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Part 9. Now the Reds.

Part 9 - Colour and Dyes: Now the Reds.

Having reviewed books written about indigo in the last issue, it is now time to look at red dyes and some of their literature. The first book is Gosta Sandberg's The Red Dyes, Cochineal, Madder, and Murex Purple, a World Tour of Textile Techniques. 

Gosta Sanberg taught chromatics and textile dyeing in Stockholm during the 60's, now he is an"expert, teacher and author of books on textiles, dyes and manufacturing techniques." His writing can sometimes be a little precious with quotations from Virgil and the like, but overall it is an interesting and informative book. Getting past the many introductory pages, the first chapter is A Colour from the Kingdom of the Blood Red Man. This chapter is bitty, but nicely illustrated and essentially covers purple from molluscs.

The book gets into its stride with subsequent chapters on Cochineal-Kermes-Lacca (the red dyes from insects) and Madder, (the red from plants). Both these chapters are long and wide-ranging and the contents page helpfully lists their sub-sections e.g. Old Madder Recipes, Turkey Red Calico Prints etc.  The final two chapters: Modern Formulas and Instructions describes dyeing wool with madder, cochineal or mushrooms and The Chemistry of the Natural Red Dyes by Jan Sisefsky includes chemical formulae. The book ends with a four page Sources and Literature, plus Red Textiles-Where? Photo Credits, Additional Sources, Glossary and a Person Register and finally, a terse five page Index.  The whole book is profusely illustrated in colour including "unique photographic material of pattern sketches" and plenty of fabrics and examples of relevant textiles. Altogether a readable and useful guide.

Gosta Sandberg has also had Indigo Textiles Technique and History translated and now published by Lark Books. This nicely complements Jenny Balfour Paul's Indigo (reviewed last issue) as he includes a lot of practical detail information on indigo dyeing. Again the book begins with drawn-out introductions before short chapters on The Indigo Plant, Woad and Natural Indigo-Synthetic Indigo. Then come Dyeing and Printing with Indigo  (in olden days) Patterning with Indigo, Wax Batik, Plangi-Tie Dyeing, Ikat, Indigo-Turkey Red and onto Indigo Dyeing Today. This last third of the book includes Recipes and Instructions, Causes of Failure plus Handling and Storing of Chemicals. It ends with a List of suppliers (1989) People and Places, a Bibliography, List of Illustrations and an Index.

The book is well illustrated throughout, though many photographs are in  black and white. As with Sandberg's Red Dyes, Indigo Textiles has an idiosyncratic feel and layout, how much this is originally the author and how much from the translation, it is difficult to decide. But both books are worth buying as comprehensive, readable guides.

The same is not so for Madder Red, A history of luxury and trade by Robert Chenciner.  Subtitled Plant Dyes and pigments in world commerce and art, this nicely produced book is a disappointment. It is wholly illustrated in black and white, and unfortunately the text is as lacking in colour: indeed the bright red cover is its high point. It is a dry and academic, not at all the "vibrant study of what was once a major world commodity" advertised on the jacket. If you must have all books on Madder Red you will need this but if you want your information to be reasonably entertaining or enjoyable, leave this alone.

To return to the recommended, and what a pleasure to be able to blow our own trumpet! Quilt Studies, the Journal of the British Quilt Study Group published Issue 1, Research Papers presented at the Inaugural Quilt Study Day October 1998 and this includes Four Aspects of Turkey Red.  All four "aspects" are short essays answering the questions "why and how was Turkey Red cloth produced and what was its intended market?" and "what primary domestic need led to it being easily accessible to quilters?" 

So we have an Introduction followed by The Process and Early History by Deryn O'Connor, Expansion of the Plain Turkey Red Industry in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century by Tina Fenwick Smith, Turkey Red in Quilts and Clothing by Pauline Adams and The Turkey Red Industry: Export Cloths also by Deryn O'Connor. Each has black and white illustrations and a few colour photographs plus Notes and References at the end of each article. Interesting, readable and very pertinent to our interests as British Quilt Historians!


All three books are in print and available from Amazon at Barnes and Noble can offer both of Sanda Gostberg's books.  However, as regular readers of this column will know, I always advocate trying your local bookshop, their order may take a few days but it’s becoming a question of "use it or lose it". Look at what is happening in the quilt-shop world and bookselling is just as precarious a livelihood. 

Madder Red by Robert Chenciner is published by Curzon Press, (Richmond, England 2000). The ISBN is 0-7007-1259-3 and it costs £30.00 new.

Gosta Sandberg's The Red Dyes is published by Lark Books (Asheville, NC. 1997) and is a translation of Purpur Koschenill Krapp, Stockholm 1994. ISBN 1-88737417-5 and is priced at $29.95, Amazon are offering it at £18.75.

His Indigo Textiles, Technique and History is published as a hardback in England by A&C Black (London 1989) ISBN 0-71363129-5.  The paperback is published by Lark Books (Asheville N.C.1989) ISBN 0-93727440-2 at  $22.95 The hardback is currently unavailable at Amazon but as my Lark paperback is only slightly smaller in format than the Red Dyes and has sturdy laminated boards (no dust jacket) this may not be a problem.

Second-hand copies of all books are advertised on the net. There is one copy of Madder Red for £20.00 and many copies of Indigo Textiles, paperback and hardback, ranging from $15 to $25. Plenty of  The Red Dyes  all hardbacks priced between $17 and $32, so shop around.

(Update Jan 2021 - Limited numbers of Quilt Studies Issue 1 (1999), ISSN 1467-2723 may be available by contacting the Quilters' Guild Shop )

In the next issue I shall go back to looking at fabrics and review some very desirable but rather expensive books, so start saving your pennies!

© Brigid J.Ockelton. 2003

PLEASE NOTE - An indication is given of the availability and market price of the book at the time of writing and may not reflect today's availability and price.