Originally compiled by Ron Charlotte (ska Al Thaalibi)
Dying leather was done, but these appear to be limited to
green, red, blue, black and brown. During the Middle Ages, as
with today, they also seemed to think in terms of dying whole
hides and skins, frequently in concert with the tannage or tawing
Having fyrst well washed the skinne, and than wronge him, take the berries of walwort, and elderberries, and seeth them in water, wherin Roche Alome was dissolved, pass him once thorowe this water and let him drie, than pass him again thorowe the same water, and being wiped and dried againe, wash him with cleere water, than scrape out that water with the back of a knife, and once again pass it over with the same colour, and let it dry so that it be of a very blew or Asur colour.
Having annointed, washed, wronge and layed abroad the skin, as is aforesaied, wete it with water that white wine lees and baye salt hath ben boiled in, and than wring him. Take than creuiles or crabbe shelles (be they of the sea or of the river) burned into ashes, the whiche yon shall temper with the said water of the lees and salt, and rubbe well the skinne therwith, than washe him well with cleere water, and wringe hym. This done, take ruddle tempered in water of lees, and rubbe the skinne well over and over with it, and than with the foresayde ashes, wasshinge, and wringinge it thre times. Finallye, after you have wasshed him, and wringe him, if you thinke it not be well ynoughe, you shall geue him one dienge with brasyll. The paste or masse of Rubia Tinctorum, must be made with water that lees or tartre hath bene boiled in, and the sayed water must be luke warme, and whan you make the paste of ruddle, than leave it fo the space of a night. After this, put upon the sayd Rubra Tinctorum, a lyttle alom, dragges,or lees, or Alome catinum, steped in water. You maye also adde to it the colour of the shearing of scarlet, whiche hath been taken oute boylinge in lye, which is a goodly secrete.
Annoint the skinne, and wash him well with cold water, and than in hote water, and so wipe & drie him. This doen, take of the graines wherby men make the sappe (the decotion wherof shall be put in thende of this boke, with them of all other necessary thinges) and the sayde graynes or berries muste be verye rype, than put them in cleare water, covered a fingar height, put therein also Roche Alome, and geve theim onelye one wawlme on the fyre. This doen, strayne them out into some vessell, than take the skinne, and folde him in the middle, rubbing him well on both sides, with the said sodden graines, or berries, whiche remaine in the pan, and after with rawe Alome poulder. This doen, take the ashes of shepes donge burned, and wete it with the saied coloure that you strained into the sayde vessell, and rubbe the skinne wel on every side, than cleere him again of the sated graines, and washe him with cleere water, and set im to drie withoute wipinge him. Fynally cast on him two glassefulles of the sayde coloure, and it will be a perfecte greene.
Lette the skinne be annointed, well wasshed, wronge, and stretched oute as before, than take of the same graines and berries ye toke before, which you shall stampe and seethe in Roche Alome water, and geve the skynne twoo wypes over with this coloure, and so let it dry. After this you shal geve him one dying or colouring of yellowe, made with the graynes or berries of Nerprum, sodden in water and Alome, and a lyttle Saffron, and you shall have an excellent greene.
Take the skinne, being annointed, wasshed, and spredde abroade, dye and coloure him with the coloure made of sap greene, and put it a few asshes wette in water, and so rubbe the skinne all about. And whan you have washed and wyped hym againe, geue him one wype ouer with and Indian coloure sodden in Roche Alome. and whan it is dryp, lay on it of the foresayed yellow, and you shall have a fayre and lively greene.
Take the skinnes of blacke grapes, and rubbe well your leather with all, untill it ware somewhat blewe, and alsoo rubbe it well with, the poulder of Indicum, then washe it drye, and polyshe it. Than stiepe the Indicum in thicke redde wyne: and whan the skynne is wasshed, annoinct him with it, and you shall have a fayre asured blewe.
Take rype elder berries, and the berries of walwort, and of sappe greene, and this well stamped, you shall put into it Roche Alome, as muche as you shall thinke good, but rather to muche than to little: than take the lye, and put into it the saied berries of sappe greene, and seeth them one waulme. This doen, put in the berries of the walwort, or elder, and make them seeth also one waulme, than take them from the fyre, and let them coole, and after rubbe the skinnes with theim. Finallye, ye shall cast upon them, the ashes of sheepes donge, rubbing them well eith it. After this, geve theim the couloured water water that the saied graines or berries were sidden in, than take of the water with a curryers knyfe, and let them drye. And yf you nede to geve theim more coloure, than you maye put in more Indicum boyled, and wyll be the better.
Polyshe well the leather with a pomineyse stone, annointe it well with oyle, and washe it: than take an once or two of galles stamped, and put in hote water, leaving it so an hour, than straine it thorow a linen cloth, and put the leather into the same water, rubbinge it well with your handes, and leave it so the space of an houre: and havinge taken it out, wring it, and stretch it abroad & tight it. Than take the graines or berries of Nerprum, gathered in July, whan thei be yet greene: drie them, and stampe them well, adding therto for every skinne, two onces of Roche Alom beaten in poulder, and mingled with the poulder of Y saied berries or graines. Than powre upon the sayd poulder boylinge water, and let it coole, this doen, poure of the sayd water with the said graines upon the skinne, rubbinge it well over with the palme of youre hande, than stiep the ashes of goates donge, in the water of the said graines, and with the same water rubbe likewise the the skin well with youre hande, after this washe him, and scrape out the water with a tanners paring knife, than tight him out, and take other ripe graines of sap grene and set them to seeth, hole, in water with Roch Alom, and afterwarde let them coole. Than take of the sayde sodden berries or graines, and rub the skin with theim with your handes, and put of the ashes upon it, which you shall steip in the same greene water, that the sayed berries were sodden in, Finallye, you shall wasshe the skin, and take out the water with a scraping knife, that you shall geve it a course over of the saied grene water with a brush or clout meet for such a purpose: And than lay him to drie, and trim him, and you shall hae a fair grene. If you will have the coloure darker, or fadder, whan you set the said graines to seethe with the Alom, you hsall put to it a little Indicum well brayed. And you must note, that the water must be hote whan you sctepe the ashes in it, with the water of the graines of Nerprum.
Take the fresshe flowres of Raphanitis, or Ireos, and stampe them well, than take the drie graines or berries of Nerprum, and with them stampe roche Alome, a reasonable quantitie, whereof a greate deale can do no hurte: put to it a little raine water, and mingle all this with the foresayd flowres stamped. Kepe this colour in some clene vessel, and than take the skinnes, being annointed, and washed as is aforesaid, and put to them the graines of sap grene with the poulder, in the same manner that we have spoken of the other: washe them, and scrape of the water with a knife, and so let them drye, and geve them one wipe over finely with the sayed colour that you kept, let them drie again, than dresse them according to the science, and you shal have fair leather.
(Note in margin: "Ireos, also of floure luce called in latin Raphanitis")
Based on this and a few other sources, I'd have to speculate that those three colors, and black were probably the most common dyes used for leather. All but one of the dye methods involve immersing the leather/skin. Yellow and brown might not have been mentioned since some tanning methods yield these colours, and in any case, there are many commonly available plants that will dye these colours.
-- This contains a section on leather dying. I would recommmend the 1969 reprint/translation by Edelstein and Borghetti, put out by MIT press (sorry, don't have the ISBN handy). It has a facsimile of the original (1548?) manuscript and translation. Rosetti was a guildmaster of a dyeing guild in Italy.
Leatherworking in the Middle Ages - Medieval Leather
Dying. Copyright © 1996 Ron Charlotte, coded by I. Marc
This document is the property of the author, and should not be used without his expressed permission.