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Scarlet

(2,940 words)

Author(s): John Munro
None of the later medieval and modern European terms for 'scarlet', for either the textile or the colour (nouns and adjectives), has any antecedents in the ancient and early-medieval worlds. The first documented use of a word related to subsequent European nouns for the textile itself is found in the Old High German text Summarium Heinrici (1007-1032). In the section De diversitate vestimentorum, the author used the Old High German word Scarlachen to define a textile term from the still widely-used Etymologiarium of Isidore of Seville (570-636): ' Ralla vel rullo quę vulgo rasilis …

Worsted

(659 words)

Author(s): Gale R. Owen-Crocker | John Munro
Worsted was made from coarse, strong, long stapled wool which retained its natural lanolin. Both warp and weft threads had been combed before spinning to make the fibres lie parallel. It was sometimes woven in a diamond or lozenge twill weave, and, since (unlike woollens), worsteds were not subjected to heavy finishing processes that obscured the weave, these patterns remained visible on the cloth and were part of its attractiveness. Worsted had a hard, glossy finish. The techniques which produc…

Purple

(920 words)

Author(s): John Munro | Gale R. Owen-Crocker
Prized since biblical times, the colour purple was the prerogative of royalty in ancient Egypt, Persia and Rome. Members of the Byzantine royal family were literally 'born to the purple' ( Porphyrogenitos) in a chamber in the imperial palace walled with porphyry. The most costly and famous ingredient of 'royal purple' cloth was the dyestuff Tyrian Purple (Greek name Βλαττα 'congealed blood'), a mixture of the fresh glandular mucus of two molluscs of the whelk family, Murex brandaris and Purpura haemastoma, commercial production of which first took place in Phoenicia ('land …

Kermes

(786 words)

Author(s): John Munro | Gale R. Owen-Crocker | Hazel Uzzell
Kermes is the European term derived from the medieval Arabic kirmiz, meaning a 'worm'; and in this context it is close to the late Roman Latin term vermiculus ('little worm'), used in the Vulgate bible for 'scarlet', from which is derived the English term vermilion (a bright red shade), and the equivalent French term vermeil. By Carolingian times the word vermiculatus was being used to describe scarlet-coloured garments, displacing the old Roman word for such garments, coccina, derived from the dyestuff term coccus, itself derived from the much older Greek term κοκκος, which meant 'a …