In 1655 the young Swedish nobleman Nils Nilsson Brahe (1633-1699) travelled to the Spanish court to inform Philip IV of Spain of the abdication of Queen Christina of Sweden. Brahe commissioned a black suit with a doublet of blue silver moiré silk, decorated with black bobbin lace and deep black silk stockings.[1] His choice of this colour was not driven by his state of mourning but rather because he understood the importance of court fashion and opted to dress as a courtier of that country. By the seventeenth century, black was the preferred colour for courtly attire. The supply and demand for black attire was first established in the court of Philip the Good, who, after the 1420s, as Jolivet argues, shifted personal colour preferences and those of his ducal entourage.[2]

This essay is a study on the history of the black dyeing technologies that made possible Philip’s turn to black, and we have recently explored these dyeing technologies by reproducing them on pairs of silk/woolen socks. Here, we discuss historical sources that give us insight into the dye technologies available to or developed by Burgundian dyers, and we present the results and observations of three dye experiments, using reconstructions of knitted silk stockings, socks, and several historical recipes. Close readings and reworkings of historic dye technologies for black hose and stockings have, as we outline below, deepened our understanding of complex production processes of textile dyeing in the Burgundian period.  By dyeing hose ourselves while following sixteenth- and seventeenth-century recipes, we have opened up new ways of thinking through the history of craftwork in early modern Europe, and our experiments have also revealed that dye recipes for hose and stockings from the mid-fifteenth century on were more ecologically sustainable and friendlier to the health of dyers than we expected from the chemical analyses of the applied ingredients.

Reworking a black dye recipe from Een cleyn Verff-boecxken (1638) with Art Proaño Gaibor, Research Library Rijksmuseum & Atelier Building Amsterdam. A film by Katrien Vanagt and Stefano Bertacchini, 2020 @Serafín Productions for ARTECHNE.


Part 1: The History and Chemistry of Burgundian Black Dyes
Historical Background of Black Burgundian Stockings
Garments covering the legs and feet could be made out of woven cloth or produced by a looping technique such as knitting. In the history of textiles, multiple-needle knitting is a relatively new technique which was first developed in the twelfth century. A much older technique, which superficially looks like knitting, creates a fabric in which each loop is sewn into one or more previous loops. This single-needle technique is called Nålebinding. Examples of socks produced in this technique were discovered in Oxyrhynchus (modern el-Bahnasa) and date to the fourth to fifth century.[3]

One of the earliest extant multiple-needle knitted objects is an Islamic patterned sock made of ecru cotton and cotton dyed with indigo or woad, dated between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries CE.[4] This sock was found in Egypt and is now part of the Textile Museum collection at the George Washington University Museum.  Multiple-needle knitting technologies spread from Iberian peninsula quickly into France in the 14th century, where the leg covering garments known as bas-de-chausse (socks) and haut-de-chausse (breeches) were worn mostly by men.  Similar single-needle stockings had been the subject of sumptuary laws established by Philip IV of France in 1294, and these laws included guidelines for the use of Pouline hose, where the length of the elongated tip reflected the hierarchy: the longer the tip, the higher the wearer’s status.[5]

Figure 1. Covssceppers wax seal 1407 © Philippe Jacquet,

This ordinance probably also applied to the county of Flanders, as in a 1302 listing of financial records from the Burgundian town of Douai, where a payment to a Coussceppēs (hose tailor) is recorded.[6]  We can see a later wax seal emblem from 1356 and 1407 of the hose tailors with the Pouline tip hose [Figure 1].[7]  But changes in fashion made knitted stockings more popular and in due time they fully replaced the sewn hose. Historical sources make it clear that silk stockings were preferred among the wealthy and powerful, but such stockings co-existed with the sewn hose.[8] This popularity grew considerably with the expansion of the middle class, and by the seventeenth century silk stockings became far more common. Still, silk stockings were mainly worn by the highest circles of society while those from the lower classes mostly wore woolen stockings which were made in a variety of qualities and colours. No known hose or stockings from the early Burgundian period have survived the passing of time, and the earliest extant examples of Burgundian silk stockings date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and can be found in different museum collections all over Europe.

Despite the relative dearth of extant samples, we can learn about the appearance and use of legwear in the Burgundian period by closely examining depictions of hose, stockings, and socks in different fifteenth century miniatures, such as the book of hours of the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, painted by the Limbourg brothers around 1417 [Figures 2a-d], and from the frontispiece of the Chroniques de Hainaut, ascribed to Rogier van der Weyden or his workshop around 1450.[9]  In Duc de Berry’s book of hours, we see that long hose was preferred in the royal courts.  In images of Duc de Berry’s household exchanging New Years gifts [Figure 2a], we also see that these hose were worn in different colours: the left foot is white and the right foot is green.  Notable here is the elongated Pouline tip of the hose ending on the big toes, clearly visible in the foreground of the illumination. This pattern repeats through the book, as in the image of  falconer who also has two differently coloured hose in the depiction of August Falconry [Figure 2c].  This was style among members of the court, while soldiers, farmers, and their children are shown  wearing not hose but socks, either undyed or dyed in light colour, and often worn out, probably knitted [Figures 2b and 2d].


Figure 2a, ‘January’, a detail from the manuscript Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry.
Figure 2b, ‘February’, detail from the manuscript Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry.
Figure 2c, ‘August,” details from the manuscript Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry.
Figure 2. C. August
Figure 2d, ‘Christ Led to the Praetorium’, detail from the manuscript Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry.Figure 2. D. Folio 143r Christ Led to the Praetorium.
©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojéda Figure 2A, ‘January’, a detail from the manuscript Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry.

Van der Weyden was born in Burgundian town of Doornik (now Tournai), where the first stocking-knitter guild was established in 1429. As member of a craft guild, he understood the importance of materials, shape, and colours when depicting the hose. Depicted in the dedication miniature to his Chroniques, we see Philip the Good, his son, and his entourage wearing very tight hose without the presence of a sewing seam. Most of the hose in this miniature are the deep black that this volume explores. Also interesting is that no ‘clock’ (i.e. no decorative pattern) is yet visible around the ankle in this period; in light of the painters’ detailed attention to lifelike details, it is most likely that this element of the stocking was not yet in use when this painting was made. This miniature ultimately illustrates what Jolivet explains in her dissertation chapter on hose under their French name, ‘Le chaussage’: most hose in the Burgundian court are worn by men, made of wool, and mostly dyed black.[10] And we can tell they were important because, despite the expense, hose were renewed, re-dyed, and replaced regularly; between 1436 and 1440, Philip the Good himself would renew his black hose after they had been worn on average for 25 days.[11] Between 1441 and 1445 the frequency of renewal decreased to three months.[12] Jolivet hypothesizes that this decrease was either due to accounting errors, that hose might have become temporally out of fashion, or that there was a scarcity of cloth for a period of years.  After our experiments in dyeing hose, we would also propose that the quality of black dyeing improved significantly in this period, making dyes less harsh on fabric, which helped to prolong the lifespan of the hose for up to three times their previous lifespan.

Wool and Silk
To understand the significance of stockings in the period means understanding the distinct cultures of wool and silk. Cities of the Low Countries were already well known for the high-quality broadcloth industry from the tenth century, and the industry was well regulated, with English and Low Country wools strictly controlled by the drapers guild and its syndics called [Staelmeesteren], or Wardens of Drapery, a title that refers most specifically to the manufacture of Laken, or high quality broadcloth.

The price of wool was carefully monitored by city magistrates and this translated itself into regulations. For instance, ordinances from mid-thirteenth century of the Brabantian broadcloth industry allow only Campine sheep wool, which was in high demand when the production was able to keep up. In many cities of the Low Countries, mixing wools with lower quality lamb wool or Texel wool was penalised, but it did still occur. In the fourteenth century, English and Campine sheep wool were both allowed for the highest quality broad cloth in Brabant. For lesser quality garments, Scottish wool or Spanish wool was used. In Louvain around mid-fifteenth century only English wool was used for the best broad cloth, but from 1512 on Spanish wool was permitted. In England mixing Spanish wool for making broad cloth was prohibited until the seventeenth century. [13]

Silk, on the other hand, had to be imported. In the tenth century, a large silk cultivation and manufacturing industry was already present in several Iberian cities under Islamic rule and fatwa regulations. These Hispano-Arabic raw silks competed with the Italian silks, and this competition held prices relatively low for the western European market. There are accounts that cheap Hispanic raw silk was sold to Florentine and Lucca companies who then resold the manufactured goods.[14] However, in Lucca most raw silks were obtained from Georgia, Syria, China, and Romania. Lucca was the epicentre of silk manufacturing industries in Northern Italy, followed by Venice. The demand for silks in Italy was so high between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries that little raw silk was left for development of large silk fabric manufacturers in other parts of Europe, apart from Lyon after 1466, Tours after 1470, and Nimes after 1498, along with Zürich and some cities in Germany like Ausburg and Ulm.[15]

Yarn and floss made from raw silk was likely already being processed in the Low Countries prior to the Burgundian period, because it was much used in the tapestry industry which throve at the time, and it was also frequently used in merceries, as sewing and stitching yarn, and for button making. This meant that silk dyeing technologies were already well known in the Low Countries from the fourteenth century onwards, because silk can only be dyed after the complicated process of degumming which we describe below.

