I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!


The clothlet was a piece of cloth impregnated with pigment (generally a vegetable dye), used to hold vegetable pigments in a dry format. A portion of such cloth, when soaked with a little gum arabic, releases its colors into the medium and produces an artist’s pigment. Clothlets were convenient way of carrying or shipping vegetal pigments, and they were especially popular from the fourteenth century on, with the growth of the textile trade, though they seemed to have existed in earlier times.

An early appearance of the clothlet was in the tenth-century Mappæ Clavicula. The earliest copy of the Mappae was a manuscript in the Benedictine monastery of Reichenau, dated to 821-822. The manuscript is no longer in existence. But later copies speak about a variety of colors derived from organic sources.

Production of clothlets is simple but time consuming. Basically, a pot of vegetable color is made by boiling the vegetable source of the dye in water. It must not be too watery. I made several batches, include woad, madder and weld. Several different colors could be made from a solution depending on the density of the solution. For example, these organic colors could produce blue, red, green and yellow. Experiment with the solutions

Gary Golding, who guided me in the production of clothlets, notes that “A clean linen cloth is dipped in pigment and allowed to air dry, then dipped and dried again and again until it’s impregnated with pigment.” The cloth is soaked in the solution and brought out to dry. I hung them from rods and allowed them to dry. I did this about twelve times for each piece. I used squares of white linen. These would be stored until needed, and a piece would be cut off. It could be soaked in glair or gum. In the morning, you should have a wash that is ready to use. Gary adds that “Organic pigments have poor coverage compared to mineral ones. Such pigments tended to have poor coverage and lightfastness and so were typically used as highlights or washes on other colors. This would then be used to highlight or wash the stronger mineral pigments…” These washes were often used to enhance other colors in a book illumination, since they created a rich, glowing, and transparent effect.

In period, clothlets were often stored in books. I have found that blank pages are recommended, since colors rub off onto the paper!

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