Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Viking Age pot to...

"...BUT I want to do some dyeing and it dawned on me that if I was a
10th century Danish women I would use what pots I had-correct?..."

(This was part of a conversation on Norsfolk - some time back)

Since the original question was phased 'what did a 10th C Danish women use' - I'm going to continue in that vein. (Caution - I don't dye MYSELF - but I live with a textile artist and make most of the replica / reproduction equipment used around here.)

Examining what was actually available:

WOOD TUBS were mentioned. In VA widely available, very common and used far more than modern re-enactors do. (Paradox is that today Coopers are hard to find and not inexpensive for good quality.) I would suggest you remember the problems involved in heating - and keeping hot, a suitable amount of water. We experiment today in small lots, but in the VA dying is more likely to be a 'whole fleece' production. I suspect the old 'hot stone' trick might be more used to heat volumes than a pot over the fire. This would allow you to re-heat as required over a lengthy dye bath and also give some control over temperature by number of stones added. Proof may be impossible, but I'd be looking for smooth stones at fist or double that size that also show signs of fire heating.

'IRON" POTS. Are the main over fire cooking / heating method. This vary slightly in construction method and size. Typically all are segmented and riveted (just about the largest iron plate you will see is 20 - 25 cm dia.) Remember that this is WROUGHT IRON - which may react differently than our modern mild steel. (Modern STAINLESS steel is not even remotely the same!) Some of these iron pots have seams sealed with lead. Lead may be a mordant? How much is required to effect the dye? One important note is SIZE. Most VA artifact pots are actually quite small. On the order of 12 - 14 inches deep by maybe 14 - 16 wide is as big as most get. This is roughly 2 - 3 gallons worth.

COPPER ALLOY POTS. Size in the same range. The pots from Mastermyr (left) are roughly 12 wide by 8 inches deep. Hold a gallon. One note here. You notice the books all say 'copper alloy' now. Our modern BRASS is a mix of copper and zinc. Our modern BRONZE is a mix of copper and tin. In both cases COPPER is the main part. BRONZE will be plus 90% copper. BRASS on the other hand, might be much, much less copper (like maybe only half)* During the VA, old bronze objects were constantly recycled, and things like lead and zinc seem to have been added to extend the volume. (Thats why latter publications stick to 'copper alloy' in descriptions.) So with copper / tin / zinc / lead all in the pot metal, would you not get different results depending? I know that tin and copper will both act as a mordant in a non reactive pot.

SOAPSTONE - is basically non reactive. Soapstone pots are quite small in the VA however. Figure one - two quarts. Hardly practical for dye use in the VA. Also almost impossible to acquire for us modern types. i have seen some soapstone pots imported from South America in the $50 - $100 range, but usually the shapes are not correct for VA. Again small sizes, so would only be suitable for testing. You can heat these (with care) directly in the fire. Although easy enough to carve yourself (added to easy availability of material in Scandinavia) the raw material in large size pieces is NOT easy to find - and real expensive in NA today. Last 12" cube I saw for sculpture was over $200.

CERAMIC - not very likely for the VA as a dye tool. Not a common material, and typically pretty small. Would prove non reactive, dependent on glaze??

One wild idea I'll throw out there - boiling in leather / raw hide. I've seen this done, with a skin bag hug directly over the fire. The leather sweats out enough moisture to keep the surface damp and thus will not burn. Admittedly what I saw was a Native NA profile. It works for anyone however and would almost never leave an archaeological trace.

Bera, of course, has a chieftain's supply of VA replica and reproduction cooking pots. Various prototypes and materials. Including a huge 5 gallon sheet copper pot specifically made for dyeing.
Check the images of past work on the Wareham Forge web site or
the full line of Norse Replica Cookware.

* Safety note. ZINC fumes are extremely toxic. I personally have had suppliers who have sold me what is really a copper zinc brass instead of the ordered copper tin bronze for casting. This is done because copper is MUCH more expensive. If you torch heat that metal and get a blue green flame and white smoke STOP AND GET OUT OF THE ROOM. Heavy metal toxic keeps up on you and is almost impossible to recover from!

Note to my regular readers:
This is a much older (!) piece, kept on hand for a fast contribution here. I have been away since August 1 at Goderich for the Celtic College and Festival, and this weekend will be away at Summerfolk in Owen Sound.

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