Trade between northwestern Europe and the Mediterranean included finished products as well as raw materials.  From the twelfth century, Genovese and other north Italian dyeing centres bought undyed Low Country woolen cloth (broadcloth) either through the fairs of Champagne or directly from the port of Bruges and its fair.[16] Italy was central to the dyeing trade at this time because Genoa and Venice had the monopoly of many dyestuffs imported from the Byzantine empire and other parts of the Levant. Merchants from England, the Hanseatic League, and the Rhinelands were attracted to the Bruges fair, because of its variety in products and customers. These fairs came to rival those in Champagne. In the fifteenth century, the same trading infrastructure would be used in the trade of knitted goods as well as woolen cloth. Woolen and silk goods from Flanders, Artesia, and gradually also Brabant were exported to all corners of Europe and they targeted virtually all layers of society.[17] As Joos de Damhouder, lawyer and legal advisor to the city of Bruges, reported that all kinds of knitted goods manufactured in the Low countries and Germany flooded the markets of the Iberian peninsula from the ports of Bruges and Antwerp in the first half of the sixteenth century.[18]

Little is known about the scale of the knitting craft in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, despite the fact that the first knitters’ guild was established in 1429 in the Burgundian city of Doornik (Tournai).[19]  Despite this dearth of information, historical sources suggest increased production of knitted items in the second half of the sixteenth century. By the seventeenth century the craft had developed into a large industry with an enormous output, and trade traffic went north as well as south. Historical records also show that the ports of Sluys and Bruges received Italian silk fabrics as satins, damasks, velvets, and baudekins by the fourteenth century.[20] Products imported to the Burgundian regions from the Iberian peninsula consisted of dye products such as Kermes grains (Kermes vermillio Planchon.), saffron (Crocus sativus L.), raw silks, sheered wool, iron, and Toledo steel.[21] Other products for dyeing were imported to Flanders ports by Genoan ships in the fifteenth century. Among these were Levant galls and Green alder bark (Alnus viridis (Chaix) DC.) as sources for tannins, Roman alum, green vitriol, and Sapanwood chips (Biancaea sappan Tod.), all crucial to the process of dyeing.[22]

Recipes for Dyeing Silk or Wool Hose

There are very few extant black dye recipes from the early Burgundian period, and so far there are none specific to dyeing either knitting yarns or hose. However a few specific dye recipes from the seventeenth century exist, and they describe the dyeing of hose and Saeyet yarn, or wool yarn used for knitted goods.  These recipes can offer us clues to the possible technologies used in the sixteenth century. These recipe books are the Flemish dyeing manuscript Conste des ververs (1619-1623), Jacoba van Veen’s manuscript (c. 1640 -1660), and Gerbrandum Nicolai’s printed manual Een cleyn Verff-boecxken (1638).[23] The earliest known printed Netherlandish dye recipe book T Bouck vā Wondre, first printed in Brussels in 1513 and reprinted in Antwerp in 1544, gives two recipes for black, the first based on an iron-gall complex and the second using black alder and metallic- and oxidized- iron with rye bran as fermenting agent.[24] The technology for making these iron-tannin complex blacks was well-known in late medieval Europe, and [would change dramatically with the rise of trade with the Americas, Africa, and Southeast Asia in the later sixteenth century].

Although there were already sixteenth-century German recipes for [black dyeing using woad] and [madder], Burgundian dyers elevated the overdyeing technology to new heights by deepening the colour and making it cheaper to produce.[25] This overdyeing technology was suitable for making the darkest and most durable black both in wool and silk fabrics.  Despite the familiarity of black dyeing in the period, there are no known recipes specifically written for dyeing silk hose black, possibly because most of the extant recipes we have identified appear to be intended for domestic use and not for dyer guilds. While professionals would dye hose — a precious, high-quality commodity — a deep black, domestic users would likely have little use for such knowledge. Indeed, dyeing silk, particularly overdyeing blue and red to achieve black, is a technological challenge that requires a large amount of knowledge and was only used by professional craftsmen. For instance in order to successfully dye silk with a mordant-dye the sericin gum of the raw silk fibres need to be removed. There are several seventeenth-century recipes describing the process of degumming silk, an elaborate process.

Degumming Silk
The degumming of silk must be done if the silk is to be bleached or dyed. To degum silk means to wash off the sericin proteins of raw silk. Sericin acts as a glue for the silk fibroins, keeping them together. We found only a few textual sources in which this process is described: the seventeenth-century Dutch manuscript by Jacoba van Veen describes the degumming process and includes dye recipes exclusively for silk hose.[26] Another description is given in the so-called ‘Haarlem manuscript’ [9/r/4] as part of a  silk dyeing recipe.[27] The unpublished Haarlem manuscript dates from the second half of the seventeenth century includes recipes for dyeing textiles along with artists’ paintings.[28] 

 Translated into English, the Haarlem manuscript offers these directions:

Take, so much as is necessary, soap that is solid and is grated, soak it in normal water: after that pour this over the silk which is covered with a linen cloth, and let this boil together on the fire for half an hour, stirring it well so that the silk does not get stuck on the bottom. Then take it out and wash it with salt water and after that with normal water.[29]

Another historical recipe we found useful is the unpublished French recipe for silk washing/bleaching from the seventeenth-century manuscript that belonged to Theodore de Mayerne (1573-1655) and his assistant John Colladon (1608-1675) (MS Sloane 1990, fol. 3).[30]

Translated into English, the MS explains how ‘To blanch the silk’:

Take a clean pot and put two pints/ of water per ounce of silk & put inside three quarter of an ounce / of soap, & let [it] boil: & when it boils take / your silk cloathed into a small bag of light / linen, that should be a bit larger, & and let boil for / three quarter of an hour. Afterwards take your silk out with a / stick & and put it between two dishes & press it very well that as little water as possible remains and keep it covered with some cloths on top so that it keeps warm./ In the meanwhile heat up and let boil enough water so that / when it boils you will put your bag with the said silk & and that it will boil another half hour: then you will remove it & wash it very well in clean water then you wring it very well & and you let it dry in the sun, if possible – / if not on a stick next to the fire, and note that / for blanching the silk, it should be river water, or water from the / cistern, or rain water, as the water from the well or fountain is / worthless & and stir it often with a stick while / it is boiling, so that it does not stick to the bottom/ It is enough to boil it once as [described] above. / But afterwards to give it lustre you need to soften/steam[?] it in Sulphur / until it is all well moistened then however have it wrung with two sticks.[31]

Mordants: Alum
Alum (potassium aluminium sulphate) was an important necessity for dyers and tanners for centuries because it helps fixing many natural dyes onto protein fibres. This process is called mordanting. The European import of the alum from Asia minor, several Greek islands, and Egypt came to complete stop after the fall of its main trading point, Constantinople. Five years after that, in 1458,  the first European alum production started around Pisa, but in 1461 the bigger Alum rock at Tolfa was discovered and the exploitation of this commodity was taken over by the Roman papacy which lead to a monopoly.[32] In 1468 Charles the Bold of Burgundy signed a treaty with the Pope concerning the prices of alum, but this treaty could not alleviate the rising price of the commodity. The price of Roman alum remained high until after the Reformation when alum deposits were sought and discovered in Northern and Central Europe.[33]

Alum was used for mordanting wool or silk when dyeing red with anthraquinones dye sources and yellow with flavonoid rich plants. For vat dyes, like indigo, mordanting is unnecessary. In fact adding alum after dyeing blue would increase the pH of the vat, causing loss of the blue colour. This last phenomenon causes problems when mixing yellow and indigo to obtain greens, or when mixing red and blue to achieve purples and violets. Recipes show that the Burgundian dyers overcame this problem by first dyeing the fibres blue with woad and afterwards mordanting with alum but without the loss of the colour, by reducing the pH of the mordant solution with tartaric acid.[34]

Mordants: Gallo-Tannin Metal Complexing
A well-known black dyeing method throughout the middle ages was gallo-tannin metal complexing. This method relies on a complexation reaction between cellulose or protein fibres, gallic acid (present in gall, a tannin rich plant source), and iron salt containing Fe+3 metal ions.

