17th Century buff coat: Getting the right color (test dyes)

Next to the signature raised “ridges” in the buff coat seams that come from the butt-end stitching, the next most noticeable characteristic (and arguably the most noticeable) is that golden brown hue of the leather, as seen below.


Some extant examples are a little more brown or grey, but this gives you the general idea of the look. This golden brown coloration is a byproduct of the tanning process. Tanners would “oil tan” the leather with lime and scrape the surface to remove the outer layer. This is what gives the buff coat that rough, unfinished look. Cod oil was used in a process called “kicking.” I’ve also read that yellow ochre was used to help get the color.

I do not have the space or money to do a historically accurate tanning process for my buff coat (sadface, I know). So I’m going to cheat a little bit. With some help from my dye making friends, I found a nice yellow ochre powder that looked like it should get me the right color I’m going for.

And, as I noted in previous installments of this project, I’m going to be using the rough side of the leather I bought to give it that period look. The smooth leather will be facing inward (though I might sandpaper it to roughen it up). The body is being lined with coarse, natural linen.

Safety Note

This powder isn’t toxic, according to Natural Pigments, but who wants to inhale powder? I wore a ventilation mask and latex gloves and did this work where there was a little more ventilation (which isn’t easy in an apartment).

Test #1

Normally this pigment dye is mixed with something and then used for painting, scribing, etc. So I went with a friend’s thought of spritzing the leather with olive oil and then rubbing the dye on top of that. It stuck maybe too well? It came off more cakey and didn’t have the right look. You can’t even tell that this was the rough leather side.


No good.

Test #2

Second round was just trying to dry rub the leather with the yellow ochre powder. The end result seems to be a lot, lot better. It has the right coloration and still has the nappyness that I want.


My concern is that the pigment (since it’s loose powder rubbed on the leather) comes off easy. I’m not sure if it’ll come off enough that the leather loses the golden hue, but I am worried about the powder getting all over everything — namely, my clothes.


I’m not sure how to deal with this yet. I was rubbing the powder in for a good long while hoping that would do the trick. I also didn’t use a ton of powder (least don’t believe I did). Maybe it’ll be better when I’m using a full-size pattern piece and not a test sample.

Part of me imagines myself in a park somewhere just beating the living hell out of the dry rub leather like it’s an old, dusty rug to get rid of the excess dye powder.

Anyone have ideas about this?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s