A quick diversion of the blog to post my plague remedy as found for the Lady Mary scavenger hunt, as posting it directly to FB was ending poorly. 🙂
There were many suggestions of plague cures over the three centuries that the Black Death periodically ravaged Europe. Some medical, most religious, but one enterprising German physician in the early 16th century decided to turn to alchemy to assist his patients. Enter Doctor Caspar Kegler (ca. 1461 – 1537) He was amongst the earliest to promote his ‘secret recipes’ as a sure fire (provided God’s will was with you) plague preventative, most especially his aqua vitae and his “Doctor Caspar Kegler’s Electurary”, made with genuine unicorn horn! Electurary refers to a paste like concoction, generally taken by spoon.
A 1529 plague pamphlet (shown above) of his offered this recipe:
First wash and cut the celandine and place the parts in a pot with as much wine or wine vinegar as will fit. Next take a different glass vessel that is specially fashioned so that it can be turned over on the first edge of the pot, so that its bottom stands at top. Make a gum from beaten egg whites and flour and seal it well. Set it near a fire’s coals so that it dries well at all places. Then place the pot in a circular fire so that the coals do not touch it but are at a distance of a half ell. Let it boil without interruption for six hours. When these six hours have passed, take it from the fire, let it grow cold, and break the seal. Place the plant with the root in a clean cloth and wring it out little by little until complete. Hold the liquid in glasses prepared so that no smell is allowed to enter. Keep this until it is needed.
It is unclear on if this is a cure or a preventative, but he assures us that it has been used to help more than three hundred people over four epidemics and was recommended for monks and country gentlemen looking to treat large groups.
Celandine could mean either of two plants, Chelidonium majus (greater celandine) or Ficaria verna (lesser celandine). The former is part of the poppy family and has been used for herbalism as far back as Pliny as a detox plan. (The 21st century follows a long line of ‘detox plans’, nothing new under the sun.) The latter plant is part of the buttercup family, and was commonly used to treat hemorrhoids, and seems far less likely than the great celandine. The purgative nature of that plant fits in with the common themes of plague cures of the time, in preventing blockages of the natural flow of the body.
So clearly, if one is faced with the black death and you cant’ get your hands on some genuine “Doctor Caspar Kegler’s Electurary!”, you might just have to try some water of celandine, or preferably some antibiotics.
Reference: Heinrichs, E. (2012). The Plague Cures of Caspar Kegler: Print, Alchemy, and Medical Marketing in Sixteenth-Century Germany. The Sixteenth Century Journal,43(2), 417-440. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24245417
I was vaguely musing on what to do for the Padded Work category of the EK Embroidery guild samples. The usual is stumpwork, which while it can have some padded work, is best known for being exceptionally fine work, usually with a wired edge so that it can be posed in 3D. It’s gorgeous, it’s fussy, it’s tiny fiddly work and while usually that is 100% my jam, I wasn’t feeling it. There was a ton of meh about doing a stumpwork piece.
Then, at a panel, someone had done a trapunto piece, and it was gorgeous and simple but elegantly so, and someone in chat noted about the Tristan Quilt being in period and I had a ‘where have you been all my life’ moment.
So, some back story. The Tristan Quilt is how its most often referred to, but it is probably better referenced as the Guicciardini Quilt, as it is suspected that it was made for the Guicciardini family of Florence, and figures in the quilt (Tristan) bear that family’s arms. It is a bed covering that was made between 1360 and 1400 (or so), with the story of Tristan and Isolde quilted into it in many panels. It’s monochrome, dark brown thread on cream coloured linen, and is enormous. The chunk at the V&A is 320 cm x 287 cm (126″ x 113″) , the chunk at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence is 238 cm x 207 cm (98″ x 81″) and there’s speculation of the missing bit being as large as either of those chunks, or possibly a little bit larger. (For reference, a modern queen size mattress is 60″ x 80″) and current research speaks to them being part of one giant quilt to start, and hacked up in later eras. (Randles) They are the oldest surviving examples of decorative quilting in Europe, and I fell in love.