Green/blue (Levant) galls have the highest natural yield of gallic acid compared to all other gall species. The white (Allepo) galls have a high amount of gallic acid and yield 40% to 60% the amount of complexable gallo-tannins that green/blue galls yield. Not as generous as green/blue galls, red Portuguese galls only yield 30% of the compellable gallo-tannins, and German galls yield 20%.[35] [36] Gallo-tannin in the bark of trees can be high, but the gallic acid amounts is low. That is why bark needs to be broken down through fermentation in order extract tannins and obtain a good black colour.  The Middle Dutch recipe from an anonymous manuscript dating to the first half of the sixteenth century — ‘Om een swerte cupe te setten’ — describes this procedure clearly:

To set up a black vat

So must men take a big barrel or vat /and fill it with clean water, / and around half full of alder bark and let it rot / five to six weeks long until it is completely wet / and then put in there iron filling or old iron, / or of each one something, until you think it is enough, / then let it rest for three or four more weeks /until white mould appears. / Then you may put your fabric in / But your fabric needs first in the iron sulphate solution / To be put- one hour long, the wringed / And wet in your ‘Swarte cupe’ to be introduced an hour long./ Then taken out to dry by hanging, / then again in the iron sulphate solution /and then ‘Swart[e cupe], until your fabric is beautiful enough. [37]

Here the alder inner bark (Alnus glutinosa L.) needs to ferment in order to turn its gallo-tannins into gallic acid. Gallic acid complexes with iron have a dark, violet-black shade. Although larger gallo-tannin molecules can also form a complex with iron ions such complexes produce brownish and grayish shades. Many dyers of black minimized their use of gallic acid by increasing the amount of iron sulphate, but this had bad consequences for the quality of the product.  When using too much iron sulphate, the fabric becomes rough to the touch and becomes weaker. An example of such a recipe is ‘Om grau side te verwen (fol. 33r), a Middle Dutch dye recipe ‘To dye silk gray’ from a handwritten compendium of medical and technical recipes (c. 1500):

To dye silk dark grey

Cook the bark of the oak tree one and half hour and the bark needs to be pulverized. Then let it set and clean out the liquid (by decanting). Then put in like this a lot of iron sulphate but carefully stirring with a stick. Then take the silk that had been mordanted with alum before and put it here while it is still warm and let it cook for half an hour.[38]

Here the oak bark is not fermented so the recipe says to put ‘a lot’ of iron sulphate in the dye bath. ‘Grau’ is Dutch for a greyish/yellowish colour, and the garment will turn this colour instead of proper black because of the low volume of gallic acid. The silk is premordanted with alum so the flavonoids from the bark will also adhere to the protein fibres, but these colourants are not light fast. For these reasons, many cities of the Low Countries established regulations around gallo-tannin dyeing procedures during and after the Burgundian period.

Mordants: Copper Salts
Copper sulphate is also a the mordant that can be used for dye fixing, ultimately making blue vitriol from the reaction of copper metal with sulphuric acid. Blue vitriol was probably available to Burgundian dyers but it is not mentioned in any of the dye recipes studied probably because the mordant does not create a good complex with tannins and is thus not light fast. While not using blue vitriol derived from copper sulphate, many of the recipes we discovered refer to the salt Spaens groen (copper(II)acetate or verdigris). Verdigris was used as a pH regulator or as a complex retardant, but not as a mordant. Although some of the copper ions may behave as a mordant, these bonds are weaker than the ferrous chemical bonds created in a complex, and copperous chemical bonds are more prone to colour fading due to their light sensitivity.

Part 2: Re-Working: Exploring Burgundian Dyes in a 21st-Century Lab
Dye Re-Working Using Historical Sources
To understand the dyeing technologies used to dye early black hose and stockings, we re-worked recipes we found in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century historical sources, which were often incomplete by modern standards. Many of the recipes do not specify, for instance, whether the garments that were to be dyed are made out wool or silk, [and the absolute weights of the materials are rarely given in the recipes], but instead use instructions such as: ‘take a pair of hose and for each pound add the dyeing ingredients’. We undertook chemical dyeing tests with silks, cotton, and woolen fabrics and, although not discussed here, these chemical tests were unable to establish the nature of all the reactions of that the fabric underwent, including shrinkage, elasticity loss, and the feel when trying the hose on. Because chemistry couldn’t provide us with this crucial information, we thought it important to conduct the dye experiments on knitted reconstructions of a pair of early seventeenth-century silk stockings and knitted woolen socks.

The Texel Stockings Project

Figure 3. A pair of seventeenth-century silk stockings found in shipwreck BZN17 off the coast of the island of Texel, The Netherlands (photograph Museum Kaap Skil, Texel).

The knitted silk stocking reconstructions and two 5×5 cm knitted test swatches used for the dye experiments were provided by the Textile Research Centre, Leiden (TRC). In 2018 the TRC initiated a project focusing on the silk stockings that were recovered from a shipwreck discovered in 2014 near the island of Texel in the north coast of the Netherlands [Figure 3]. The ship sank between 1645 and 1660 and was likely a Dutch merchant ship that had been transporting cargo consisting of palm wood (Buxus sempervirens L.) and mastics (resin) from the Mediterranean, as well as several chests with personal belongings of unknown but apparently wealthy people. Among the salvaged objects were thousands of textiles, including a silk dress and a pair of silk stockings. These stockings were in relatively good condition when salvaged from the sea floor and have been carefully stored ever since. The Silk Stockings Project analysed the original stockings and made as many as 27 reproductions with the help of 100 voluntary knitting experts.[39] The project was from the start not just a research project, aimed at gaining knowledge about the techniques used to produce these fine stockings, but was also — or was indeed primarily — a citizen science project seeking to interact with a wider audience and share knowledge with people normally not engaged in archaeological research. By combining chemical and archaeological analysis with these citizen-driven technical experiments, the research team was able to address questions related to the production materials and knitting techniques, the production processes, and ultimately the use and wear, of silk stockings in the seventeenth century. The research brought to light that the stockings were most probably knitted with gummed silk and were degummed after completion and stretched and dried into shape on a mould [Figure 4].[40] These kinds of frames were common in a silk hose workshop as can be seen in a Diderot’s encyclopédie [Figure 5].[41]

Figure 4. Reconstruction of a Texel stocking and the wooden mould used to stretch the stocking in the required shape. Photo courtesy the Textile Research Centre, Leiden.
Figure 5. Frames used in a hose workshop — ‘Bonnetier de la foule’ — from Diderot Encyclopédie, (1751).

After degumming raw silk, it not only loses 25% of its weight but it also loses many properties like stiffness; its elasticity also diminishes by 45% and its strength decreases by 40%, making it harder to knit with finer degummed threads.[42] Because of this, it was easier to make fine silk hose if starting with raw, undyed silk threads. This is also the reason why most silk stockings are dyed in one colour and not made of coloured threads.

Preparations of the Dye Experiments
Three samples were dyed with different historic recipes, namely;

Reworking 1: A wool, hand-knitted sock was dyed with a recipe for black from Een cleyn Verff-boecxken (1638), from the Rijksmuseum library. The sock was knitted by Jenny Boulboullé and Sanne Berbers in December of 2019 and dyed at the Ateliergebouw laboratory facilities of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (Rijkserfgoedlaboratorium).

Reworking 2: A silk stocking and one test swatch from the TRC was dyed with a recipe for black from the Flemish manuscript Conste des Ververs written by Henrick Coghen (1619-1623) held at the city archives of Louvain.

Reworking 3: A silk stocking from the TRC  was dyed with a recipe for black (fol. 456) from a manuscript of the Oxford, Bodleian Library, ‘Of Dyinge, and the Dyers craft, and stainge and dyinge of clothe,’ MS. Ashmole 1494, fols. 455-458, written by Simon Forman (1607-1610).[43]

The reworking of dye recipes for both silk stockings was done in Húns in the winter of 2019 during the Burgundian Black Collaboratory, a workshop organized by Boulboullé, textile artist Claudy Jongstra, and others.[44]

One of the silk stockings was already degummed, prior to the dyeing workshop in Húns (Friesland). This stocking was used for the black recipe from the Ashmolean manuscript. This stocking was soaked in water overnight, prior to dyeing, as is typical of the process when dyeing degummed silk. For the other dyeing experiments conducted in Húns, the silk swatch and the knitted silk stocking were degummed. Following the degumming recipe described above, we use 23.5 grams of Marseille soap (50% of the weight of all the silks, meaning 47 g) in 2.4 liters of water. The float ratio, or the proportion of textile to liquid, was not ideal because the containers available were not big enough. We used Marseille soap because many soaps — such as palm oil soaps or other readily available fabric detergents — contain sodium laureth sulfate or sodium lauryl ether sulfate, which are harmful for the silk fibroins.

