Station: [26] Dyer's Garden

M 1: What do you imagine people’s clothes were like in medieval times? Do you think they were as colourful as on the altarpieces and stained glass windows of the period? Or more greyish brown, like a monk's habit made of coarse linen cloth? People in those days loved colourful fabrics just as much as we do today. Because colour brings variety and liveliness, and it provides elegance.

So fabric dyes were in great demand in medieval times. Back then, vegetable dyes were most common. Growing and trading in dye plants was very important economically. Sheep's wool can be dyed blue with woad, red with rose madder and green with dyer’s rocket, reseda luteola.

Here in the dyer's garden, which is set apart visually by a wide path, you’ll find a selection of such old dyer's plants. As well as the ones just mentioned, there’s also the iris, which produces a blue dye. Or marsh mallow, althaea officinalis, for pale green or greyish blue.

F 2: Dye plants were dried and crushed. Then water was added, and the whole was boiled up in a large kettle or pot – a dyer’s vat. After filtering, you ended up with a dye extract.

But dyes also needed to be permanently fixed. So a mordant or fixative had to be used on the fibres first, before they were dyed. In medieval times, vinegar and ammonia – in the shape of urine – were used for the purpose. After dyeing, the fibres were usually mordanted a second time, to achieve a better chemical bond with the dye. These days, there’s been a revival of such alternatives to chemical textile dyes.

Foto: © Stiftung Kloster Jerichow