So! I had my inspiration piece, and then I went hunting through online images to find a wee bit of the giant whole that I wanted to add to my samples. I considered the horses, but once they were down to something that fit into a 6″ x 6″ square, they were too small to stuff with any sort of interest. Then I found the fish. And well, that was that. Fish it was to be!
I chose a natural oatmeal coloured linen for my backing fabric, and then took some linen embroidery thread (conveniently stranded for me) and dyed it with an unholy combination of iron, pomegranate, walnut and padauk to get a fairly good dark brown. Not quite as dark as I wanted, but good enough.
While a lot of trapunto is done by either cutting, or teasing apart the loosely woven back fabric to shove your cotton, or wool, batting into the stuffed sections, and then adding a backing, the original was not done that way. The stitching is shown on both sides, and the back fabric is as tightly woven as the front, so it is speculated that it was stuffed as they stitched. I went with that tactic on my fish as well. While there is no indication of traced out lines on the original, I have no illusions about my artistic skills and used modern washable fabric marker to trace out my fish and some background squiggles.
Being a ‘stuff as you go’ experience, it makes the most sense to start in the middle and then work your way up and down. So fish first! Stitch an area, add wool fleece (the original was cotton, I’m using wool because it’s what’s in my house.), shove fleece to where it’s supposed to stay, stitch more. Then add some details on top, and shove more fleece in. It’s a fairly basic procedure, all in all, if a little fussy to get the fabrics to stay relatively flat, with the fleece not spilling too far.
The stitching, even with fighting with fleece, went quickly. I used a basic back stitch throughout, and it was really a satisfying experience. I can utterly see why they’d choose something like this for a giant area, it is pretty zen and works up pretty fast.
A hem around the edge and then a quick bath to get rid of the marker and then voila! Fishy, fishy, fishy, fish!
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m rather fond of making yarn pretty colours. These days, I do a lot of work with natural dye, but that isn’t where I started*. I started with food dye. Kool aid to be precise, but that’s getting vanishingly hard to find as those little packets without extra sugar, and so I generally use icing dye these days.
Food dye? Really? Yes really. It is incredibly wash fast (and light fast and colour fast) on wool and silk. It does absolutely nothing to cotton except a pathetic stain that washes out fairly readily (unless it’s your or your kid’s favourite shirt, then you’re doomed), and even less to linen. Wool and silk? Sticks like glue!
It is really pretty basic, all in all. You need fibre, you need dye, you need something acidic, water and heat. I mostly work with wool for my food dye playing, it’s cheaper than silk. I have used both citric acid and vinegar as my acid in this, I find that vinegar is cheap and easy. (Are you sensing a theme here?). This is not the place to use that lovely artisanal amazing vinegar, the cheapest white vinegar from the store is just fine. The more expensive higher octane stuff is probably also fine, but I’ve never gone out and bought it on purpose, so use what you’ve got.
Your fibre needs to be good and clean, this is true for any dye project. We often call this step ‘scouring’ in the dye world, but end of day.. good and clean. Hot water, bit of soap, you want no dirt, not much lanolin left, no spinning oils, nothing that is getting in the way of the dye. Rinse it well. The theory in the dye world is to ‘Rinse until you’re willing to drink the rinse water’.
If you are dyeing right away after scouring, perfect, your fibre is good and soaking wet! If not, you need to get it good and soaking wet. Wool resists getting wet, so this is not a dunk and call it good, this is a dunk it in and walk away for a little while.
This is a good moment to pause and consider the heat aspect, as that will inform what sort of container you are using. Food dye is an exception to the rule about never using a container you are going to use for food. Everything you are using is food safe. Except perhaps the fibre, please don’t eat the fibre, but technically it isn’t poisonous, just you don’t need that high of a fibre diet. You can see above that I often use an old crockpot. However! I have popped things in the microwave, I’ve used a steamer basket on the stove, I’ve baked wool in the oven, as seen in the photo above. (That is an interesting conversation to have with your partner ‘ooh, what are you baking? It smells.. sweet? And … sheepy?’ ‘Electric blue Kool Aid and fleece.’) I have shoved fleece into an old and clean peanut butter jar and stuck it on the back deck in the heat of summer. I’ve put jars of dye into a crockpot of water to have half a dozen colours on the go at once. Your options for heat are endless, but it will inform what container you’re using.
