A Viking Age palette

I guess I’ve been spoilt painting 15mm WW2 figures.  There’s so many reference books out there to ensure that you’ve really got no excuse for getting the colours ‘wrong’ (if that’s what floats your boat). It gets a little scarier the further back you go in history and, if you’re like me and new to painting 28mm figures for the Viking Age, you’ll certainly feel the chill when your Osprey embroidered comfort blanket is abruptly wrenched away 😛

So, to help get your Dark Age pallette up-to-speed, I’ve been digging around in the world of natural colour and been in contact with renowned dyer, handspinner and knitter Jenny Dean who has kindly agreed to let me share her work on Anglo-Saxon dyes, c. AD 450 – AD 1066 – thanks Jenny!

The Anglo-Saxons used flax (linen) and wool from sheep in their textiles.  With a variety of naturally-coloured breeds of sheep a variety of colour patterns could be achieved without the use of dyes, ranging from beige and brown to grey and black:

But to achieve truly bright shades and extend the colour palette the Anglo-Saxons appear to have used a limited number of coloured plant dyes.

These included red from madder-type plants (e.g. Rubia peregrina / tinctorum and Galium verum):

indigo from woad (Isatis tinctoria):

and yellow from weld (Reseda luteola) and dyer’s broom (Genista tinctoria):

Other dyes used include tannin-rich dyes present in many plants and oak galls, acorns, nuts and barks that give shades of brown and also dark grey and black when fixed with iron:

Colours from oak leaves

Some areas of Anglo-Saxon England were able to produce brilliant purple and red dyes from lichens of the species Ochrolechia and Umbilicaria when treated in stale urine (nice!):

Colours from lichens

So, along with the neutral colours of linen and wool, here’s your likely colour pallete:

Once you’ve matched your preferred paints to this palette you might like to consider which colours work well together before you start painting (and don’t forget any colours in your shield design!).  This is something I’ve never had to consciously consider before, but the results look worthwhile: 

This has led me to look at colour wheels and costume which I guess I’ll save for another post 🙂

11 Responses to “A Viking Age palette

  • Scott Dallimore
    6 years ago

    Awesome! Thanks for sharing. I think this offers a lot of insight into period clothing colours, and is very helpful for wargamers.

  • very clever approach.

  • So your choice is limited to: red, orange, yellow,, blue, purple, black, grey, and brown?
    I can see why you’re crying.. Your extensive collection of US airborne shades of green is going to sit there separating out unused at the bottom of the box.
    So no denison or oakleaf B to worry about then??? :))

    • No, what a relief! Seriously, it makes a change to paint at this scale using colours you wouldn’t usually use 🙂 Rest assured, the WWII tones haven’t been consigned to the dustbin…

  • Quality post.

    As you know I’m just starting on my warriors, and this post is really useful.

    • Glad it was of use. I’m going to follow up with another piece on how to use colour wheels and these colours. I’ve noticed that the best paint jobs utilise complimentary colours to acheive outstanding results. Whilst I’m not capable of that standard of painting, I think I get the ideas behind it… 🙂

  • The links from red to madder onwards do not work on Safari and Firrefox. Can this be fixed?

  • George Rounsaville
    3 years ago

    Many thanks for the most useful information. I am new to the entire world of natural colors, dyeing etc. And will be applying the knowledge to the coloring of wool and linen in my quest to look more Anglo-Saxon and/or druidical. First I will need a large cauldron, I suppose. . . . .

  • Neil Ford
    2 years ago

    For anyone having problems seeing all the images, the original articles start at http://www.jennydean.co.uk/index.php/anglo-saxon-dye-experiments-part-1/

    It appears some of the original files may have been renamed.

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