Pens, inks and dyes were homemade


Very little was store bought even in my youth.

Home-spun yarn was of the previous generations, but yard goods were used in most clothes made at home. This was a general store item along with salt, pepper, sugar, spices, metal tools and other items not made by the farmer and his wife.

Children were field hands and house keeping helpers. Children usually began their chores before they began school.

Those who grew up in that era made their own pens, although steel dippers were used at home and in school.

Quill pens. A quill pen was the usual writing utensil. A sharp knife and good perspective eyesight was the important needed equipment to make a quill pen. Of course a goose was the needed provider, not only for quills for pens, but for meat and feathers for bedding

Short quills were used for bedding. One to long could be a nuisance in the middle of the night pocking through the mattress material into a tender area. I experienced that discomfort many times. Personally I preferred straw ticking. Most stuffing was from the chickens we plucked for cooking.

Making the pen. To make a quill pen caution in cutting is required. Cut the quill at the tip at a slant, clean and remove all the pith, split about a quarter of an inch at the slant cut, then split it more carefully for another quarter of inch – a half an inch altogether. Cut away more up the quill at a slant, shape to a point and it is ready for use.

This may sound easy but a lot of care is required.

Homemade ink. Ink was another homemade commodity. The base of the best was saw filings and vinegar, this was also used for harness dressing, a little silver maple bark was used for tannic acid so the ink was more permanent.

The saw filings were dissolved by the vinegar. The ink may be black at first but aging caused it to turn to dark brown. Actually it is iron rust. Perhaps a person has seen old writing that is brown.

Yesterday’s dyes. Modern dyes for clothes are made with man made chemicals. Our ancestors relied upon nature for the colors and base materials for their dyes.

An old homey saying “dyed in the wool” – required some skill to assure even coloring.

Blue, in all shades, was the favorite. This was obtained by using indigo. Indigo was so much in demand that peddlers often sold only indigo.

Madder and cochineal were the favorites for reds. Bark from hickory resulted in nice shades of brown or yellow. Goldenrod pressed to obtain juice, mixed with indigo and alum made a pretty green. The common pokeberry and alum boiled created a crimson dye.

Iris flowers were pressed to obtain a violet juice thereby coloring wool a delicate purple. Sassafras was used to make a deep yellow or orange color. Field sorrel boiled with wool turned it into a dark black.

Undoubtedly other natural elements not listed here were employed by many folks to create colors.


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