Right, so we’ve covered fibre, and getting it wet and containers and heat. The acid part is really very simple, I add a glug of vinegar to whatever water I’m using. That’s it. Nothing exciting, nothing fancy, just a basic glug. If I was doing this in a giant pot, I’d be aiming for perhaps a glug glug glug, but this is a no measure experience and just have faith. A glug is fine. (Citric acid powder is a whole lot more concentrated, a small spoonful should do it. Less in a mason jar, a big spoonful in a giant pot. You get the idea.)
Now you need to add colour. This bit is entirely up to you, and what you are aiming for. In the casserole style above, I had barely enough vinegar water to make things wet, and then sprinkled dry koolaid powder randomly about as I was aiming for something variegated. In the bucket of dayglo orange below, I dumped a packet of orange kool aid in and stirred liberally before putting in my sopping wet yarn, as I wanted it pretty uniform. I’ve been known to tie off sections, shibori style, or throw in balls of yarn, knowing that the dye was going to hit different sections at different times. This is entirely up to you, but I will say that know that the dye and water does not penetrate nearly as far into the ball of yarn as you hope, you end up with an outer layer of colour and nada in the middle. I was sad, so I share that with you so that hopefully it does not make you sad as well.
I liberally mix my colours to get a liquid approximately the colour I’m looking for, and accept that it will not be quite the same on the yarn, but close. The little tubs of icing dye are VERY CONCENTRATED, so use sparingly. Really sparingly. I have been known, for a mason jar or small plastic tub, to measure them out with a toothpick. A very saturated dye in the crockpot, I went to tiny scoops on the end of a small spoon. Like seriously, you are aiming for amounts that would make small children who are trying not to eat a food happy. You can add more, but you do not want to be rinsing for 80 years.
At that point, pop in your wet fibre, steam/bake/nuke/stick in the hot sun and wait. Your choice of heating will determine how long you wait. I generally bake things in a gentle oven (say 275F?) for half an hour to an hour. Steam is more like 20 mins to half an hour. Sun dye is a few good days of solid summer warm (or months if you forget about it, and that’s fine too). Nuke it for a minute or two and see how it looks. There are not any hard and fast rules and regulations here. It needs to be hot, and it needs to be hot all the way through for a while. Not ages, but a while. If you don’t like what you get.. dye it again! 🙂
And there you have it, that’s dye with food colour in a nutshell. It’s fun, it’s easy, and if you are careful about choosing your icing dye combinations, it can look like you used natural dyes to get there without the fuss and hassle! (There are no natural dyes that give blue kool aid colours, just FYI.) Everything is non toxic, so it’s a great thing to do with kids without worrying that they are licking the mordants. Stick some wool and some colour in a mason jar and let it stew on the balcony! It’s a ton of fun.
*Technically I started with natural dye research. I was doing some fan fiction collaborative writing in the early 90s and it was based in a historical setting. The character I was working with was an early chemist, and so I went to the university library, and sat down with honest to goodness books about natural dye to be able to write her more effectively. That was the seed of it all, even if it took me years to actually TRY it, but the fascination started in dusty stacks of books and fiction.
I picked up a book from my local library on hearing it mentioned.. I don’t remember where, but it felt like something right up my alley. This Golden Fleece: A Journey Through Britain’s Knitted History by Esther Rutter. It was published in 2019, so there’s no discussion of the plague times, which is rather a lovely pause from the present day.
This book looks at the knitting history of the UK in a really gentle introspective memoir style of writing. The author spends a year travelling around the UK picking a different aspect of knitting history and visiting museums and festivals, talking with people and working on a suitable knitting project for her months’ focus. (Seriously, how do I get a book deal for 12 months worth of exploration? Sheesh! Anyhow.) The author did grow up on a sheep farm, so she came into this experience fairly familiar with all things wooly, although she admits that her knitting skills were relatively beginner when she started. She did not, for example, have to learn to spin, even if she was woefully out of practice. For all my pre-1600 folks, fair warning that this book happily settles primarily in the hay day of knitting life in the UK, mostly the 18th and 19th centuries, but she does not forget early knitting, and she even touches on naalbinding and has a go at it!
