Back in Black, a Short History - Wonderful Handmade Wednesday on Indiemade - September 2, 2015

Maybe I should have waited to post this blog about the color black closer to Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, but I decided not to wait.  The non-color has a very long and rich history, something I found most fascinating.  I kept reading and reading and reading all sorts of interesting information and tidbits about black, both the elegant side and the more “evil” connotations.  So, this week’s Wonderful Handmade Wednesday on Indiemade post highlights many artisan handmade items and one handmade antique piece with black as the basic color. Other photos of interest are also scattered in.


Vantablack is made of carbon nanotubes and is the blackest substance known, absorbing a maximum of 99.965% of radiation in the visible spectrum.  Photo courtesy of Surrey NanoSystems


In the visible spectrum, black is the darkest “color”, an actual absence of color since no visible light reaches the eye.  It is the opposite of white where all colors are reflected back to the eye.  It is “achromatic”, literally a color without a hue or color, a “non-color”.  It is one of the four colors, along with cyan, magenta and yellow, used in color printing to produce all other colors.  According to surveys in Europe and North America, it is the color most commonly associated with mourning, the end, secrets, violence, evil, and on the opposite extreme, elegance.


Transparent black lampwork glass beads with fine silver handmade by Charlotte of Covergirlbeads


The modern word for black was originally drawn from the Proto-Indo-European word “bleg” (“burn”).  Old High German had two words for black: swartz for dull black and blach for a luminous black.  Middle English also developed two words for black based on the German: swart for dull black and blaek for rich, shiny black. Swart still survives as the word swarthy, while blaek became the modern English black.





Neolithic paintings of bulls in the Lascaux Cave, more than 17,000 years old; photo courtesy of wikipedia




Black was one of the first colors used by artists in cave paintings.  The famous Lascaux Cave in France contains drawings of bulls and other animals drawn by Paleolithic artists between 8,000 and 17,300 years ago. They began by using charcoal, but then made more vivid black pigments by burning bones or grinding a powder of manganese oxide.  


Black polymer clay scarab beetle highlighted with brown handmade by Krisi of Kristi Bowman Design


Black had a very positive association for ancient Egyptians since it was the color of the rich black soil caused by the flooding of the Nile River.  It also was the color of Anubis, the god of the underworld who was often portrayed as a black jackal, who offered protection against evil to the dead.





Statue of Anubis, guardian of the underworld, from the tomb of Tutankhamun; photo courtesy of Jon Bodsworth



For the Ancient Greeks, black was also the color of the underworld, separated from the world of the living by the black waters of the river Acheron.  Those who had committed the worst sins were sent to Tartarus, the deepest and darkest level. In the center was the palace of Hades, the king of the underworld, who sat on a black ebony throne.



Black Swarovski crystal and beaded gold net bangle bracelet handmade by Nancy of Jazz it Up with Designs by Nancy


In ancient Rome, purple was the color reserved for the Emperor; red was the color worn by soldiers; white the color of priests; and, black was worn by craftsmen and artists.  Since the vegetable dyes used to create black was not long lasting, most blacks faded out to gray after a short while.  

Black was also the Roman color of death and mourning.  In the 2nd century BC, Roman magistrates began to wear a dark toga, called a toga pulla, to funeral ceremonies. Later, the family of the deceased also wore dark colors for a long period of time.  After a banquet to mark the end of mourning, a white toga was exchanged for the black.


Nótt rides her horse in this 19th-century painting by Peter Nicolai Arbo.


The German and Scandinavian peoples worshipped their own goddess of the night, Nott, who crossed the sky in a chariot drawn by a black horse. They also feared the goddess of the kingdom of the dead, Hel, whose skin was black on one side and red on the other. Crows were held sacred since it was believed that Odin, the king of the Nordic pantheon, had two black crows, Huginn and Muninn, who traveled the world for him, watching and listening.


Black crow / raven lampwork glass bird sun catcher sculpture handmade by Breanna of Untamed Rose


In the early Middle Ages (app. 500-1500 AD), noblemen and the wealthy usually wore bright colors, particularly scarlet cloaks from Venice and peacock blue fabrics from Florence.  In the 14th century that began to change when high-quality black dyes began to arrive on the market.  Magistrates and government officials began to wear black robes, as a sign of the importance and seriousness of their positions. The passage of sumptuary laws in some parts of Europe prohibited the wearing of certain colors by anyone except members of the nobility.  Wealthy bankers and merchants of northern Italy responded by changing to black robes and gowns, made with the most expensive fabrics.  Then the kings and nobility began to take note and dress in sumptuous black fabrics.  By the 16th century, black was a color worn by almost all the European monarchs and their courts.



