By the time of the Renaissance dyeing and weaving technologies had reached highest levels of achievement. Fashion favored colorful garb for males and females. Textiles developed into high art in the form of tapestries (for example the Unicorn cycle). Production of dyes occupied considerable farmland and provided important income for farmers. Dyeing technology became extensively codified and dyer’s formed guilds all over Europe to guide and protect their trade.
During the middle ages, the craft of textile dyeing became more and more established and dyers began to form associations. A first dyer’s guild was recorded in England in 1188; in continental Europe they followed some years later. The various kinds of plants used for obtaining the “true” colors were grown in large farming operations. Dyers were separated into plain dyers (those dyeing black, greys and browns), and fancy dyers (those dyeing all chromatic colors: yellows, reds, blues and greens). There were also “dyers of true colors” and “dyers of false”, the former dyeing with well established natural dyes, the latter with all kinds of imitations.
The dyes typically used in that period were safflower for yellow, madder or imported cochineal for red, locally groan woad or indigo, imported from the middle East, for blue. Green was obtained by over-dyeing indigo with yellow dyes. Black was often dyed by precipitating an inorganic pigment from orpiment together with dissolved iron.
In Florence, Italy there continues to be a street named Via Vagelai, the street of vat dyers using vagello, a mixture of woad and imported indigo.
The best known collection of dyer’s recipes from the Renaissance period is the Plichtoh de l’arte de Tentori, published in Venice in 1540 by Giovanni Ventura Rosetti.
In the same time period, textile dyeing also became an established art in Central and South America. Mayans, Aztecs etc. wove highly colorful fabrics from naturally dyed yarns.
To be continued…
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