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(1,118 words)

Author(s): Drea Leed
The laundering process was performed both in the home and professionally during the Middle Ages. Laundering was among the most strongly-gendered of activities and professions, being performed almost exclusively by women. References to the professional laundress (French lavandiere,Italian lavatrice, Latin lavatrix, Middle English lavender) describe her laundering church linens (towels, albs, surplices and altar cloths), laundering linens for single men in all-male establishments, and performing laundry services for large noble households.…


(219 words)

Author(s): Drea Leed
In medieval times, lye was an essential ingredient in dyeing, bleaching and cleaning textiles. Garments were washed in lye-water, and lye was also a primary ingredient in medieval soap-making. Medieval and Renaissance recipes for lye frequently mentioned the addition of quicklime (calcium oxide) to increase potency/alkalinity. Several 15th- and 16th-century cleaning recipes mention ashes made of vines, or alum feces (ashes of solidified argol/tartar collected during the wine-making process). When mixed with water, the tartaric acid content of …


(268 words)

Author(s): Drea Leed
A recipe for soap from the 9th-century Mappae Clavicula describes a chemical process essentially unchanged to this day: mixing strong lye with olive oil or tallow until it has saponified, and let cool. Soap was used for making chamois leather, preparing textiles for dyeing and removing stains from textiles. Several 15th- and 16th-century recipes for cleaning fabric combine soap with salt, lye, lime, alum and several other ingredients in liquid solution. Soap was re-formed into balls and scented with a variety of herbs and perfumes. Types of soap …