For the reconstructions, we placed the silk in water and heated it to 60°C, then we added the soap and maintained that temperature for 20 minutes. We noticed that the silk seemed to harden at first before it was boiled.  Due to insufficient time, the sock was boiled for only 1 hour when it should have been at least 1.5 hours. After the degumming, the silk was rinsed well with rain water and kept either wet or damp until we dyed it.

The Recipe from Een cleyn Verff-boecxken

Figure 6. “As grauw te Verwen”, a recipe from Een cleyn Verff-boecxken (1638).

The first recipe we used for blackdyeing a handknitted wool sock comes from a printed booklet named Een cleyn Verff-boecxken inhoudende seer constighe saeyet verwen | nut en profytelijck voor Breyders en oock voor andere persoonen die haer di twerk mede willen bemoeyen [Figure 6]. Translated from Dutch: ‘A small dyers-book containing quite crafty yarn dye recipes, useful and profitable for knitters and also for other people, that would like to be occupied with this work’. The octavo is about the size of an adult’s hand (14 cm x 9 cm). It was printed in 1638 in Leeuwarden and is now kept at the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam. According to the Latin inscription on the last page of the printed book, the author, Nicolai, was a grammar teacher in Wânswert (a village in northeast Freisland): ‘Ludimagistrum in pago Wonswerdt‘. Perhaps because of his pedagogical training, his recipes are particularly systematic, and the book’s title suggests a pedagogical impulse and an audience that was not necessarily professional. The book’s size suggests this wider audience: its small format and its paper cover suggest that it was a low-priced publication accessible to a larger public. Because he was a grammar teacher, he may also have taught students both to read and to dye at the same time.

The book itself contains many fascinating features.  For instance, his recipes are quite specific about the different qualities of water, and distinguish between clean rain water, clean mountain water, and just clean water.[45] The different water qualities have a different pH or hardness and that affects the colours, especially with anthraquinoid colourants mostly used by [roetsieders] which is why we suspect Nicolai was a roetsieder himself. The book has a generic mordant recipe for alum on the first page, and it is used in all its recipes for stocking dyes apart from those recipes calling for secondary mordants. There are two recipes for dyeing stockings black and a gamut of other colours including violet, red, oranges, greens, greys, and yellows. There is no recipe for blue dyes, and the creation of purple or green requires a certain blue colour before one starts. In this case the hose-dyer would have had to outsource the job to [Blauwverwers].

An interesting recipe is one for green (‘Om Ganse groen te Verwen’) which uses the leftovers of a black dye vat (from ‘Om Swart te Verwen’) combined with the remnants of a yellow vat (‘Om Geel te Verwen’). Another interesting recipe in this small book produces five ‘buckets’ of Viligreyn (‘Om 5. half kannen Viligreyn te maecken’) in which dissolved wool sheerings of broad-cloth dyed with madder are recycled for dyeing stockings. The term Viligreyn was explained by Hofenk de Graaff, who points out that Viligreyn solution can be used for a long time to dye stockings on alum mordant.[46]

The re-worked recipe from this primary source is called ‘To dye black,’ and we used it to dye a Nålebinding sock:

To dye black

Take clean water/ and when it is warm/ put into it for one pound of work [to be dyed] 4. loot gallnuts/ and one loot madder (Crap)/ and when it boils/ you will put your stockings (Koosen) in there/ and let it boil for one hour/ then take it out and hang up to cool down/ then put into the same bath (sop)/ a quarter pound copper sulphate (Coperroot)/ 4. loot gum [Arabic]/ 4. loot iron filings (Vylsel)/ and half loot pounded or crushed? copper acetate (Spaens-groen)/ and bring it to boil together/ and stir it well together then you put your stockings in/ and let boil for an hour/ then take them out and hang up to cool down/ then you put your stockings back in/ and let them boil again for one hour/ then you take them out and hang up to cool down/ rinse them well in clean waer/ and it will be beautiful black.[47]

The recipe mentions explicitly the word Koosen which is middle Dutch for stockings or hose. All the weights were converted for a single wool sock weighing 25 grams. The weights of the recipes were converted to grams

For each pound of fabric we added 4 loot of gallnut,  1 loot of madder, 1/2 loot copper acetate, 4 loot of gum Arabic, 4 loot of iron filings, and 1 vierendeel of copper sulphate, where 1 loot is 1/32 pound and 1 vierendeel is ¼ pound.

In modern measures, we used 400 mL clean water, and when it reached 70°C, we added 0.8g of madder, and 3.1g of Turkish gallnuts, cooking for for 5 minutes before adding the sock and boiling for 10 more minutes. After 10 minutes, we removed the sock and let it cool.  After it cooled, we added 0.38 g of copper acetate, 3.1 g of gum Arabic, 3.1g of iron filings, and 6.1g of of iron sulphate to the dyeing mixture, and we returned the sock to the dye  to cook for one hour.  After we removed the the fabric and let it cool, we returned it to the dyeing vat for another hour, before taking it out to cool again. After rinsing the hose very well in clean water, the recipe promised a beautiful black.

Observations on the Dye Experiment using the Recipe from Een cleyn Verff-boecxken
The wool became darker every time the hose was allowed to cool in the air (the chemical explanation for the darkening is that iron filings will add ferric bonds to gallic acid complexation). The iron sulphate was not exhausted and the [sop]could consequently be reused for a subsequent dyeing, giving an ash grey colour because the copper acetate does not allow complexation to happen in the dye bath. The gum Arabic appears to create a thin layer on top of the liquid, probably preventing the oxidation of the iron ions while the vat is cooling off. This process is clear in Katrien Vanagt’s short documentary Reworking a Black Dye Recipe from ‘Een cleyn verff-boecxken’ (1638).

The wool emerged a warm purplish/grey and was not completely saturated; the shade of the sock was dark but lacked depth when seen in sunlight. After the sock dried it didn’t have a pleasant feel, and we also detected some small, broken fibers, possibly because the particles of the iron fillings got into the wool threads. These broken fibers mean that the socks will be less durable.

Preparing a handknit woollen white stocking for blackdyeing: washing and then boiling with gallnuts and madder , following instructions from Een cleyn Verff-boecxken (1638), Atelier Building, Amsterdam, December 2019 (photograph Jenny Boulboullé/Artechne)

The Recipe from Conste des ververs

Figure 7. Detail of the recipe from the Conste des Ververs manuscript, courtesy of Natalia Ortega Saez.

The second black dyeing we performed was based on a recipe in a Flemish dyeing manuscript named Conste des Ververs (‘Art of the Dyer’ [Figure 7]).[47] The manuscript is kept at the Archives of the city of Leuven (cat. 7133). It was written between 1619 and 1623 by Henrick Coghen who was very likely a dyer himself; as Verhecken notices, Coghen uses possessive pronouns in his recipes, as when he refers to ‘Our black sop‘ or ‘Our Tonneken‘), suggesting that he owned of the black dyeing workshop where these recipes were used.[48] At the beginning of the seventeenth century, black dyers surpassed the medieval Blauwverwer (blue dyer) in the hierarchy of trades, due to the immense popularity of black garments.

The manuscript was probably used as a guideline for dye apprentices or a repository for the dyers’ guild. The manuscript is 20cm x 15.7cm and contains a recipe collection from other dyers working in different fields. There are several blue dyeing recipes with different kinds of indigo, many red high-quality sources, and also dye sources of low light sensitivity, a dyeing field later known as the Petit teint.

Some 66 recipes in the manuscript are meant for stockings although whether they are meant for silk or wool is not clear. However the author mentions broadcloth and stockings in one and the same recipe, which may suggest that the stockings recipes were written for woolen stockings.[49] Because of the high number of dye recipes for stockings in this book it is possible that dyeing of stockings was a very common or profitable specialization, or at least that it was Coghen’s specialization.

