I'm not really an 18th century indentured servant. I just play one twice a week at a living history museum in Pennsylvania. Saturday was Fall Fun Day, and my job was to demonstrate to the public how to make tallow candles and how to dye linen.
Here I am stirring a pot of tallow and beeswax. In colonial times, candlemaking was done in the fall when the animals were butchered for their meat.
It took about four hours to render ten pounds of beef fat to make a quart of tallow.
This is the pot of tallow that resulted--all tallow, no liquid underneath (are you proud of me, Zach?)
Colonial farmers would harvest honey and beeswax from their skeps (hives). Beeswax is then added to the tallow as a stabilizer.
Hand-dipping the wicks. Candles are made by building layers. The fat cools and hardens between dips, growing in size. It takes about twenty or so dips to make a candle. Colonial candles are about the width of your pinky finger.
Huzzah, it worked!
This is my lovely assistant and friend, Miss S. Among other things, she helped me fill the dye pot with water. The water source being a distance away made for a lot of work. She's a hard worker, and always smiling, which makes working with her a pleasure.
This is cochineal, a dried insect used as a dye that was obtained by the colonies through trade with Spain. It produces a reddish-purple color.
It took only two ounces of cochineal and two tablespoons of tin (used as a mordent) to make this gorgeous pot of color. The longer the pot simmered over the fire, the deeper the color became.
I forgot to take a picture of the petticoat before it went into the dye pot. It had been a faded brown. I was very happy with the result.
For a 21st century woman, experimenting with 18th century farm chores is a lot of fun. I'm amazed by the ingenuity of our ancestors, and humbled by the fact that what I got to play with for demonstration was a matter of survival for them.