Monday, 30 September 2013

Attempt #3 - Blue leather dye

As mentioned in my previous post, given the lack of success with my previous blue recipe, I've moved on to another one to try. This one is a bit different in that it uses an acid (strong vinegar) instead of water.

Once I figured out the measurements, the recipe basically uses 1 oz of indigo and 450 ml of vinegar for each skin. I've cut down my amounts to 1/4 of a batch because I don't need that much for a test, and I'm starting to run low of the indigo after so many failed attempts.

The recipe says you can do it two ways, either just mix the ingredients together, or heat them (which supposedly gives you a brighter colour).

Here are my notes from the test run:

Round #1

For the first try, I made the mix without heating it and let it sit for approximately 2 hours. The recipe doesn't say to let it sit, but it seems to me it makes sense to let it "brew" for a bit.

After letting it sit, I painted it on with a brush. I applied two coats, letting it dry in between. I then manipulated the leather to help it soften and work the dye into the grain, and applied a third coat.


The pigment seems to still be rubbing off the leather, although not as bad as with the other recipe.  It does still wipe off with a bit of moisture, so I wouldn't consider it safe to use. The colour is barely distinguishable as blue, rather than black or grey (at least in indoor light).

Round #2

For the second try, I followed the same steps as round one, but I let the dye sit for a full 24 hours to see if the vinegar would dissolve more of the sediment.


The pigment settled a lot more so the tinted liquid was much more transparent. In fact, it was barely dying the leather at all until I mixed it back up again. Colour is pretty similar to the first try, certainly not much blue-er under indoor light. I'll let it dry overnight and see if it rubs off like the last try.

Next rounds I'll try boiling the dye a bit to see if it would affect anything, since the book does say it will generate a brighter colour.

I may also try a bit of a change by going outside of the recipe to test my theory that the modern tanning process is different than in period, and so we need to do some extra steps to prep the leather in order to get period dyes to work.

I'm thinking of pre-treating the leather with a mordant like alum to see if it might help the dye stick..

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Figuring out more measurements - Leather dyes

I'm working on my next attempt at figuring out a period blue leather dye that actually works, and of course this means I have to figure out the measurements.

The next recipe I plan to try, which is from "Segreti per Colori", uses a liquid measurement call the foglietta. This is apparently a common measurement in period in Italy. As I discovered, Italian measurements in period are not exactly simple as they often had different meanings in different city states.

Ironically, one of my cookbooks has the answer, as it was also a common measurement for cooking.

Scappi uses this measurement a fair bit, although I`ve seen some commentary online that Scully may have misjudged the correct definition of his weights and measures.

I should probably get a copy of the book "Italian weights and measures from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century", because I have a feeling between my leather recipes and my cooking, this could come in handy.

Given this commentary about Scully`s translation, I think I`ll go with the recommended measurement from Italian weights and measures, which means I need to mix 1 oz of indigo with 450 ml of strong vinegar.

It`s a fairly simple recipe but once again there`s nothing in there that would help it to bind to the leather. Maybe the vinegar will help break down the indigo so the colour will actually soak into the leather, but there`s no mordants or anything else I would expect, so we`ll have to see how it does.

Monday, 16 September 2013

What colours of leather were available in period?

I know I sit around all the time wondering things like "what colours did people use to dye their leather items in period", but does anyone else?

Well, for those who do, I've gone through my four period sources of leather dye recipes and from those sources I've got the following list. Blue, green and red look to be the most common consistently across all sources, but there's a pretty good variety of other colours as well.

Colours include:
Blue - multiple recipes & sources
Green - multiple recipes & sources
Red - multiple recipes & sources
Black - multiple recipes & sources
Gray - multiple recipes, one source
Brown - multiple recipes, one source
Peacock (not sure what colour that is but could be a blue I guess) - one recipe, one source
Gold - one recipe, one source
Yellow - one recipe, one source
Purple - one recipe, one source
Green-purple (not sure what colour that would be either) - one recipe, one source

There is also a group of recipes using something called Pandius. According to, this is a compound pigment that can vary in colour depending on the exact mixture of components (

Keep in mind too that some of these colours may have multiple variations and tones. For example, there are some blue recipes that are labelled "light blue" and others are called "azure". These could actually be very different colours.

The bulk of these recipes come from 15th century or later, but one of the smaller source books is from the 12th century.

I'm particularly interested in the purple but it seems to be a pretty complex process to get it to work.

Possible stick-purse angst solution

With the announcement that we will have two Kingdom A&S events in the next 6 months or so (a fall Kingdom A&S with a competition focused on newer artisans, and then the formal Kingdom A&S and Pent in the new year), I may have come up with a solution to my angst over the stick-purse.

