This week’s #ThreadTalk was inspired by work I’m doing on Queen of Fury, the sequel to Queen of None. It started out as Hwyfar’s story–she’s the daughter of King Leodegraunce, and sister to the Gweynevere–and it still is very much hers. But then Gawain showed up. And he’s very much changed.
That brought me down the route of Gawain and the Green Knight and the significance of green. That’s how we ended up here. There is so much on the subject, too. I wish I had more space, honestly, to do a whole book on it.
1 – Tonight’s #threadtalk is a horse of a different color: green to be exact.
We'll talk emerald🟩, verdigris & olive🫒, too. Plus the connection between wallpaper, poison☠️ & privilege.
First: some color history back to our (literal) roots. (below, Redincote, 1786 – 1789)
2 – If you peruse art history books, you'll notice: finding vibrant green dresses before the 18th century is quite a challenge.
And there is a reason for that: green it a notoriously difficult color to capture affordably & reliably.
Unless you're, you know…
3 – And even so, truly vibrant greens are even harder to find. This is for a number of reasons.
First & foremost, green dyes were often a combination of woad with other common dyes. Or natural dyes oxidized very easily. That meant fading, staining, and changing colors.
4 – For average folk, this was fine. We see lots of green homespun examples–Lincoln green, made of dyer's greenweed, or Genista tinctoria, gave rise to the iconic color of Robin Hood's Merry men.
But the king is NOT in green. Because fading? Staining? I think not, good sir.
5 – Before I start skewering the rich though, I did learn that you can make an absolutely stunning forest green dye with MUSHROOMS 🍄. And I love mushrooms.
So you can take a little pause before we get to the nastier stuff and enjoy this wholesome moment:
6 – Plants do make beautiful dyes. It's just that without mordants (the chemicals we created to hold dyes to cloth) they don't stay.
However, this incredible resource on Asian textiles is mind-blowing, & goes into detail on dozens of natural dye recipes.
7 – Maybe that's why green stones, in particular, have always been so prized. This jadeite pendant features a seated lord, and would have been made by a Mayan artisan in the 7th or 8th century.
This green lingered, when all others faded. It must have seemed magical indeed.
8 – This simple earring dates from Greece in the 3rd century BCE, but it's an emerald. Our eyes are drawn to it. We can't look away. Yes, the gold is lovely. But that pop of brightness? That springtime preserved?
That's power. That's magic, baby.
9 – And here is a familiar face, for those of you who follow along: Shah Jahan, here contemplating an emerald. Wearing muslin. Draped in pearls and fine silks.
Shah Jahan was one of the Mughal lords, and a collector of precious jewels. But he, too, knew the lure of green.
10 – By the early 18th century, mordants, like alum, come out on the scene. These are terribly caustic & require skilled hands (of workers). And there is a LOT of trial and error. And it's $$$$.
You also see verdigris show up. Which is the oxidation green you get from copper.
11 – Verdigris was also used earlier in some church vestments (which is a whole other topic I will cover at some point). There was a lot of back and forth about green and then purple and then red in priests robes.
But here's a chasuble with green velvet from 15th C Italy.
12 – Anyway. We were talking about other caustic elements ruining society, weren't we?
This dress is one of my favorites of all time & it's made of Spitalfields damask silk that dates from the 1740s (designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite ), but sewn in 1775. It has matching shoes.
13 – Anna Maria Garthwaite was at the forefront of Spitalfields silk naturalist designs, but no one knows how she learned her craft. Because woman.
She worked in watercolors, and these were then rendered in silk by Huguenots who worked tirelessly to provide silks to the rich.