Madder yields shades of red

Madder yields shades of red? Contrary to the title this post is not about an impending emotional explosion of volcanic proportions. After all, we are trying to stay away from news about the current American political drama.

No, this post is about a root that yields shades of red, including orange. It’s called madder, or rubia tinctorum.

As I’ve said before, this entire process of fiber preparation fascinates me because it is so ancient. We really don’t know when humans decided that clothing was a good idea. We know that people used the skins of animals to clothe themselves and then they somehow moved to cloth. How people learned to spin or weave is unknown but we know it goes back a long way, at least 25,000 years.

Dyeing fiber goes way back too. However, because textiles do not survive the ravages of time very well, there are not very many ancient examples of any size. There is only evidence of fabric production because of tools left behind and impressions left in hard clay. There are also small traces of fiber that show what types of dye may have been used. According to the Web site Wild Colours, traces of madder root dye were found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb around 1350 A.D., but the history of madder dye goes back at least 5,000 years. A recent discovery revealed madder dye on a 4,000 year old Egyptian quiver.   Because I am an American, I found it interesting that our flag was probably dyed with madder in the early days and the red coats of the British Army were dyed with madder.

The use of madder root, which produces various shades of oranges and reds, has continued down through the ages right on down to my kitchen here in 2016. I did not grow the plant myself but was able to purchase it from a fellow Etsian. It is with this that I decided to over-dye my avocado brown silk thread. I had to start early in the week because you need to soak madder before using it. My family thought that the smell was weird but they were interested to see how this batch of yarn would turn out.

And here it is:


Do you like it? I love the burnt orange color. I was hoping for red but it looks like I will have to coax that out with some calcium carbonate since we have soft water. Again, it’s a scientific, chemical process and takes some tinkering but it is fun.

In dealing with madder, I also learned that a little of the root goes a long way. I decided to soak a cup of it without realizing that it expands! I had two cups by the end of the week. Fortunately, it can be used again so I only used as many ounces as I had yarn and then set the rest out to dry. We’ll see what it yields in the next batch.


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