General Research Notes

August 1, 2022

During the course of the research that I’m conducting, I’ve come across several different terms and expressions within original source text(s) that I’ve had to look up. As times change, so do spelling and translations, so I’m doing my best to assertain the meanings of the original text(s) in order to more accurately reproduce the original effects. Below are the terms that I’ve had to look up, along with the resources that I’ve used to draw my conclusions and/or assumptions.


“the berries of walworte”1

When I looked up “walworte”, I found an entry2 specifying that it was an “herbe; Ebulus”. This would lead me to find that the entry was referring to dwarf elderberry3.

“roche alome”1

Also found a more complete translation5 of “alum en roque, alun de roche” from Middle French, both thought to be referring to rock alum. This would appear to fit the parameters that I found the term utilized in, since the original translation was from French to English.


Contexturally, I believe this term to be used in place of “left overs”. In reading through the available definitions of lees5, I did note an entry that indicated a reference to sediment in liquids, particularly from wine. In reading through the works of Pliny the Elder however, there is loose reference to lees and vinegar as if some instances utilize the terms interchangably.

“baye salt”1

I believe this to be a reference to sea salt. In looking up the definition of this particular adjusted spelling5, I do see references that would reinforce this idea.


I believe this is referring to the paint type mixture made with red ochre4. If this is the case, it looks as though it is based on hematite or iron oxide. Should the latter be the case, I would presume that this is referring to rust-based pigment.


What I assume this to be referencing is brazilwood since it has a very dense oarangish red hue to it, but I will have to do some more looking around. I make this assumption after seeing shavings on the floor after seeing some turned on a lathe.

“Rubia Tinctorum”1

This refers to madder2, the roots can be dried and used to make a very deep red dye. From my understanding, the leaves might also be used, but the roots give the best tincture7.

Notes on Common Practices

During the course of the research that I’m conducting, I’ve come across several different processes that appear to be consistent when working with leather in general. The following information is intended to be a reference point for myself and others in conjunction with the other information that I’m posting during my research.

“then scrape out that water with the back of a knife”1

The first time that I read this, it sounded odd to reference a knife in the wringing of the skin. I mean really, really odd. Odd enough that I had to take some time and really think about what the point was in this process. It also prompted me to do some experimentation in general with the scraping of the back of a knife on a piece of leather.

So, I wet down a piece of scrap, let it dry, then repeated the process a couple more times. What I ended up with was a relatively stiff piece of scrap leather that was heavily water stained. This was done intentionally, since wetting leather repeatedly (with or without dye) tends to make it stiffer. Granted, I’d seen this many times over in the past while just working with leather, but I never thought anything about it.

Now enter the rigid surface into the equation.

I started scraping at the scrap with the back of a metal ruler, since it was blunt. After looking over the piece, there was not much difference. It occurred to me though that I was working with a piece of scrap, where the references that I saw that made note of using the back of a knife were talking about the full skin. So it occurred to me that either the skin or the knife would have to be fixed into something that was more like a rigid surface. Since scraping at the scrap was not really getting me anywhere, I decided to try and roll the skin over the corner of my work table. The outcome made absolute sense.

When passing the scrap over the corner, what I found was that the leather started to loosen up some, regaining some lost flexibility. The corner of the table is relatively broad, but I’m assuming that a fixed blade on a saw horse type structure would give a relatively small surface to be able to get the side rounded over. With my wood working, I use a “shoe shine” method to curve out the squared edges of a piece in a similar manner.

So, if the leather is repeatedly worked over a fixed narrow point, it should regain flexibility by breaking up the fibers of the leather. Subsequently, by using this method of breaking up the fibers, the side should also allow for more dye to soak in using a final dunking in the color that you are using.

Rendering Dye Materials

During the course of the research that I’m conducting, I’ve come across several different versions of rendering the materials used in the dye processes that I was unfamiliar with. As such, I’m attempting to summarize the methodologies that have been referenced both for my own future use and for use by others that might be interested in preproducing the effects that I’m in the process of researching.

A Note on General Material Use

Some materials that are being utilized in the various dye formulas have been a little difficult to come by. While some of the referenced compounds and chemicals may have been common place for those in the industry within period, that doesn’t necessarily translate to readily accessible by going to the hardware store in today’s world. I will do my best to make sure to note discrepancies on dried or prepackaged materials that I will be using within my experimentation, as well as how it may have differed from what was done in period.


It would seem that the use of berries in period dye would have come from a fresh source. Some of the types of berries utilized in the dye process are less easy to come by in my area, so I am using dried where I would prefer to use fresh. My process for using dried berries at present is to first rehydrate them prior use and let them rest for a couple of days. This allows the water content to return to the berries and settle. When rehydrating for a boiled berry formula, I add the remaining liquid from the rehydration process into the boiling water so that I don’t lose any of the rehydrated juice itself. At that point, I boil as indicated within the recipes as specified.

Tree Pulp, Tree Bark and Nut Shells

Several formulas call for using tree bark or shells from various nuts. When selecting for a particular formula that calls for shells or bark, pay careful attention to whether the notes that you are referencing call for ripe or green materials. At times, the sap from green bark will turn a different color from dried (or outer) bark. In the case of tree pulp, you will generally see reference to where in the tree your material should come from. In the case of the Brasilwood tree, for example, the heart of the tree is a rich orangeish red when pulped and boiled. The outer wood of the same tree will yield a more yellow color.

Potash Versus Pot Ash

I have found in several places that there are references to using ashes within a formula. Some of them read directly as “potash”. If you look up potash in the dictionary, you’ll see that the first entry is talking about potassium carbonate. You’ll see this in a lot of fertilizers that are available in modern times, but it more or less comes down to a substance that’s dug up from the earth in mineral form. If you break this up though, you get “pot ash”, where the word originally derived from. Pot ash is quite simply ashes that are burned down inside a pot, then have water added to them. Pay careful attention to the differences between the two when reading through formulas – references to potash will be made as a part of the tanning process, but leeching color from pot ash by adding water to it will be used in making dyes. This is particularly important when formulas reference shells or non-wood materials.

  1. The secrets of the reverend Maister Alexis of Piemont by Girolamo Ruscelli. OL 25228326M – Translated from French into English by William Ward
    There is a viewable pdf on Open Library
  2. Middle English Dictionary, Robert E Lewis, Editor-in-Chief. ISBN 0-472-01227-4
    There is a viewable pdf on Google Books
  3. United States Department of Agriculture
    Website contains a searchable database of plant names by species and common name.
    Website contains a searchable database of many different topics. I try to find better sources that are first or second source material, but I sometimes reference this site in case all else fails.
    Website contains a searchable database of English words and terms. Was pleasantly surprised to discover that recent updates to the site also illustrate origins of the words in the database, along with a “difficulty index” to show how many people actually know what the words contained mean.
  6. Archaeologia, Or, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, Volume 54, Issue 1 by Society of Antiquaries of London. ISBN-13: 978-1247344317
    There is a viewable pdf on Google Books
  7. Plants for a Future (
    Website contains a searchable database of plants by common and genus name.
  8. Pliny’s Natural History in Thirty-Seven Books Translated by Dr Philemon Holland
    There is a viewable pdf on Open Library