I found it to be a lovely conversational read, with plenty of good solid research to go with it, the text is chock full of end notes and rarely was there a spot that I eyebrow raised and went ‘Cite THAT source, if you would’. You know those moments, when someone is writing on something you’ve spent a fair bit of time researching and they pull out the ‘as everyone knows’, and there’s no endnote to be found and you sigh at the spread of more myth and less fact. Basically none of that here. A couple spots that I went ‘hunh.. that feels a stretch’, and better, more than a few spots when I flipped to the endnotes and copied down her source to go read it myself.
The chapters are arranged by project and month, which makes it moderately a bear to use as a reference book, but at least it has an index, so there’s a hope of being able to find something again. I’m not sure I’m in a rush to go add it to my personal library, but I’m grateful that I can snag it from my local library. No regrets about the time I spent reading it.
The premise was to use 7 identical skeins of wool, and one pot of mordant water. That water held 7% wof (weight of dry fibre) of but a single skein. So the first skein of wool into the mordant bath got a full dose of alum. Then, without topping up any alum in that pot, the next six were mordanted (and labelled!) in succession. So, in theory, we would have no alum left.. somewhere in that chain. All 7 then went into a dyepot, all at the same time, such that they would get the same dye exposure and show up where the alum stopped. So the theory went. It was left up to the dyer on what dye they wanted to use, but alum and wool were consistent for all of us.
I used madder (because of course I did), and had dug up some bulky weight wool yarn out of the depths of the stash, each 55g. (Except for the 2 that I mismeasured and ended up 65g. whoops.) So because my skeins were (mostly) 55g, a mere 3.85g of alum went into that giant pot of water. I kept each skein at a simmer for about an hour, and then hauled it out hot and let it cool, unrinsed. Eventually there was a giant pile of damp wool.
Cleaned out pot and and fresh water and in went 100g of madder. I had a grand plan of containing it in a little cloth bag so I didn’t have to rinse out madder dust for days, but my bag wasn’t big enough once the madder started expanding on getting wet, so that was abandoned early and I resigned myself to a million rinses later. (Dear Future Me: When you do this again, let the skeins dry after you pull them out and then whap them on the deck railing a whole lot to get most of the madder out that way. You’ll be much happier, you’re welcome.) That sat on the stove at not quite a simmer, about 70 – 80C for a couple of hours.
In goes all 7 skeins at once, and those got to sit around at not quite a simmer (80 – 90C) for another couple of hours before the heat got turned off and everyone went to bed. The skeins in the dyepot, and me.. well.. in bed. Next morning, rinse (and rinse and rinse and rinse and rinse) and plot what else is going in that pot of still dark red dye liquour. The exciting thing here is that in spite of there being successively less and less alum on these skeins, my 7 skeins are functionally identical. Now, madder is a dye that will take without a mordant, but not usually quite this dark and strong, so clearly more experimenting is required. (Oh /darn/, I’ll have to do more dye work. Such a tragedy. 😉 )
Well! I have more of that stash wool, so I grabbed another 600g of it, got that mordanted up (10% ish) and in it went to the same dye bath as the last batch. The madder bath was on a roll! The first 300g were still pretty solid colours, but by the last 300g I was getting pretty pale pinks and I was not in the mood to slowly simmer it down enough to bother storing it, so I called it there. Currently the big bulky wool is telling me it would like to be a stripy big thick sweater, but we’ll see how long that lasts. I’m not very good at using up the bulky yarn in my life, although I better start using up more of my dyed yarn, or I’ll be overrun!
The four jars are 5 g of padauk soaking in water, vodka, the ale I brewed and then.. just to be careful.. the ale that I brewed having been filtered through some butter muslin (good quality cheese cloth) that I stole from my cheesemaking spouse. It changed not a whit, nor was there any residue on the cloth, so it felt like an extraneous step. It sat for a few weeks at the back of the kitchen counter, largely being ignored to be honest, but not protected from light or anything, and kept at basic room temperature.
