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Shawnee Trail Associates: Moccasin Mail


Submitted by "The Daughters of the Colonies

Without a doubt walnut was among the most commonly used dyestuffs in this new country.  It was free, easy to use and durable.  Often it required no mordant to fix the dye in the fabric since it is what is known as a substantive dye.  This means that the dyestuff contains its own mordant-in this case the tannic acid present in many of the tree-derived dyes.  Mordants are metal oxides, tannins and oxyfatty acids that are necessary to chemically fix (make washfast) most natural dyestuffs.  Historical mordants for natural dyes have included urine, wood ash, plant galls, tannins and crab apple juice.

Although walnut was used to produce brown, it also made black and yellow.  It is likely that, then as now, garments and colors were chosen to suit the job at hand.  Brown or yellowish brown did not show soil as readily as white and was used for pants or coats for everyday use. Walnut was widely available and most commonly used.  However, there were other colors available on the frontier either imported or

otherwise.  Blue, red, gray, black, and green were also used.  Early settlers learned about many other dyestuffs in their interactions with the Indians, who could produce a rainbow of shades from the plants they collected.  Historically, berries, flowers, leaves, roots and stems have been used to make dyes.  Even spent tea leaves can offer an interesting color.  Dyes were used on cotton, linen, silk, wool and other fabrics worn by the early settlers.

The type of container used for dying also determines the color.  Brass boilers were used to obtain a brighter color, while an iron pot was used when darker colors were desired because iron "saddens" or dulls the color.  The depth of the color is determined by the amount of time the fabric is left in the dyebath.  Naturally, the longer it is left in the dyebath, the deeper the color.  Repeated dying may be needed from time to time as some colors do not hold color through repeated washes.  To set the color in the dyed fabric, it was rinsed in vinegar and water or saltwater.

Links for Association Member's Web Pages

Here are some links to pages of STA members. If you have a site and it's not included here let us know and we will put it in the next newsletter.

STA Newsletter Online

Dan Cutler's Chief Logan Page

Craigo Rifle Works

Brenda Hager's Page, lots of trail pics

Ron Smith's Buckskinner's Page

Martha Sparks Logan Co. Web Page

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