Monday, April 4, 2011

Madder Root Red on Cotton and Wool

The historic "Turkey Red" recipe is definitely the best natural, rich, lasting red dye for cotton. Turkey Red's main ingredient is Madder Root. It is, however, quite the challenge even for experienced dyers, as it has so many steps.

G�sta Sandberg in his book, "The Red Dyes, Cochineal, Madder, and Murex Purple, a World Tour of Textile Techniques", summarizes the process into 10 major operations, each one broken into many steps of precision. Paraphrased, the Turkey Red recipe steps include: thorough scouring of the cotton, soaking in a "dung bath" of sheep dung and olive oil three times, wringing out and drying between each dung dip, mordanting in a "white bath" of potash in a wooden vessel three times, drying in between each mordant bath, rinsing in river water, then "gallering" (treating with tannin and sumac), then mordanting with alum and potash for 12 hours, thoroughly drying for several days, then "maddering" (dyeing with madder and chalk in copper kettle) until the color is "beautiful and lively", then set in a tin bath, then washed in a soap solution containing olive, peanut, and palm core oil whipped into a lather, then rinsed and dried in the shade. Whew!

Jim Liles, in his book "Art and Craft of the Natural Dyer", explains the steps well, and has reduced the historic time for producing it (approximately 3 months) to "just" 3 weeks, and he uses some modern day substitutes for some of the ingredients (no dung). But there are still many steps.

As an alternative, you can get a fairly good Madder Root Red on cotton, wool or other protein or cellulose fibers. You may dye your natural fibers in any form: fabric, yarns, loose fibers, basket reed, et cetera. Thoroughly wash your wool, or scour your cotton or other material. (We carry a cotton "scour" liquid from Michelle Wipplinger). Then mordant the cotton or other cellulose fibers with Alum Acetate or use the Potasium alum plus Soda ash recipe following. For wool, mordant with Potasium alum without the Soda ash. (For this recipe, do not add cream of tartar with the alum, as is commonly done for wool.)

Meanwhile, the madder root contains both red and yellow dyes, and the yellow is more readily soluble in water, so it comes off first. The Alizarin chemical in madder which yields the red is not readily soluble, so it takes a little longer to retrieve.

I recommend putting the ground roots in a muslin bag and letting them soak overnight. Then bring the bath to simmer (don't boil madder, or reds will turn brown), and steep for an hour. Pour off this liquid. It will be orange. Cover the bag of madder root again with cold water and simmer again for one hour. Pour off liquid. You can save these initial pourings for orange colors. By the third or fourth bath you'll be pulling more reds.
I leave the bag of ground roots in the bath with the fibers, but you do need to stir more frequently if you do this, or you may have splotches on the fabric. (On locks of wool, this is okay, as it will all be carded together anyway.) Bring the bath up to simmer with the fibers in and hold it around 160 degrees F for an hour and a half. Then gradually increase the temp up to 190 degrees F for 30 minutes. Let the fibers cool in the bath or over night.

Remove the fibers from the dye bath. I like to let the dyed fibers air out or dry first. This seems to set the colors better. Then madder root-dyed fibers love an alkaline washing to brighten and deepen the reds. Use an alkaline soap or a little lye in the wash water. Then rinse well and dry.
Have fun!

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