The re-worked recipe from this primary source is called in translation ‘To make black in another way’ (fol. 40, rx no. 103). We used it in the experiment to dye a silk stocking. We chose silk because the recipe gave instructions to cook in total for 2 hours, and silk fabric is more resistant to cooking — and is better at keeping its shape when cooked — than wool. This is our transcription of the handwritten recipe text:

‘To make black in another manner h.cs’ ‘First for each pair of stockings one ounce Sumak one ounce galls crushed pounded half an ounce madder and let it seethe with it a small hour do that. Then wring and let it cool[.] Then put into the fresh dyebath a Quarter Iron II Sulphate half an ounce gum[.] Let it seethe with it a quarter [of an hour] do that then wring and let it cool[.] This you do up to 3 or 4 times so that they will be beautiful if they do not become beautiful Enough and so make the bath stronger with A bit of gall nut and Iron II Sulphate’.  [50]

Noting that we adapted the recipe for socks weighing 35.6g, the parenthetical measure is the quantity we used, and the recipe we adapted works as follows: ‘First, for each pair of stockings, one ounce of sumac (15.4g), one ounce of crushed galls (15.4g). Half ounce of madder (10g) and let it therein. Cook together a small hour right there. Then wring and leave to cool. Then put it there in a clean sop, add a vierendeel of iron sulphate (1.3g), half ounce gum Arabic (7.7g), leave it there to cook along a quarter hour, wring out then and leave to cool down. This you do 3 to 4 times until they become pretty, are they not pretty enough, and become so with stronger vat with [amount?] gallnuts and iron sulphate’.

Observations of the Dye Experiment of the Recipe from Conste des Ververs
The reworking of this recipe was done with one of the silk stockings reconstructed by the TRC, together with textile artist Jeannine de Raeymaecker. We made use of a greenhouse next to a former farm in Húns, Friesland, owned by Jongstra, as part of the Burgundian Black Collaboratory in January 2019.[51]   We used small metal cooking vessels for these dyeing experiments. We used rain water, which was partially frozen because of the conditions outside.

To produce and prepare the ingredients for this receipe, we crushed the galls with a hammer and used sumac powder, combined with eight-year-old, thick, taproot madder, grown by Jongstra.  (As we see in Jongstra’s film the madder that was freshly taken from the ground and was still wet.) Knowing the provenance and quality of the madder helped to estimate the amount that we could use safely, and such significant background knowledge was one of the advantages of conducting this recipe on the artist’s farm. The recipe states that meede should be used instead of the crap (taproot) or meede-crap (mix of both), but the root wasn’t as fibrous as we’d hoped because the workshop took place during the winter, when the roots weren’t rooting, which epxlains why we used 10g rather than 7.7 g. Meede has a higher amount of purpurin dye content which may be why they use this part of the plant.

For this recipe, the word vierendeel refers to iron sulphate, which we did not understand until after the experiment’s completion. Because we struggled with the anachronistic phrase, we added only ~1 gram of iron sulphate, around 3% of the weight of the silk. We also did not understand during the experiment the meaning of ‘a clean sop’ which we now think refers to previously  used solution that had been exhausted of iron sulphate. If the sop they mentioned contains Spanish green (copper acetate) then this recipe would be related to the Een cleyn Verff-boecxken recipe given earlier. However the dyeing happens here in two different vats, suggesting that sops ingredients and methods varied in significant ways between dyers’ workshops. In his 1937 dissertation, Van Nie mentions two different kinds of sop for dyeing silk in this period.[52]  The first sop contains water, logwood, pomegranate peels, orange peels, henna, almond mushroom, syrup, honey, red wine, brandywine, and rosewater; the second sop contained water, gum Arabic, lead monoxide, antimony, and mercury sulphide. We were unable to predict how this different process would affect the outcome.

During the experiment the silk stocking turned a light grey colour when we first let it cool. We made the second sop with 16 g of gallnuts and 1g of iron sulphate. The silk fabric became relatively dark after the second dip of this sop. We did not apply a third treatment due to both time constraints and the lack of sunlight, which was paramount when evaluating the colour.

After the stocking had dried overnight and the next day, the colour was not very evenly distributed when observed in the sunlight. The silk fibers had become extremely weak, which caused small rips in the knitted fabric to occur when trying to fit it on the wooden frame.

This recipe is quite expensive, and does not appear to be as efficient as the previous recipe. We repeated the experiment later with the correct amount of iron sulphate; this second test did not result in a deep black colour. Because the recipe was written meticulously, one might assume that parts of the recipe are deliberately left out or concealed in the word sohne sop (clean solution). A sop is a recycled solution, and otherwise the author would have just written ‘water’.  This sleight-of-hand, however, is not uncommon: a black dyer would conceal some of his knowledge to protect his trade.

The Recipe from MS. Ashmole 1494

Figure 8a. Of appoticarie druges, MS. Ashmole 1494, – Oxford, Bodleian Library – Of dyinge The Collours followinge as Wooded, fol. 456r/v,

The third black dyeing recipe that we re-worked is a from a manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford [Figure 8]. The author or collector of the manuscript was Simon Forman (1552-1610), a writer, astrologer, and physician.[53] The manuscript contains a chapter on dyeing wool fleece and we were especially interested in the ‘medlies’ black-dyed with woad as a starting point, in part because it was unclear to us what was meant by ‘medlies’. The recipe has a certain rhythm when read out loud, and the author writes the recipe in the third person plural, as if he is observing more than one dyer at work.

The use of the third person (And then they put copprose…) suggests — correctly — that Forman was not himself a dyer. He fails to mention the amount of dye and mordants used, which would be crucial for a good reconstruction. The recipe could however have been understood by other experienced dyers, who would be able to fill in information that was left unwritten, like the weight of the wool and the mordants. The author seems particularly eager to understand the reaction and why the madder should not boil above a certain temperature. He emphasizes that the ‘Madder will Scald’ when too hot, so that it will be no good.


The recipe for woaded blacks in MS. Ashmole 1494, fol. 456

All medlies are died in tho woolle, and so spune and weaned.
Soe that som of the wolle may be woded, and som not woded
Ther be som Blacks that ar dyed out of white, without Wodinge
and they ar called gauld Blacks, and those that be wooded be called woded blacks
The woded blacks after they ar woded ar boiled in water and sumack
& then they ar taken out and let colde and
And then they put copprose into the same water and Macke,
in the which the Blacks are boiled. And then they
Put the Blacks in again into the same water where they put
the sumacke and Copprose) for on howare, and then they take
them out again and let them cold. And then they put them in again.
And so they doe 3. ty(mes?) in 5. howars. and then they wilbe blacke/
then they wash out thes blackes clean in the teamse and drawe fair water into the leed. And put mat-therin, when the water is as hote as on may put —
hand therin. And when the water is then Readie so then put
those blackes [clothes] therin for on howars space (br)inge yt to boille
Yf youe put in your mather when your water is to (hote)
Will scald the mather so that yt will doe no good. then Take heed to the heate
of your water before youe put your mather.
And when this is done, yt is perfect good then wash yt.[54]

Figure 8b. Of appoticarie druges, MS. Ashmole 1494, – Oxford, Bodleian Library – Of dyinge The Collours followinge as Wooded, fol. 456r/v,

This woaded black recipe can be partially traced back to fourteenth century manuscripts of the cloth making corporations of the Brabant town of Diest.[55] There we find the oldest surviving woad and madder overdyeing recipes for black. As in many Flemish cloth producing towns, Diest regulations forbade any other mordanting than rock alum.[56]  the Ashmolean manuscript, however, from an English MS uses iron sulphate as a supplementary mordant. Despite regulations, this dyeing procedure can be found in seventeenth-century Netherlandish dyeing practices, as dye analysis of a black doublet from this period showed.[57] In the case of the double, the wool was dyed with indigo first and afterwards mordanted with alum and iron sulphate and overdyed with madder and sumac.


Because woading (blue dyeing) is not described in this recipe, we followed a sixteenth recipe to dye the silk stocking dark blue first. The recipe from T Bouck vā Wondre, ‘Om linen doeck schoō blaeu te doē verwen’.[58] This recipe starts with the fermentation of couched woad with madder roots and rye bran. Couched woad was used to prepare blue pigments of different qualities according to the dye recipe in the 1513 edition published in Brussels by Thomaes van der Noot that uses the term ‘Weede bloemen’, meaning woad flour (a light blue pigment), and the term Floreynē, which is the froth of a fermenting liquid that transformed into a dark blue pigment. When the book was reprinted 31 years later in Antwerp by Symon Cock, this 1544 edition uses the word Floreynē  for high quality woad pigment.[59]  Around 1500 in England, the froth was known by the name of Floreye and was used to stain linen blue.[60] In France the word ‘Florins’ was used as a measure to evaluate the degree of quality of the couched woad.[61] Floreynē in the fifteenth century was most likely already used by Burgundian dyers as a high quality couched woad product, acquired from Erfurt or the Languedoc couched woad vats, rather than an indigo pigment from Florence as the name may suggest. Couching woad was a labour-intensive activity that could take up to two and a half years of processing.

