fen

A Fen is a marsh or moor – the word in Old English is fenn: mud, dirt, moor, marsh – and the word has its origins in proto-Germanic.

The Fens are an area in eastern England; originally wetlands, much of the area was drained for use as agricultural land. Parts of the Fens are now being restored. Dye-plants like woad, weld (gaude), meadowsweet, fennel and the evocatively named purple loosestrife grow in the Fens.

Beauty product junkies who like Borghese Active Mud- fango is the Italian and Spanish word for mud, and has the same origins.

(Image: Venitian ceiling. Photo C. Reddaway)

garance, indigo + gaude

Garance, indigo and gaude are words which refer to the colours produced by plant dyes used in traditional fabric dying. Garance produces a red dye, indigo a blue dye and gaude a yellow dye. So yes, it’s really just red, blue and yellow in fancy outfits, in the world of pre-19th century European fabric design.

Garance refers to a red dye made from varieties of the Madder plant. Common Madder (Rubia tinctorum) was used extensively in French textile production. A common problem for French textile workers was getting the red colour developed in France to match the intense red made in India – it took 100 years and some spy work to discover the process Indian dyers used to make their special bright red.

Indigo is from the Latin indicum, in turn from the Greek indikon: ‘blue dye from India’. In the Mediterranean it was originally referred to as annil, ‘the indigo shrub’.

Gaude is an Old French word for Weld (Reseda luteola), a plant used to make a strong, yellow dye. Weld has been used for thousands of years until being superseded in the early 20th century by synthetic dyes. The Reseda plant includes the variety Mignonette (Reseda odorata), a flowering species that was a favourite amongst Victorian Londoners, who planted it in their window boxes to form a perfumed barrier between their noses and the dubious smells of 19th Century London streets.

(Image: Fabric Indiennes L’arbre de VieYellow @ http://www.provencalchic.com.au/ind5.htm)