Eventually, I got off my butt and skeined off more silk, and got it mordanted with 10% alum. (Eventually I’ll write up more detail on that process, but honestly, it is barely exciting enough to get mentioned, let alone a whole post about it. Still, I’ll add it to the list.)
I usually dip a bit of paper towel into these dye baths just to see how much colour sticks there, it’s not a perfect indicator on how the dye bath is going to go, but you get the disappointment early at least. Rarely do you get no colour on a dip test and plenty of colour on your skein. Sometimes you can get pretty good colour on the dip and not great on the skein, so there’s opportunity for disappointment certainly, but it’s a good first guess.
I decided that I would dye all four at once in a water bath, as I just was not invested in working up four dye pots. Basically that means that each dye was in a jar, and that jar was in a large pot, filled about halfway up the jars and the whole thing heated on the stove. I do most of my dye work hot, I don’t have the patience (usually) to leave something for a couple of months at room temperature to let the reaction happen slowly. I generally want it now now now!
In this case, the dip test was a pretty good predictor. The water soak got my silk from white to vaguely beige. I had such high hopes for the ale soaked padauk, but the dip test tempered my expectations pretty solidly. It’s coloured at least, but not by much. Well sigh. The vodka was as an awesome a colour as ever, better this time for the longer soak!
Distilled alcohol is still the king of extraction, the fermented side of things is letting me down here. At this point, I am out of padauk to play more with it as my dyestuff, but I’m not yet out of alcohol extractions to experiment with! Suggestions welcome on the next dyestuff to include. (Must not extract well in water, must extract well in alcohol.) I am also on the hunt for any sort of historical context for alcohol extraction of dye. I’ve only really started poking there, but if you have a lead on it (pre-1600 please!), let me know!
There is so much going on online that I’m going to try and sum up for the coming week and share some love to the awesome. Some SCA, a lot that is not. All times in Eastern, google can help you translate. If you know of other events you want to pimp.. pop ’em in the comments section!
For those who know me RL, you’ll know the amusement in deciding to brew with heather flowers. (Heather brews a heather ale? How could I not!?) First, some background. I am off playing with dyes, and the next step in those experiments are to try some dye extractions with fermented alcohol, rather than distilled alcohol. Hey wait.. I’m a brewer, I have rapidly getting more stale grain in the brewing supplies! I can make this happen!
I decided that I wanted to make an unhopped ale, and hey look, there’s a baggie of dried heather buds in the brew supplies too, so let’s go with that. I only wanted to brew up a gallon batch, as I really only needed this for dye experimentation and honestly drinkability was a secondary hopeful feature.
I wanted my grain bill to end up being about 2 lbs. (I am very Canadian and liberally sprinkle measuring systems in my world, you’ve been warned) So I started with 1.3 lb from a bag labelled ‘base malt’. Who knows, I certainly don’t, but it was a nice light inoffensive choice, so base malt of questionable origin it is. Then I honestly just started polishing off last bits of bags of grain so a bit of honey malt (0.4 lb), and some Munich II (0.1 lb) and a good dash of flaked barley. (0.2 lbs) I had only about an once of dried heather buds, which was less than most recipes I found wanted, but that’s what I had, so that’s how much was going in.
Experience has taught me that I need about 6 litres (I warned out about the mixed measures) going into things to end up with about a gallon after the boil, so everything got mashed for an hour at 155F (ish), and then got the boil going. (Do not use my rough shorthand as a good how to on basic brewing, follow a real recipe! I can recommend these ones over at Beer Craftr.) No hops in this boil, but instead I popped in about half the heather flowers at the start and the other half with 10 mins left in the boil. Most of the recipes I was vaguely cribbing off of suggested adding honey near the end and I utterly forgot. So no honey top up for the yeastie beasties, and an OG (Original gravity, essentially a measure of the sugar that’s available for the yeastie boys..) of 1.052.