The fall contest is less formal, and they are specifically advertising it as an opportunity to enter unfinished or even failed projects for commentary.

So here's my plan:

I continue to aim for Spring A&S for my completed stick purse as the extra 5-ish months over the less busy winter should give me time to get it to a state I'm happy with (which I think is one of the main reasons they are moving this to the new year).

For the fall event, which is on this side of Toronto and therefore very much within range of us going, I could do up a partially completed project on my leather dyes.

So far I have one dye that works perfectly and one that was a complete failure (looked good but wouldn't adhere to the leather). But, over the weekend I found two new source books that contain leather dye recipes, some of which are fairly straightforward using commonly available ingredients. I could present my research on the dyes, along with samples of the various attempts (both those that worked and those that didn't).

It's important research, I think, because it would not only improve the authenticity of my projects when I use the period dyes, but it would also give me visual evidence of what colour palette would have been used in period so that I could replicate the correct colours using modern water-based dyes.

It also flows nicely into my stick-purse project as I could use the documentation on the dyes as an annex when I submit the full project in the new year.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Harrowgate tower - with picture

Yesterday I took some time to paint the Harrowgate tower that I carved at Baron's Howe. I'm really not happy with how it turned out, so I'll be carving another practice one to try another approach.

Here's the final pic:

The colour around the tower is actually blue, it just came out too dark (and the flash just made it darker).

So, here's what I did:

I started out by washing the whole thing in black and then wiping the black off. The intention was to highlight the cuts, like I did with the red on the populace badge I carved. I then painted the black on the doorway and the cross, the blue background and the yellow tower.

Unfortunately, too much of the black stayed on the surface when I did the wash, so it darkened everything else. I do like the way the black highlighted the lines (which is what I intended) but I don't think I can do it using these colours. In fact, I'm thinking I need to paint a layer of white first so that the yellow and blue brighten up, but that means I can't do the black highlighting on the cuts.

I'll have to give it a try and see how it turns out. Maybe the lines will still show through OK.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Decisions to make for the Stick-Purse

So I'm getting frustrated because my progress on the stick-purse lately has been pretty much non-existent. Part of that is because I've had so little time to work on things, but I think a large part of it is that I'm kind of at a standstill until I can figure out the period leather dye recipes I want to use. I have the yellow but need several more, and I'm just not getting much inspiration on figuring out how to get these recipes to work.

So, I think I need to make a decision.

I could keep plucking away and wait until I'm happy with the work before I move forward with my stick-purse for Kingdom A&S. But that could mean another year or two of research before its ready to submit. That being said, it also means I will have what I hope is a really kick-ass project that shows all kinds of really applicable research, along with a fair amount of work in interpreting the historical sources and applying them. Since that's the whole reason I'm doing this, that's a pretty important point.

Or, I could put aside my desire to go whole hog (and admittedly my ego in wanting to wow people), and put my dye research on hold for now. Maybe I could do it as another Kingdom A&S project, or something for the White Wolf Fian later on. If I do that, I could use modern water-based dyes to simulate period colours and could potentially have the stick-purse done in the next few months. It may not make it for Kingdom A&S this year, but it would be a whole lot more likely than otherwise.

The stick-purse itself is pretty solid research-wise and I'm pretty proud of the detective work I've done to try to recreate the pattern, but it just isn't as impressive (at least for me) without the scientific work of figuring out the dyes.

I'm not keen on submitting a partially finished project; if I'm going to enter something I want to be happy with it. The other complicating factor is that I only have enough of the goat skins to make one stick-purse. Tandy doesn't sell it anymore so unless I can find another source of super thin veg tan leather, I may have a hard time making another one later on (at least to Kingdom A&S authenticity standards).

Regular readers are probably as up to date as it gets on my stick-purse project. I'd love any input or thoughts.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

New leather carving pattern - Harrowgate's tower

So while at Baron's Howe this past weekend, I spent my day Saturday working on some leatherworking. Namely, I was developing the carving pattern for Harrowgate Heath's tower. Since the Canton's badge still hasn't been passed (I believe there were some conflicts that needed to be resolved), I'm using the tower for now to represent the Canton.

I didn't bring all of my dyes and such, but was able to finish the carving portion. The consensus seemed to be that I got it right with my first try. It had the right amount of depth without being too busy (which could have been a problem given the level of detail in the original drawing I was working from).

I used my new angled swivel knife, which made a big difference for a lot of the finer detail work, which gives me hope I can improve some of my other carving patterns for the various awards badges.

I'll try to post a few pictures once I get a chance to unpack my gear and finish with the dyes.