Southwestern States Mission: Dyeing Clothes

By November 11, 2012

I wish you all a thoughtful and thankful Veterans Day. After a three-month break, I?m restarting the “Southwestern States Mission series” (homepage). A few months ago clothes dyeing came up in the Jones diary at Keepapitchinin:

We then started to Bro. Klaus?, a German, to wash and dye our clothes. ?The kind sister prepared a nice dinner. After talking for a while I made known our wants and the answer was ?you are perfectly welcome.? It took us nearly all afternoon. The sister helped us some. At night my coat and vest shone up with a fine black color. [1]

In the six (four almost-full-length) traveling-Elder diaries, I count 9 instances of dyeing clothes: Jones (1), Folkman (3), and Brooks (5). Dyed articles mentioned are: hat, coat, pants, vest, and generic ?clothes.?

Like the Jones entry, almost all of the descriptions mention taking a long time and getting help from a woman. Elder Folkman gave the most detailed description:

[Thursday] ?Elder Shipp went to Waverly and I went to Willis with Bro. Findley to get some Dimond Dye to dye my cloths.?; [Friday] ?Started to prepare my cloths for dying. Washed them throu several waters then put them in the dye.?; [Saturday] ?As the dye was dry in my clothes, we went to work to do the necessary wrensing. Put them thro. 6 waters. In the eveing they were ready for pressing. Sister Findley done that.? [2]

Elder Brooks notes a follow-up visit for running dye a week after the original dyeing. [3]

On slim evidence, I conjecture that coats got dyed after heavier use in the winter and pants got dyed in the summer after the wading caused by the spring and early summer rains. [4]

[1] Jones, 1901 Mar 27 Wed.

[2] Folkman, 1901 Mar 21 Thu, 22 Fri, 23 Sat.

[3] ?During the day I wrenched my coat out as all the dye wasn?t out so was fading on my shirt. Sister Shirley pressed it for me. She also sewed my shirt up and washed it? (Brooks, 1900 May 17 Thu).

[4] With the usual caveats about sample size, the 9 instances occur mostly in Spring and Summer: March (3), May (2), June (1), July (2), October (1). Brooks and Folkman dye the most and are the furthest south, where it rains more and the ground is marshy/swampy; there might be a correlation. Coats are specified 5 times, in March, May, first half of June, and October; pants are specified 3 times, 2 at the end of July and 1 in October. The ninth instance, in March, is the generic ?clothes.?

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Interesting. A quick google search for Diamond Dye results in some fun period adverts.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 11, 2012 @ 9:29 am

  2. So glad to see the series return!

    Comment by Ben P — November 11, 2012 @ 10:15 am

  3. Edje’s back! Hurray!

    I’m surprised to see so many references to dyeing. Maybe I shouldn’t be — I mean, it may not be the kind of thing a sole elder thinks of on his own, but something that is part of mission culture. But what a thing to have to take care of as an itinerant missionary with no home base to count on!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 11, 2012 @ 11:55 am

  4. Thanks, J, Ben, and Ardis.

    Following J, I googled Diamond Dye. My favorite involves a toddler and a kitten.

    I agree, Ardis, that the amount of dyeing is a bit more than I would have anticipated.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — November 11, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

  5. It’s nice that Elder F gave a fairly detailed description of the process. Six rinses! (Or wrense/wrench as he says alternately.) That’s a lot of work, processing all that heavy material. It makes me tired just to think of it.

    Comment by Amy T — November 11, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

  6. As anyone who has hand washed/sun-dried clothes on a regular basis can tell you, dying would be a useful refresher, particularly for the dark colors in men’s coats and trousers. It is interesting to me, though, that these men needed help from women. Did women also do their laundry?

    Comment by ESO — November 11, 2012 @ 10:40 pm

  7. Amy: Thanks. I agree: it sounds like lots of work.

    ESO: I discuss clothes washing here. The Elders washed their own clothes about two-thirds of the time.

    Clothes washing the Elders could, in theory, always do in a creek without involving anyone else. Dyeing, on the other hand, required outside participation—at the very least they had to borrow the tubs (from a woman, which meant using her stuff and fitting/deforming her schedule).

    As to whether the Elders _needed_ help from women, well, (1) they probably did not do the dyeing before or after their missions, so there was some expertise to be tapped, and (2) the “mission Ma” women loved the Elders and attempted to fill needs and wants (at least as gratefully recorded in the diaries).

    Comment by Edje Jeter — November 11, 2012 @ 11:25 pm


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