It hung out for about 10 days to ferment, bubbling away nicely at the start, trailing off at the end as expected and the FG came in at 1.020. The difference between OG and FG, plugged into an arcane formula (aka I use a web form), tells me that my final ale sits at 4.2% Lower than I’d hoped, but oh right.. I didn’t remember the honey. Oh well, close enough. I primed it with a bit of honey, such that, in theory, my bottles would be carbonated (spoiler alert.. they were not. Sad trombone.)
A couple weeks in, I cracked a bottle and … it was terrible. It was sharp and acidy and unpleasant. Thank goodness for swing tops, I closed that sucker back up and all three bottles are hanging out in storage now. Two in the cheese cave and one in the fridge. Less what I used for my dye experiments, of course. Perhaps forgetting about them for a year or two might make it drinkable. Stranger things have happened!
I probably should have started doing this a year ago, but hey.. better late than never, I suppose. There is so much going on online that I’m going to try and sum up for the coming week and share some love to the awesome. Some SCA, a lot that is not. All times in Eastern, google can help you translate. If you know of other events you want to pimp.. pop ’em in the comments section!
At the beginning of February I was excited to take a beginner goldwork class at an East Kingdom embroidery event. Not only did I have a handy stash of bits and bobs of goldwork supplies from various other classes I’d attempted to take and never quite managed to for a whole host of reasons, but it was another category in my sample collection! Win win all around.
Demonstration zoom classes are a challenge, there’s no two ways to put it. You are trying to have a good view of what the teacher is doing, and they are trying to have a good view of what you are doing, with only sketchy web cams to connect you (and often sketchier internet). The most effective demo classes I’ve attended have had a dedicated camera (often a phone camera on a tripod) aimed at the workspace and quite narrowly focused in, and then a completely separate camera aimed at the teacher (often their normal web cam, be that in their laptop, or an external one). Each camera is signed into the call separately and doesn’t move much during the class, so that you arent’ fussing with getting things to focus or making your students motion sick as you wriggle a camera around. If you can only have one, the close up camera is the important one, and a tripod (or other rigged up stable solution) means you do not have to rely on someone to hold it steady for upwards of an hour, which is a helluva long time to hold something steady. Showing the teacher where you’re having trouble is still a challenge and requires a lot of description, guesswork and holding things up to questionable web cams, but by and large the pack of us seem to manage. Mostly.
Because I’m me, I decided to use one of the silk fabric squares I experimented with dyeing with padauk. It isn’t the most even dye job, but it’s alright enough for a sample. Literally it’s a chunk of silk scrap left over from the banners that my husband makes, so it’s even waste fabric! Win! I got that basted down onto a square of linen, because the silk has no weight to it at all, and the metal threads would just win in that fight. You do not want the threads to win over the fabric, the fabric should be your stable backdrop. So the silk got some linen backup, and then popped into a hoop.
I picked what I hoped was about the centre of my square and started tacking down the felt to pad up the acorn top. Smallest piece first, then mid size and then the largest so that it’s smooth on top. The steps of felt would catch the metal laying on top, so you want the largest padding on top. At this point remember that a sensible person would have traced their pattern down before they put felt down, but I managed. (With a pencil, because the micron pen incident is still fresh.) Couch down gold thread onto that outline and realize that my ‘acquired goodness knows when or where’ gold passing thread does NOT want to make a nice point. Too much plastic, not enough metal I dare say. Get those suckers tucked into the back of the piece and then face the acorn top.
The little pieces of gold are actually tiny and delicate tubes, that need to be clipped to exactly the length to cover the felt and then you run your needle and thread through them like a bead basically to sew them down. I had a helluva time with that, my current glasses are not amazing and managing to see exactly where I was cutting was an adventure. A lot of glasses on, glasses off, peer, squint, cut, swear because it was too short, set aside to use later (always start with the long middle ones, when you miscut, you can use them later!) and then realization that I was running out of materials because I had quite a bit of damaged perl. If it gets stretched out of its spiral, it does not come back, and a fair bit of mine was looking pretty beat up. So it’s not quite as shiny as many others, but it is all mine, and all from stash! I’m pleased. I can see how to improve, but I’m still pleased.