|Madder Red-A Revolutionary Colour
by Anthony S. Travis
Anthony S. Travis, "Madder Red-A Revolutionary Colour", Chemistry & Industry, January 3, 1994, p. 28. This reproduction used with permission
of Chemistry & Industry.
A couple of seasons ago one of the most popular fashion colours in Europe was Madder Red. Few must have known, however, about the
fascinating origin of this name. Certainly it had nothing to do with demented colour chemists, fashion designers, mad hatters, or, for that matter,
historians of chemistry! It was in fact one of the most important textile colorants used in the Industrial Revolution. It was also, in the form of
Turkey or Adrianople Red, a triumph of Islamic technology.
Three centuries ago, Europeans considered Turkey Red to be one of the great wonders of the Orient. This brilliant and fiery colour applied to
cotton was much admired for its durability and fastness. The birthplace of Turkey Red was the Near East, from whence it had travelled to India.
The dyestuff was obtained from the root of the madder plant. The processes of applying the colour were known to be
'numerous and tedious operations' and were also harsh, which meant that only the best quality cotton could be used.
Despite tremendous efforts, Turkey Red dyeing could not be mastered to any extent in Western Europe, even after Greek dyers were brought to
France, and some European dyers sent spies to the Levant. Around 1745 Greek dyers based in Marseille introduced a version of the colour, and
their process was taken up in Rouen. In 1756 Levantine dyers were brought to Saint Chamond in the Loire
region, and it was not long before details of their processes were carried to Lyon.
However, these early attempts to introduce Turkey Red dyeing into France were not commercial successes. One reason was controversy over
the necessity of some of the many steps. Another was the great difficulty experienced in dyeing the vegetable fibre (cotton).
A viable process was eventually introduced into France around 1776 by a group of dyers from Adrianople who built a factory near Rouen. Details
leaked out, and other factories were opened nearby; this established the industry in Normandy. Soon after, successful Turkey Red dyeing could
also be found in southern France. When the Greek dyers of Rouen were dismissed during the 1789 French Revolution they immediately carried
the process north to Alsace. Turkey Red dyeing was also taken up in Switzerland, Germany and the Austrian empire.
The British had made great efforts to transfer the technology across tire English Channel from around 1770. Louis Borelle arrived in England
from France during 1781 to promote. Turkey Red dyeing, and was in Manchester during 1784-85. The UK government paid Borelle and his
brother £2500 to expose the secrets for the benefit of British industry, but the process could not be mastered. Pierre Jacques Papillon, a dyer
from Rouen, tailed to interest Mancunians in his Turkey Red process during 1785, and went off to Glasgow where Macintosh & Dale invited him
to undertake trials in their factory. These led to the first production of Turkey Red fabrics in Britain.
Successful Turkey Red dyeing was introduced in Manchester by Angel Delaunay and others who arrived from Rouen. In 1786, a commission
from the Chambre de Commerce de Normandie observed about 20 works in operation in and around Manchester. At first, the Europeans could
dye only the unwoven yarn successfully. Details of the cloth-dyeing process as practiced in the Near East reached Britain via Russia.
Machine-produced threads, the first major outcome of the Industrial Revolution, provided the basis of stronger fabrics that were better suited to
In 1818, an improved Turkey Red process was introduced near Accrington, Lancashire, by Frederick Steiner, an immigrant from Alsace. By this
time the European manufacturers had also mastered the art of producing patterned effects with Turkey Red, employing resist dyeing and, later,
discharge processes. The Madder Style was particularly important, using the fact that the colour of the madder dye was dependent on the
nature of the mordant. William Stirling introduced Turkey Red to the Vale of Leven in southwest Scotland in 1828. A few years later Turkey Red
dyeing was practiced on a large scale in Holland.
The Turkey Red process was investigated by both chemists and colourists. Aluminium compounds, especially alum, were found to be the
effective mordants. The original processes involved pretreatment with oil and dung, after which the yarn was immersed into a solution of
nutgalls, and then into a solution of alum. It was then boiled in a dye bath containing the root of the madder plant. When the
dyeing was complete the yarn was boiled again in soap solution, the clearing or brightening step. Many steps used in the traditional practices
were found to be superfluous, although only in later years was it established that six were required (oiling, mordanting, fixing, dyeing, steaming
and clearing) rather than the 16 to 20 steps previously employed.
From 1869, the use of madder began to decline because the principal dye in the root of the plant, alizarin, became available from British and
German chemical factories. The Near Eastern origins, however, were not forgotten when, in 1898, a consortium of Scottish dyers formed the
United Turkey Red Co Ltd.
Tony Travis is deputy director of the Sidney M Edelstein Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. ColorantsHistory.Org thanks the author
for contributing this article.
Turkey Red Dyeing in Blackley: The Delaunay Dyeworks
An advert for Turkey Red, 1788. Click Image to Enlarge.