Observations of the Dye Experiment of the Recipe from MS. Ashmole 1494
We also re-worked this recipe in the greenhouse in Húns, Friesland, together with de Raeymaecker. No weights or measurements were mentioned in the recipe so we took the quantities from average quantities recommended in the handbook Natural Colorants for Dyeing and Lake Pigments.[62]  We dyed one silk stocking of 35.6 grams, and specific amounts are shown in parentheses in the recipe below. We used small metal cooking vessels for these dyeing experiments, and the water rain water from a barrel. This access to rain water was a benefit of working at at Jongstra’s farm, because we the recipe calls for rain water, to which we had no access in the laboratory. The water we worked with was partially frozen because of the weather, something a Burgundian dyer would have encountered in his practice.

For obtaining the blue medlies, couched woad needed to be made first from fresh woad leaves.  Jongstra’s team gathered 1kg of fresh woad leaves late summer of 2018, after which they turned the leaves into green woad balls and left them to dry for a few months. In the winter of 2019 they pounded the dried balls into pulp and sprinkled water over them, creating a heap of organic matter with tunnels in order to regulate the heat created during the composting of the leaves. The process we followed was first detailed in  1811 instructions describing the of the production of pastel by De Lasteyrie.[63]

The temperature was kept above 20°C and it naturally rose to 28°C  in one week, but did not reach 40°C, the temperature thermophilic bacteria need for rapid composting of organic material. The process needed to be repeated until complete composting took place, adding water or — even better — fresh urine to the heap. However, after the two weeks no composting was reached, probably because it was too cold (winter time) or because we were too impatient.  Reminding us of original practices, a fifteenth-century city ordinance in Erfurt required green woad balls to be couched for at least two years before sale.[64] Because we were unable to make properly couched woad in the short time we had available, we used this semi-couched woad in order to start the development of the vat for the Húns workshop.

We fermented the semi-couched woad a few days prior to the workshop, but it did not take off on the day of the dyeing experiment, probably again because it was mid-winter. In modern indigo vat reductions, sodium hydrosulphite can be added to start the reduction of the vat, and we followed this anachronistic process during the workshop. When the woad vat took off (by creating an oily/iridescent film on the surface of the vat [Figure 9a]), extra indigo pigment was added that also could be reduced to indoxyl. Now we had a working woad/indigo dye vat in which to undertake many of the day’s reconstructions on one of the silk stockings [Figure 9b]. Chemically unaided, woad vat reduction takes about two days and the vat will be active for two days; this is why pre-modern blue dyers were not allowed to start a vat after Wednesday because they had to respect the Christian tradition of resting on Sundays.[65]

Figure 9a. Woad/indigo dye vat with iridescent film, Húns, January 2019 (photograph Art Proaño).
Figure 9b. Detail of silk stocking reconstruction after the second woad dip, Húns, January 2019 (photograph Art Proaño).

The blue stocking was dipped only four times in the woad/indigo vat, but after the second time the blue did not become darker. This may have been caused by the fact that the blue vat was too alkaline; because indigo dissolves into an alkaline solution each time the stocking was immersed in the vat, the previously attached indigo dissolved back into the vat. In the future, we would advise anyone reproducing such experiments to use a complete natural fermentation because it might give even darker blues after a series of dips. We also digressed from the experiment because the three dips in the sumac and iron sulphate solution were not done over the course of five hours as the recipe suggested, but only over the course of 40 minutes. This was due to the time available for this re-working.


The MS. Ashmole 1494 recipe for ‘woded blacks’ was translated into the following working protocol:

After the wool is woaded, it is boiled (30 minutes) in water (rain water 700ml) and sumac (powder 15.5g) then the stocking was taken out to cool down (10 minutes). Then iron sulphate (1.3g) is added to the sumac solution and followed directly by the silk knitted stocking. The stocking is simmered for 1 hour and stirred regularly. Afterwards the stocking is taken out let cool for 5 minutes. Then put back in the sumac/iron sulphate solution and cooked for 5 minutes. Then the stocking is taken out to cool for 5 minutes before returning to the solution and cooked for 5 minutes before being taken out again. In between dippings, 72g of fresh madder (with some earth) was cut in small bits and put into a vessel with 500ml of water. Then the madder bath temperature was raised to 50°C and kept at that temperature for 30 minutes. The already quite black stocking was put into the 50°C madder bath and left for 1 hour at 50°C. Afterwards the stocking was rinsed extensively and hanged to dry.

Madder roots heated above 70°C will extract more anthraquinones sugars, which will have a negative effect on the colour durability and depth.  This danger is probably the reason why Forman advised the recipe’s followers to heat the madder until your hand could resist the heat, and said later that, if the heat was higher, it ‘Will scald the mather so that yt will doe no good’. The introduction of the already black silk stocking into the dark madder solution was quite remarkable. After 20 minutes the dark red colour of the dye bath became transparent. The writer of the recipe does not mention this phenomenon, maybe because the dyers used much more madder, because he did not notice the colour change, or because he did not find it worth mentioning. In our case it appears that the silk stocking absorbed all the colourants present in the bath. The colour of the stocking when dried was deep black and shiny. The stocking was soft and pleasant to the touch.

Black hose produced from woolen or silk woven fabric was omnipresent in the Burgundian period. Although the hose form and shape changed dramatically due to shifting fashions, the dyeing technologies did not change at their core. Preferences for the colour black for stockings can certainly be traced back to the Burgundian Ducal period and could still be seen until deep into the 18th century.

By studying written sources, understanding those sources contextually, and performing historically informed re-workings of such dyeing practices, we learned some of the ecological ethics that shaped Burgundian dyeing technologies. While dyers of black had a reputation for producing the most dangerous waste, the use of mordants to dye stockings black was less harmful to the environment than one would assume with black dyeing. Mordants and additives like arsenic, mercury sulphide, sulphur, lead(II)oxide, and antimony sulphate that were used by the beginning of the seventeenth century are not mentioned in any of the black dyeing recipes with which we worked. Instead, these recipes use iron-sulphate, alum, and copper acetate, and, of these, only copper acetate is bad for human health and the ecosystem. However, because the dye baths with copper acetate could be reused, in the so-called sops, it prevented contamination of the rivers and ground waters of the densely populated Burgundian regions. Other methods for recycling colours specifically used for stockings is Viligreyn from dyed, sheared wools, or from clippings from the cloth industry. Sops were not allowed for high quality cloths but they are often mentioned in the hose dyers recipes, meaning that it was much more sustainable to make these goods than other luxury textile commodities.

The re-working of these historic black recipes showed that dyeing black requires a great amount of expertise. The tannin-iron complex dyed wool sock (sample 1) and silk stocking (sample 2) lacked depth of colour, lacked a soft/pleasant touch, and were fragile. The overdyed, woaded recipe, on the other hand, resulted in a deep colour, a pleasant texture, and the textile appeared stronger and more elastic [Figure 10].

Figure 10. Left two silk swatches dyed according to the recipes from Conste des ververs and Een cleyn Verff-boecxken. Centre silk stocking dyed according to Conste des ververs. Right another silk stocking dyed according to the recipe from MS. Ashmole 1491.

Dyeing silk or wool a deep black with gallnuts and iron sulphate was common in most European dyeing centres during the fifteenth century. Some of these technological processes could be difficult and not necessarily cheap in the Burgundian regions. Levant gallnuts and vitriols (iron sulphates) were imported products, making them expensive. Efficient dyers could hold the prices low by recycling mordant and dye baths. However the durability of the dyed fabric would be significantly reduced by dyeing with these methods.

The technology of woad overdyeing with madder was as difficult a dyeing method as the one mentioned above, but it did not harm the integrity of the fibers. The production of high-quality madder was local and cheaper in Flanders than for other European dyeing centres.[66] The different qualities of madder were used for different colours, which had its technological advantages. Burgundian regions being the greatest importer of couched woad in the middle ages meant that they had the most developed blue dye technologies to achieve the deepest blue hues fitted for overdyeing with the cheapest and most efficient methods. Staelmeesteren, a guild regulated quality control, gave dyers certain independence and their unique prestige in the textile social ladder [Figure 11]. This is probably one of the factors contributing to innovations in dyeing technologies during the Burgundian-Habsburg period in the Low Countries.

