Woodstocker Books


Colouring The Nation: The Turkey Red Printed Cotton Industry in Scotland c.1840-1940

Colouring The Nation: The Turkey Red Printed Cotton Industry in Scotland c.1840-1940


Stana Nenadie and Sally Tucket

Publisher: National Museums of Scotland

Category: textiles/fiber arts

ISBN 978-1-905267-80-4

Pages: 146

color illustrations: 46

sepia photos: 25

his is one of the season's 'hot' new books. Craftspeople involved with fabrics, those involved in the history of textiles, laypeople, collectors and the fashion cognoscenti all share an interest in Turkey Red. It was the hot fashion colour from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. (Dyeing actually began in Neolithic times.) Scotland was the major center for the production of these gorgeous fabrics. With the root of the rubia plant as the colourant, a long, complicated process involved multiple soaking of the fabrics in lye, olive oil, sheep's dung, and other ingredients. The result was a fine bright and lasting red, similar to carmine, perfectly suited to cotton. Turkey Red was used in saris, shawls and in furnishings -- and exported to the Middle East, to Africa and to America, where it was popular for making patchwork quilts. The industry ended with the introduction of synthetic dyes. The fabrics are beautifully illustrated in this collaborative effort between the National Museums Scotland and the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh.

The process of dyeing cotton turkey red, as it was practiced in Turkey in the 18th century, was described in a text by a Manchester dyer in 1786:

1. Boil cotton in lye of Barilla or wood ash

2. Wash and dry

3. Steep in a liquor of Barilla ash or soda plus sheep's dung and olive oil.

4. Rinse, let stand 12 hours, dry

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 three times.

6. Steep in a fresh liquor of Barilla ash or soda, sheep's dung, olive oil and white argol.

7. Rinse and dry

8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 three times.

9. Treat with gall nut solution

10. Wash and dry

11. Repeat steps 9 and 10 once.

12. Treat with a solution of alum, or alum mixed with ashes and Saccharum Saturni (lead acetate).

13. Dry, wash, dry.

14. Madder once or twice with Turkey madder to which a little sheep's blood is added.

15. Wash

16. Boil in a lye made of soda ash or the dung liquor

17. Wash and dry.

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