Threads and dyes

Sewing thread was originally made of wool or goats hair, dyed with natural dyes. Later dyed hemp and flax threads were used. The natural colour of woollen yarns was white, black, brown and beige, cocoon silk was yellow, hemp was yellowish grey and flax silver yellow. Many different plants were used to produce a wider variety of natural colours using many local recipes, such as alder and walnut leaves, onion skins, madder, primrose, nutshells, and lime bark The plants were boiled to extract the natural juices, which were then fixed with alum (1 ounce to 4 gallons of water). Originally the colours used were mainly red, dark blue, black and, to a lesser extent, yellow and green.

Silk thread, twisted or untwisted, was introduced by 11th Century, then later cotton thread was used. Gold and silver thread was used on household and church embroideries from early times but was only used for folk costume from mid 19thC in imitation of Ottoman town fashions. The first industrial thread used was arnici (dyed cotton thread) followed by twisted mercerised cotton, and thrown silk thread. Gold and silver thread was later imported from the Ottoman Empire.

The type of thread used varied according to the region. Wool was used for embroidery in Muntenia, Dobrogea and in Țara Oașului, thick silk and cotton threads were used in Transylvania, while thin silk, gold and silver threads were more common in the south, in Oltenia, Muntenia and Banat.

A book by Tudor Pamfile and Mihai Lupescu called Cromatica Poporului Român was published in 1914. This listed at least 24 names for white dyes, 29 for blue, 65 for pink, 23 for violet, 17 for black, 5 for grey, and 14 for ochre.

Vegetable dyes were used until chemical aniline dyes were introduced. These existed together from mid-19th century until around First World War when factory made threads began to take over.

Natural Dyes

Colour Natural source
Red Madder, safflower, dogwood leaves, oak bark with sour bran and water
Black Ash bark, green walnut bark, smoke tree root with ferrous sulphate (and from other tinctorial plants)
Yellow Sumach (Rhus Cotinus L.), common saw-wort, birch, sour dock and nettles, onion, crocus (also gives rust colour), elm bark, patience dock root with salt
Orange Onion leaves, ailanthus leaf and bark with sour bran and water or vinegar
Green Ash, walnut, staghorn sumach leaves and alum
Pink Cochineal was imported from before the middle of the 15 C
Brown Various hues from walnut bark, or white lime blossoms and leaves
Light Brown White lime blossoms, sour bran and water
Grey Dwarf elder berries for a delicate grey, staghorn sumach bark (ash colour)
Dark blue Indigo (introduced more recently)
Published on 18th February 2018, last modified on 25th February 2018