Madder root is one of the oldest dye plant cultivated and used in Europe and the Middle East for thousands of years. Cloth dyed in madder was found in ancient Egyptian mummy wrappings; in the tomb of King Tutankhamun, and was used for dyeing the clothing of Libyan women (Berber) in ancient 500 BC.
Madder or dyer’s madder is the common name for “Rubia tinctorum”, a plant grown specifically for its root. The roots contain more than 15 chemical compound–Alizarin and Purpurin, the main dyes component of madder. It produces a variety of shades in reds, orange reds, pink, purple, apricots to brown, depending on the mineral content of the water; the age of the roots, temperature of the water in the pot, and the mordant and fiber being used.
Sometime last month, a friend from the art gallery brought in a bag of dried madder roots for me. I am thrilled to see if it will give me the famous “Turkey Red” color that most of my dyer’s friends are raving about. Madder produces better colors in hard water, and this can modify with calcium carbonate in the water. To find out if the water in your area is hard or soft, simply click this link.
To make the dye, I soaked the roots in water to soften it before chopping into pieces. Then the chopped roots are left to soak in a pot with water overnight. The next day, I added enough water to cover the roots, and heat the water to a slow simmer for 2 hours at 140°F (60°C), before I placed the scarf to the pot. The bundle was left in the dye bath overnight.
The next day, I took the bundle out of the dye bath to see the results. I didn’t get the red color that I was hoping to get on the scarf–what I got was shades of coral to coppery browns, on a cream background (a result from the resist).
After the scarf was rinsed and partially dried, I layout rose leaves on the scarf, bundled it up again, and steamed it for about 2 hours. I did this to test the color resistance of madder, and if there were any changes after another cooking process.
I am surprised and pleased with the results from the rose leaves prints and the dye, madder. It was wonderful learning experience for me!
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