On period waterproofing

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Elleth
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On period waterproofing

Post by Elleth »

so we know about linseed oil / oilcloth / oilskin.... and how at least in the 18th c. the line between "oilcloth" and "painted cloth" seems a bit fuzzy, given the use of linseed-based paints. :mrgreen:
But that's apparently (strangely) post-our-period.

... and we know about waxed fabric / cerecloth...
... and we know about extra lanolin in a wool cloak..

Are there any other methods for waterproofing linens/hemps/etc appropriate for early middle-ages Europe / Middle-earth that anyone's played with?

I'm thinking about some of the linen scraps I've used to apply wax/neatsfoot oil to leather, and while I don't know if I'd call them pleasant I wonder if "dubbined" fabric was ever used in any amount. Or failing that, some other grease-based finish. It seems squick, but I could imagine *someone* might have worked out a way to make it work.

Has anyone come across a reference - or tried anything in that space? If so, how'd it work out?

The question behind the question: given how much more expensive beeswax candles are over tallow, and how much more precious mead was than beer - I'm wondering if there was a "budget" approach used by lower sorts.

On the other hand, I could imagine if you could afford the cloth in the first place, you could afford the wax to.
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Shadrack
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Re: On period waterproofing

Post by Shadrack »

Interesting! I've been sitting on some fabric I intend to use as a tarp for a while now, so methods of waterproofing have been on my mind as well. The thing that puts me off about the classic oilcloth recipe is the use of mineral spirits as a drying agent. It just feels way too modern to me. That being said it doesn't seem all that practical to carry around a constantly oily tarp as it would make a mess and pick up dirt left and right. I'd imagine that most naturally oiled finishes would have a tough time completely drying on their own though. Perhaps a mixture of beeswax and linseed oil could be worth experimenting with? In all likelihood people within our period were probably a lot more used to being damp/wet than we are and probably relied more on finding natural shelter beneath trees and landscape features rather than carrying it around on their backs. Just a thought though, I'm in no way an expert.
That being said I am tempted to do some experiments with a couple of swatches and mixtures now. If I end up following through I'll be sure to post the results here.
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Iodo
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Re: On period waterproofing

Post by Iodo »

Elleth wrote: Sun Apr 11, 2021 10:08 pm I'm thinking about some of the linen scraps I've used to apply wax/neatsfoot oil to leather, and while I don't know if I'd call them pleasant I wonder if "dubbined" fabric was ever used in any amount. Or failing that, some other grease-based finish. It seems squick, but I could imagine *someone* might have worked out a way to make it work.
Well, you're right about it not being pleasant, Vikings used a combination of fish oil and horse fat to waterproof sailcloth, I can't imagine what that would have smelled like, I can't remember my source but I read that it was common for sea fearing folk to make ponchos from old sails to keep the rain off

its surprising how well an untreated piece of fabric will shelter you if you stretch it tightly at an angle so the water runs off it, you have to tighten it every so often or it stretches and starts dripping through, and it's heavy when you come to pack it up so not perfect, but I always imagined that that's what people who weren't privileged enough to afford fabric waterproofed with wax would have done?
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Taurinor
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Re: On period waterproofing

Post by Taurinor »

Iodo wrote: Mon Apr 12, 2021 7:43 am
Elleth wrote: Sun Apr 11, 2021 10:08 pm I'm thinking about some of the linen scraps I've used to apply wax/neatsfoot oil to leather, and while I don't know if I'd call them pleasant I wonder if "dubbined" fabric was ever used in any amount. Or failing that, some other grease-based finish. It seems squick, but I could imagine *someone* might have worked out a way to make it work.
Well, you're right about it not being pleasant, Vikings used a combination of fish oil and horse fat to waterproof sailcloth, I can't imagine what that would have smelled like, I can't remember my source but I read that it was common for sea fearing folk to make ponchos from old sails to keep the rain off

The Vikingeskibsmuseet website has the following information about a wool sail made for a reconstruction of Skuldelev 1, an ocean-going trader from the Viking Age, c. 1030:
Today Ottar sails with a sail made of flax, but originally the sail was made of wool. The manufacture of the 90 m2 woollen sail for Ottar was a project in itself during which assistance was received from textile researchers in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, England and Scotland. A great deal of the practical work in recreating the sail was carried out at the special exhibition organised by the Viking Ship Museum, "Sails", in 1999. The wool came from as many as 200 "Spelsauer" sheep - descendents of Norwegian wild sheep. Each one of these rather small sheep yielded about 500 g of usable wool. This had to be spun very tautly and woven incredibly densely to achieve a woollen material which was suitably windproof and durable. To make sure the sail repelled water and that it was even more wind-proof, the finished-woven sail was treated with raw ochre and a mixture of horse mane fat and, water in the ratio of 1:10. The mixture was boiled, cooled down and then rubbed into the sail using glass stones. It is interesting to note that it was the ochre that made the sail tight - and yellow - not the fat. After the sail had been in use for a certain time beef suet was kneaded into the front side to make the surface smooth.

Ingrid Galadriel, formerly of Hands On History, made a wool tarp based on the above.

Generally speaking, though, I agree with this:
Elleth wrote:On the other hand, I could imagine if you could afford the cloth in the first place, you could afford the wax to.

I think this is one situation where early European medieval history doesn't really help us, and that looking at 18th century scouts and longhunters might be a better fit. In broad strokes, in medieval Europe travelers stayed in inns, churches, barns, or private homes (either because your host was showing how charitable he was by hosting you, or because you were important enough to kick him out of his bed).
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