Figure 11. Rembrandt van Rijn, The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild, 1662, oil on canvas, 191,5 x 279cm, Rijksmuseum, SK-C-6, on loan from the City of Amsterdam.

Albo, M. and Colbert, J.B. “Instruction” générale pour la teinture des laines et manufactures Instruction générale pour la teinture des laines et manufactures de laine de toutes couleurs, & pour la culture des drogues ou ingrediens qu’on y employe (Paris, 1671).

Anon., “Tractaet om te verwen lynwaet ende garen,” in Chirurgie, Manuscript, Ghent, University Library, BHSL.HS.1317, first half of the sixteenth century. (not digitized).

Anon., Receptenboek om allerlei kleuren te verwen afkomstig uit een haarlemse verwerij uit de tweede helft van de zeventiende eeuw, Manuscript, Haarlem, Frans Halsmuseum, (c.1650 – 1700) (no shelf number).

Anon., “Medical and technical recipes in Middle Dutch”, MS Sloane 345, fol. 33r. Transcription taken from Braekman, Medische en technische Middelnederlandse recepten

Anon. The Cronycles of Englond, (1482/6 (Cao. / CC / xxivjo) Sp Coll Hunterian Bv.2.17).

Beckmann, J. “A History” of Inventions, Discoveries, and Origins: Volume 1, H.G. Bohn (1845).

Black, S., “Knitting”, Fashion, Industry, Craft. V&A Publishing, V&A’s collections inventory no. 2085&A-1900, (2012) 10-30

Black, William Henry, and William Dunn Macray. A Descriptive, Analytical, and Critical Catalogue of the Manuscripts Bequeathed unto the University of Oxford by Elias Ashmole : Also of Some Additional MSS. Contributed by Kingsley, Lhuyd, Borlase and Others (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1845).

Braekman, W. L. (ed.), Medische en technische Middelnederlandse recepten. Een tweede bijdrage tot de geschiedenis van de vakliteratuur in de Nederlanden. Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie voor Taal- en Letterkunde, Gent (1975)

Brandenburgh, Chrystel R. “Een paar zijden kousen,” in: Wereldvondsten uit een Hollands schip. Basisrapportage BZN17/Palmhoutwrak, ed. A.D. Vos (2019), 258-269.

Capmany y Montpalau, A. de, “Memorias Historicas” Sobre La Marina, Comercio y Artes de La Antigua Cuidad de Barcelona, Vol I. Vol. 1. Madrid, (1779).

Cardon, D., Natural Dyes Sources, Tradition, Technology and Science. Archetype publications (2007).

Coghen, Henricus. “Conste des Ververs”. Manuscript, Leuven, Municipal Archives, cat.7133, (1619-1623).

Colladon, John and Theodore de Mayerne, MS 1990, Manuscript, London, British Library, Ms Sloane 1990, seventeenth century before 1675.

De Lasteyrie Du Saillant, C. P.,  “Du pastel”, de l’indigotier, et des autres végétaux dont on peut extraire une colour bleue. (1811)

De Nie, W. L. Johannes. “De ontwikkeling” den Noord-Nederlandse Textielververij van XIVe tot de XVIIIe Eeeuw.  Boen en Steendrukkerij E. IJdo, Leiden (1937) scheme III – 423

Deploige J. and Stabel, P. “Textile entrepreneurs” and textile workers in the medieval city, in Golden Times. Wealth and Status in the Middle Ages, ed. by Lambert V. and Stabel P. (Tielt: Lannoo Publishers, 2016), 228-324

Diderot, D., “Encyclopédie” ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 2 (plates). Paris, (1763) Bonnetier de la Foule, Planche II

Ekstrand, G. “Some Early Silk Stockings” in Sweden. Textile History, 13 2 (1982) 165-182

Forman, Simon. “Of Dyinge, and the Dyers craft, and stainge and dyinge of clothe,” Manuscript, Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Ashmole 1494, fols. 455-458, (1607-1610)

Frencken, H.G.Th. “T bouck vā wondre”, 1513, Drukkerij H. Timmermans, Roermond (1934).

Gerbrandum, Nicolai. “Een cleyn Verff-boecxken” inhoudende seer constighe saeyet verwen, nut en profytelijck voor breyders en oock voor andere persoonen die haer dit werck mede willen bemoeyen. Den tweeden druck, op nieuws overghesien ende verbetert (Leeuwarden: 1638).

Henslow, G. “Medical works of the fourteenth century (1835-1925).

Hofenk de Graaff, Judith. H., “Dyeing Black in seventeenth-century Holland.” “Conserving Textile: Studies in honour of Ágnes Timár-Balázsy” Ed. István Éri (conservation studies ICCROM) (Rome 2009) 1-105

Hofenk de Graaff, Judith. H., “Geschiedenis” van de textieltechniek: een drieluik. Amsterdam: Centraal Laboratorium voor Onderzoek van Voorwerpen van Kunst en Wetenschap (1992).

Hofenk de Graaff, Judith H., “The Colourful Past”, Origins, Chemistry and Idenitfication of Natural Dyestuffs. Archetype, Abegg Stifftung (2004).

Howard Traister, B., “The Notorious” Astrological Physician of London: Works and Days of Simon Forman, University of Chicago Press, Chicago (2001).

Jacoby, David. Silk Economics and Cross-Cultural Artistic Interaction: Byzantium, the Muslim World, and the Christian West. Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 58 (2004).

Jolivet, S. “La construction d’une image” : Philippe le Bon et le noir (1419-1467) Apparence(s) [Online], 6 | 2015, Online since 25 August 2015, Connection on 30 April 2020. URL :

Jolivet, S., “Pour soi vêtir” honnêtement à la cour de monseigneur le duc : costume et dispositif vestimentaire à la cour de Philippe le Bon, de 1430 à 1455. Sciences de l’Homme et Société. Université de Bourgogne, Français (2003).

Kirby, J., van Bommel, M., Verhecken, A. et al. Natural Colorants for Dyeing and Lake Pigments. Archetype Publications (2014)

Lacroix, P. M. and Seré, F.M., “Le Moyen Age” Et La Renaissance, Histoire Et Description Des Moeurs Et Usages, Du Commerce Et de l’Industrie, Des Sciences, Des Arts, Des Littératures Et Des Beaux-Arts En Europe, Vol 3 (1850)

Lagardère, V., “Mûrier et culture” de la soie en Andalus au Moyen Age (Xe-XIVe siècles) Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez ( 1990) 105-109.

Lauterbach, F. “Geschichte” der in Deutschland bei der Färberei angewandten Farbstoffe mit besonderer Berücksichtigung des mittelalterlichen Waidbaues, Leipzig (1905)

Monteil, Amans-Alexis, and Auguste Rabutaux. “Corporations” de métiers: Moyen âge et Renaissance. Saint-Laurent-le-Minier: Decoopman, 2017 [1850]

Reynolds, L.R., “The market” for northern textiles in Genoa 1179-1200, Belge de philologie et d’histoire, tome 8, fasc. 3, (1929).

Schweppe, H., “Handbuch” der Naturfarbstoffe, Vorkomen, Verwendung, Nachweis. Ecomed (1992).

Stijnman, Ad. “A Short-Title Bibliography of the Secreti by Alessio Piemontese.” In The Artist’s Process: Technology and Interpretation: Proceedings of the Fourth Symposium of the Art Technological Source Research Working Group, edited by Sigrid Eyb-Green, Joyce H. Townsend, Mark Clarke, Jileen Nadolny, and Stefanos Kroustallis, 32–47. London: Archetype Publications, 2012.

Struckmeier, S.  “Die Textilfärberei” vom Spätmittelalter bis zur Frühen Neuzeit. Eine naturwissenschaftlich-technische Analyse deutschsprachiger Quellen. Waxman, Münster (2011).

Turnau, I., History of Knitting Before mass Production Institute of the History of Material Culture, Polish Academy of Science. Warszawa (1991).

“Tbouck va[n] Wondre”. (Th. Van der Noot: Brussels, 1513).
Royal Library of Belgium (KBR), Rare Books collection, call number VI 1576 A 1 (RP)

“Tbouck van wondre:” Int welcke men vinden ende leeren sal veel schoon consten, die seer profitelijc zijn… Reprint (S. Cock: Antwerp 1544). Royal Library of the Netherlands (KB), Old prints collection, call number KW 1708 C 13.

Van Veen, J. “De Wetenschap” ēn Manieren om alderhande Couleuren van Saij of Saijetten te Verwen etc. Manuscript, Den Haag, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, 135 K44, (1635-1687).