Inscribed ornate antique Yemen silver dagger with sheath partiall wrapped in black leather by Anna of Anna's Faire


In the second half of the 17th century, Europe and America experienced an epidemic of “witchcraft.”  People widely believed the devil appeared at midnight in a ceremony called a black mass, usually in the form of a black animal, accompanied by his familiars, black cats, serpents and other black creatures. This is the origin of the widespread superstition about black cats and other black animals.  Witch trials were common in both Europe and America during this period. During the notorious Salem witch trials in New England in 1692–93, many were accused of having familiars in the form of black dogs, black cats and a black bird.  Nineteen women and men were hanged as witches.


Black and red Scottish Terrier sunglasses case or cell phone pocket handmade by Donna of SewAmazin


The invention of new, inexpensive synthetic black dyes and the industrialization of the textile industry meant that good-quality black clothes were available for the first time to the general population. In the 19th century black gradually became the most popular color for men’s business suits in the upper and middle classes in England, Continental Europe and the United States.  However, black gradually gave way to navy blue.  In general, black evening dress and formal dress were worn less and less often by the mid-1950s.  In 1960, John F. Kennedy was the last American President to be inaugurated wearing formal dress.  Lyndon Johnson and all his successors were inaugurated wearing business suits.


Black and blue swirly ceramic spike earrings handmade by Linda of Linda Landig Jewelry


Women's fashion was revolutionized and simplified in 1926 by the French designer Coco Chanel, who published a drawing of a simple black dress in Vogue magazine. She famously said, "A woman needs just three things; a black dress, a black sweater, and, on her arm, a man she loves." Other designers quickly contributed to the trend of the little black dress.  One of the most famous black dresses of the century was designed by Givenchy and was worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  


Black, tan and gray artistic jasper and jade earrings with antiques sterling silver handmade by Pamela of Pebbles at my Feet


In the 1950s, black came to be a symbol of individuality and was associated with intellectual and social rebellion, the color of those who didn't accept established norms and values. In Paris, it was worn by Left-Bank intellectuals and performers and by many members of the Beat Movement in New York and San Francisco.  Black leather jackets were worn by motorcycle gangs, such as the Hells Angels, and street gangs on the fringes of society in the United States. Black as a color of rebellion was celebrated in such films as The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando.  By the end of the 20th century, black was the color of the punk and goth subcultures.  Goth fashion, which emerged in the 1980 in England, was inspired by Victorian era mourning dress popularized by Queen Victoria after the death of her beloved Albert.


Black rose flower crown with greenery for a Goth wedding / Day of the Dead festivities handmade by Michele of MicheleMyFairy



Of course, the history of black isn’t complete without delving a bit into its “dark side.”  In the United States and Europe, black is usually worn to funerals and memorial services. In some traditional societies such as in Greece and Italy, widows may wear black for the rest of their lives.  In contrast, across much of Africa and parts of Asia, like Vietnam, white is a color of mourning and is worn during funerals.


Dappled black and gold dichroic glass dangle earrings with gold-filled earwires handmade by Jo of Umeboshi


In western popular culture, black has long been associated with evil and darkness.  It is the traditional color of witchcraft and black magic.  Vampires of classic literature and more modern movies dressed in black and could only move about at night.  The Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz became the embodiment of the typical witch for generations of children to come.  In more modern times, Darth Vader of Star Wars fame, dressed in flowing black, was the epitome of evil.



Black and vanilla vintage typewriter themed Happy Birthday greeting card handmade by Lisa of Cards by Li Be!


Black has been co-opted for use by several very evil people in modern history.  Benito Mussolini organized the Fascist Blackshirts as a military tool for his politics, using violence and intimidation against his opponents.  Black was also adopted by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in Germany.  The black swastika symbolized the Aryan race, which, according to the Nazis, "was always anti-Semitic and will always be anti-Semitic."  Black became the color of the uniform of the SS, the Schutzstaffel, the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party, worn by SS officers from 1932 until the end of World War II.  The Nazis also used a black triangle to symbolize anti-social elements:  the mentally disabled, mentally ill, homeless, alcoholics, the Romani, prostitutes, draft dodgers and pacifists, most of which were shipped off to concentration camps to their deaths.  The Black Standard (“banner of the eagle”), a historical flag flown by Muhammad in Islamic tradition, is now used by the more radical Islamism and Jihadism factions


Faceted black onyx teardrop and sterling silver dangle earrings handmade by Catherine of Shadow Dog Designs


I could have gone on and on about the non-color black with everything I found.  But I’ll leave it here at this slight scratch at the surface.  I hope you enjoyed the pots and will visit the shops of the Indiemade artists that were featured here. If you would like to make my day and the day of the artists highlighted, please leave a comment.  And any promotion you can do will be greatly appreciated.  Thanks!


