’d add to this with some of the other examples I’ve found online.
Regia Anglorum, an Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Norman, and British Living History group are taking part in a Natural Dye project. They have produced dyed colours ranging from soft and dull hues to bright, vivid colours on linen, silk, and wool. For example, their members have obtained:

  • strong, bright yellow on wool / a “dark acid yellow” on linen / pale citrus yellow on silk
  • bright, rust red on wool / a “dark copper pink” on linen / dark terracotta on silk
  • grass green on wool / (no results shared on linen) / lime green on silk
  • navy blue on wool / baby blue on linen / (no results on silk)
  • mulberry pink (purple) on wool / (no results for linen or silk)
  • slate brown on wool / “milky coffee” on linen / medium brown on silk

Kristina Gundersen shared her powerpoint presentation “Dyes in Early Northern Europe: They wore color?” Which likewise shows a wide range of colours. Items have been found using different dyestuffs from various Viking Age sites, and the colours shown in her presentation include bright yellow, bright denim blue, peach, lime, dark red, coral pink, brown, purple-pink, & purple.

I also started a Pinterest board filled with various examples of (what I think are reputable) examples of colours available to Viking Age dyers.

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