This week we’ve been having a look at red dyes which necessitated a quick trip to our allotment. We dug up and separated some Madder (Rubia Tinctorum) plants that were grown from seed two years ago as part of another Hive project. Madder needs to be at least two years old before the roots can be used as dye, so these should be ready to harvest in the summer.
We also brought back some Sweet Woodruff. This is in the same family as madder, producing paler reds and pinks in the dye bath.
In our session we looked at some madder samples from the 18th and 19th century, and discussed the processes of creating Turkey red dye. In Bradford madder was imported in huge quantities, and used to ‘top’ the dyebath, after wool had been ‘bottomed’ with woad or indigo in the creation of black dyes.
We prepared the ‘Red Bed’ in the Community Dye Plant Garden last week, using limestone chippings, and also a lime top dressing, ready for the addition of these plants. Adding lime to the soil helps to create better reds. We are also growing new plants from seed to keep our supply going for the duration of the project.