This summer I had the joy of visiting Old Bedford Village, a colonial site relatively near my home. They have an entire village set up there, and different reenactors there throughout the week. My favorite was the lady in the Biddle House, who demonstrated spinning and how one would work in a colonial kitchen.
She then enlightened us on dying fabric in a colonial home. The dyes themselves I was well aware of--for instance, to achieve a rich brownish-yellow, you use the black walnut. For a lovely pale blue, indigo is a dream. What I didn't realize was that the dye doesn't just set in the fabric on its own. You have to add something high in ammonia. And what would Colonials have on hand for that?
Yep. The chamber pot. Apparently the urine of young boys was the best for this--they would collect the, er, sample from the chamber pot, cover it, and set the lovely brew in the corner of the fireplace until it was "ripe"--read, very strong-smelling. Then the dye and wool would join it.
by Roseanna White