My contact information:


Indiemade shop:  ShadowDogDesigns

Indiemade blog:  ShadowDogDesigns' Blog

Artfire studio:  ShadowDogDesigns

ArtFire Blog:  ShadowDogDesigns' Blog

Google+:  Catherine W

Facebook:  ShadowDogDesigns - Jewelry

Twitter:  ShadowDogDesign

Pinterest:  Shadow Dog Designs

Wanelo:  ShadowDog

Amazine:  ShadowDogDesigns

Rebelmouse:  ShadowDogDesigns

Flickr:  Shadow Dog Designs' Photostream


Shadow Dog Designs

Beautifully Unique Handmade Jewelry

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Back in Black

My oh my, so many pretties in this post!! As always I'm thrilled to be included in your choices. Thank you Thank you!!

Thank you, Kristi!

I certainly agree about the pretties, Kristi! Many thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

Interesting Read

Thanks for your post about the color black and its symbolism through history. I still, even though I'm middle aged by most standards, feel all grown up and elegant when I wear black. I also love designing with it it can go from fresh and crisp, to moody, to elegant, to artsy with ease. Thank you for including my earrings with the great Indiemade finds you chose.

Thank you, Pamela!

Interesting you should say that, Pamela. Black definitely has a lot of "moods" as you so well described. I love wearing it. Along with red, it is a favorite color (or non-color ). Thank you for the kind comment.

Really great selections!

Really great selections! Great history as well. Thanks so much for featuring my bracelet! All pinned and tweeted :)

Thank you, Nancy!

Am glad you enjoyed the selections and the history, Nancy. Thank you for all the promo (:

Interesting blog post

Very interesting and informative.

Great picks for the article.

Thank you, Roxanne!

Many thanks for stopping by from the Twitter Tree, Roxanne. And I appreciate your kind comment.

Fascinating read...

Very informative story and great display of the non-colored creations. Sharing now.

Thank you, Anna!

Hey, am glad you enjoyed the read and the non-colored items, Anna (: Thank you for the wonderful comment!

Great article about black!

Great article about black! Love all the handmade creations you presented here. Off to share.

Thank you, Nat!

Many thanks, Nat, for stopping by and for leaving a comment. Am glad you liked the post.

Cool info! Lovely shared

Cool info! Lovely shared items too


Thank you, Jacki!

Hey, thanks for stopping by and commenting, Jacki.

Love reading your article,

Love reading your article, informative and interesting. Fabulous selection of handmade items, will share.

Thank you, Diane!!

Thank you for your kind comment, Diane. I could have gone on and on with all the interesting info about black. Appreciate your promo of the post.

So Interesting!

What an incredibly comprehensive overview of the color black in human history - wow! Gonzo and I are clapping here. :) Beautifully illustrated too, and with some lovely handmade choices. Will be sharing! Treats (of any color) to Le Moosie from Le Gonze!

Thank you, Mary and Le Gonze!

Thanks for your kind and enthusiastic words, Mary. I could have written a LOT more - didn't even get into the religious uses of black and other things. But I wanted to keep it readable (: Thank you, also, for the promo you have done. Treats to Le Gonze from Le Moose.


Very interesting read! Thanks for sharing. Love all of the artisan picks as well!

Thank you, Sharon!

Am so glad you found the post interesting. Thank you, for your wonderful comments, Sharon!

Black is all that!

This is a wonderful blog Catherine. I have always seen black as being rich, elegant and downright sexy! Will share your blog.

Thank you, Kathy!

I've always seen black as being rich, elegant and sexy, too, Kathy. Something I didn't delve much into for this post besides the LBD. Many thanks for your shares.

As always, an interesting and

As always, an interesting and informative read, Catherine. You've chosen some fascinating tidbits to share with your readers, along with a nice assortment of black items that feature the color black and show its design uses in a variety of settings.

Thank you, Debbie!

Am so glad you enjoyed the read and found it interesting, Debbie. Thank you for your wonderful comment!

Intense read!

What an intensely fascinating read about the color black. Thanks for sharing such a wealth of information and of course for also including my typewriter card. Much appreciated!
Lisa :)

Thank you, Lisa!

Am so glad you found the post fascinating, Lisa. It was fascinating to research. Glad to include your card. Thank you for your comment and the shares.

Amazing History

of black! It's one of my favorite colors regardless of the darker side of it. Thank you for that great story on the meaning of black. Shared

Non Black Lovlies!

Wow! Very interesting article. There is so much to be said about black and it goes with everything! Thanks so much for including my black lampwork beads.


Thank you for this fascinating blog! I love black in all it's richness and simplicity. Thanks too for including my dichroic glass earrings!

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