The dyes used for coloring these clothes were expensive. The red dye used to produce deep crimson or bright scarlet came from a insect found in the areas of the Mediterranean. The brightest or darkest colours were more expensive to produce and therefore limited to higher status clothing. The color and its brightness helped determine the dye’s value. The lower classes wore colors of yellow, russet (a reddish brown color), orange, green, pale blue and pink. The production of dyes was a time consuming and often unpleasant process. The demand for dyes increased and in 1472 King Edward IV had incorporated the Dyers' Company of London. By the early 1500's France, Holland and Germany had begun the cultivation of dye plants as an industry - contributing to the 'unnecessary foreign wares' being imported to England and a reason for the Sumptuary Law of Queen Elizabeth 1.
Dyes used for coloring cloth during the Elizabethan Era
All of the dyes used for coloring fabrics in the Elizabethan era were produced from natural sources. The four major dyes used for coloring cloth during the Elizabethan era were called woad, madder, lichen and weld.
- Woad was a European herb (Isatis tinctoria) of the mustard family grown for the blue dyestuff yielded by its leaves - cultivated as a source of blue dye
- Madder was a European herb (Rubia tinctorum) the root of which was used in dyeing cultivated as a source of red dye
- Weld was a European plant (Reseda luteola) cultivated as a source of yellow dye - also called dyer's rocket, dyer's mignonette and also known as dyer's broom
- Lichen - A plant of the division Lichenes which occur as crusty patches or bushy growths on tree trunks or rocks or bare ground etc - a source of green dye
To produce varying colors the fabric was heated with the dye. Other elements were added to the dyes to produce a variety of different colors. These included wine, salts, shells, mosses, sheep urine, lentils, fungus, vinegar, wild cucumber, walnut, oak galls, insects, iron oxide (rust), barley malt, plants, barks, roots, berries and flowers.
The Meaning of Colors