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Irish Dyeing Techniques During Ancient Times

by Cassandra Liberty West

     The superstitions of Ireland travel through the centuries. Even the dyeing of cloth fell under certain rules, and there was a fear that if men were present during the dyeing, it would bring bad luck.
     In Bríd Mahon, Traditional Dyestuffs in Ireland, p. 116, there is discussion about how even the day and time of the month were important in regards to dyeing.
     Highland wool was harder to dye, so it had to be steeped for several days or weeks in order to absorb the desired color.
     Murex snails, Indigo and berries were often used as dyes, because the Celts loved bright colors and liked to wear them.
     The word ‘Saffron’ is thought to mean the yellow color made from the stamens of Crocus flowers, but it actually meant just any color of yellow. Irish yellow was usually derived from the Weld plant.
      After the wool was dyed, it would be fixed with urine so the color would last.
      Alum (potassium aluminum sulphate from stale urine, wood ash, oak galls; chips of oak or alder wood; burnt seaweed or kelp) helped to brighten the colors.
     Iron dimmed certain colors, as did Oak-galls, and Fir-club Moss could be used in place of Alum.
      Animals, insects, lichens and vegetables were all used as dyes.
     The lower classes usually wore yellow or black, and people were afraid to let their children wear white underwear lest they be taken by the sea monster Puca, so they dyed their underwear a yellowish brown.
     The Irish have always had an artistic flair, and their traditional clothing, textiles and art reflects this. There is a rich history attached to everything they create.


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