Verhecken, A., “Conste des ververs”: A Flemish dyeing manuscript from Leuven 1619-1623, e-Preservation Science (31st international meeting of Dyes in History, and Archaeology (DHA) Antwerp, 18-20 October) (2012)

Verhecken, A., “Technische aspecten” van de middeleeuwse wolververij in Diest, volgens 14-e en 15-e eeuwse lakenkeuren, Bulletin Vlaamse Vereniging voor Oud en hedendaags textiel (1992)

Vigne, F., “Recherches” historiques sur les costumes civils et militaires des gildes et des corporations de métiers, leurs drapeaux, leurs armes, leurs blasons, etc., Gand: Chez F. et E. Gyselynck, imprim. et lithogr.; etc., (1847)

Willis, K., “The Close-Knit Circle”: American Knitters Today. American Subcultures. Westport, (2007).


Master dyers that dyed with several different types of mordant dye, but predominantly reds with madder, kermes, and/or cochineal.


Master dyers that dyed with several different types of mordant dye, but predominantly reds with madder, kermes, and/or cochineal.


Master dyers that dyed with several different types of mordant dye, but predominantly reds with madder, kermes, and/or cochineal.

Staelmeesteren, or Wardens of Drapery

When cloth wardens were not able to cope with all the controlling stages of cloth manufacture, special control syndics were appointed annually to ensure that the dyeing was followed according to the specifications of the city drapery ordinances. These syndics of the Drapers guild, meaning sampling-masters, were responsible for approving the cloth qualities and sending them to the dyers. They also marked the blue dyed cloths by hammering slugs of lead after the cloth was dyed and finally sending them to the next dyer.

In the Dutch language the common proverb ‘De lakens uitdelen’ which literally translates as ‘to hand out the broadcloth’ colloquially means, 'The one who decides what shall happen', and comes directly from the Burgundian Low Countries broadcloth industry, referring to the power of the Staelmeesteren. (Cf, “staelmeester” in Verwijs and Verdam, Midderlnederlandsch Woordenboek, consulted online at, last accessed on 22 April 2021.)

Staelmeesteren, or Wardens of Drapery

When cloth wardens were not able to cope with all the controlling stages of cloth manufacture, special control syndics were appointed annually to ensure that the dyeing was followed according to the specifications of the city drapery ordinances. These syndics of the Drapers guild, meaning sampling-masters, were responsible for approving the cloth qualities and sending them to the dyers. They also marked the blue dyed cloths by hammering slugs of lead after the cloth was dyed and finally sending them to the next dyer.

In the Dutch language the common proverb ‘De lakens uitdelen’ which literally translates as ‘to hand out the broadcloth’ colloquially means, 'The one who decides what shall happen', and comes directly from the Burgundian Low Countries broadcloth industry, referring to the power of the Staelmeesteren. (Cf, “staelmeester” in Verwijs and Verdam, Midderlnederlandsch Woordenboek, consulted online at, last accessed on 22 April 2021.)

[1] Ekstrand, Some Early Silk Stockings, 178.

[2] Jolivet, La construction d’une image.

[3] Black, Knitting.  10-16.

[4] Black, Knitting.  25-30.

[5]  Lacroix, Le Moyen Age. 367-381.

[6] Vigne, Recherches. 37.

[7] Monteil, Corporations, 46

[8] Ekstrand, Some Early Silk Stockings, 165-169.

[9] Reissland, Black pigment essay crossrefence.

[10] Jolivet, Pour soi vêtir, 125.

[11] Jolivet, Pour soi vêtir, 479.

[12] Jolivet, Pour soi vêtir, 479.

[13] Hofenk de Graaff, Geschiedenis, 55-72.

[14] Lagardère, Mûrier et culture, 105-109.

[15] Hofenk de Graaff, Geschiedenis, 140-143.

[16] Reynolds, The market, 831-852.

[17] Deploige & Stabel, Textile entrepreneurs, 9-10.

[18] Capmany y Montpalau, Memorias Historicas, 892.

[19] Willis, The Close-Knit Circle, 9-11; Turnau, History of Knitting, 20.

[20] Anon., The Cronycles. Bv.2.17

[21] Capmany y Montpalau, Memorias Historicas, 892.

[22] Capmany y Montpalau, Memorias Historicas, 319-320.

[23] Coghen, Conste des Ververs; Van Veen, De Wetenschap; Gerbrandum, Een cleyn verff-boecxken.

[24] Tbouck va[n] Wondre, Brussels: Th. Van der Noot, 1513; Tbouck van wondre, Antwerp: S. Cock, 1544; Frencken, T bouck vā wondre, 1513, 24-25.

[25] Struckmeier, Die Textilfärberei, 242.

[26] Hofenk de Graaff, The Colourful Past, 335.

[27] Anon., Receptenboek om allerlei kleuren te verwen….

[28] Hofenk de Graaff, Dyeing black, 60.

[29] Hofenk de Graaff, The Colourful Past, 335-336.

[30] Colladon and Mayerne, MS 1990, fol. 3. Transcription and translation of the recipe by Jenny Boulboullé. For further information on Mayerne, cross reference to essay by Boulboullé Noir de Flandres in this volume.

[31] English translation by Jenny Boulboullé

[32] Beckmann, A History, 194-195.

[33] Struckmeier, Die Textilfärberei, 71.

[34] Boulboullé,  cross reference (Noir de Flanders)

[35] Schweppe, Handbuch, 473-474.

[36] Cardon, Natural Dyes Sources, 414-418.

[37] Anon., “Tractaet om te verwen lynwaet ende garen”, BHSL.HS.1317, fol. 379v. Transcription taken from Braekman, Middelnederlandse verfrecepten voor miniaturen en "alderhande substancien", 98; English translation by Art Proaño Gaibor

[38] Anon., “Medical and technical recipes in Middle Dutch”, MS Sloane 345, fol. 33r. Transcription taken from Braekman, Medische en technische Middelnederlandse recepten, 183; English translation by Art Proaño Gaibor

[39] For more on The Silk Stockings Project see:

[40] Preliminary results of the Silk stockings project were published in Brandenburgh, Een paar zijden kousen.

[41] Diderot, Encyclopédie. 18:0:5.

[42] Hofenk de Graaff, The Colourful Past, 335.

[43] For a description of the Ashmolean manuscript MS 1494, see Black and Dunn, A descriptive catalogue, 1379-1390 and; for a transcription of the recipe see

[44] Cross-reference Jongstra; Boulboullé and Dupre methodological essays.

[45] see also the above cited recipe for “Pour blanchir la Soye”.

[46] Hofenk de Graaff, The Colourful Past, 346-348.

[47] Translation by Jenny Boulboullé.  In the original Dutch, "Om Swart te Verwen. / Neemt schoon water / ende alst warm is / soo doet daer in tot een pont werck 4. loot Galnoten / ende een loot Crap / ende alst siet / so doet u Koosen daer in / ende latet een uyre sieden / dan neemt uyt ende hanghet te verkoen / dan doet in t’selfde sop / een vierendeel pont Coperroot / 4. loot Gom / 4. loot Vylsel / ende half loot Spaens-groen ghestooten/ ende laet dat t’samen eens opsieden / ende roertet wel onder malcander dan do ter u Koosen in / ende laetse een uyre sieden / dan neemtse uyt ende hanghtse te verkoelen / dan steeckter u Koosen weder in / ende laetse weder een uyre sieden / dan neemtse uyt ende haugtse te verkoelen / spoeltse uyt in schoon water / ende t’sal schoon swart zijn."

[47] Coghen, Conste des Ververs.

[48] Verhecken, Conste des ververs, 61.

[49] Verhecken, Conste des ververs, 59-60.

[50] Coghen, Conste des Ververs, 40. Transcription by Art Proaño Gaibor, Natalia Ortega-Saez and Jenny Boulboullé.

[51] Boulboullé, Reworking with Makers – Cross reference

[52] De Nie, De ontwikkeling. 216-218 + scheme III

[53] Howard, The Notorious, 9-14

[54] Sound track - reading the recipe

[54] Sound track - reading the recipe

[56] Verhecken, Technische aspecten, 89.

[57] Mortier, Mode & Kostuum, 161.

[58] Frencken, T bouck, 24-25

[59] Frencken, T bouck, 92.

[60] Henslow, Medical works, 4.

[61] Albo & Colbert, Instruction, 150-151.

[62] Kirby e.a., Natural Colorants, 49-63.

[63] De Laisteyrie, Du Pastel, 33-39.

[64] Lauterbach, Geschichte, 35.

[65] Hofenk de Graaff, The Colourful Past, 327.

[66] See essay by Kirby elsewhere in this volume