Madder, Minerals and Indigo: Cotton Dyeing in the 18th and 19th Century
This article was found on an interesting website http://info.fabrics.net/. It deals with the dyes that colored the fabrics of that time period. It is worth reading to understand the color changes in antique fabrics.
By Kimberly Wulfert, PhDAn important element of any fabric or fiber, old or new, is its cosmetics. This can range from finishes to color to design, all which breathe life and vitality into cloth. This month’s guest columnist is well-known quilt historian Kimberly Wulfert who takes us back into the 18th and 19th centuries for a look at the cotton dyeing process and its evolution from natural to synthetic dyes.
You will probably never look at fabric in the same light again after reading this colorful side of textile history. Prior to the Revolutionary War, America shipped her plentiful supply of raw cotton to Britain, where it was spun, woven, printed and sold back to her as yardage. When the War of Independence was over, the printing industry would establish itself in the northern and eastern states, where it had been previously attempted but unsuccessfully, due to Britain’s ban on sharing textile machinery and know-how with the Colonies.
Our import of cotton fabric, plain and printed, was dramatically reduced, as they knew it would be when we could work our own raw cotton into thread and cloth. The exceptions were high-end fine chintz, Indiennes and toile fabrics, used for bedding, upholstery, draperies and fancy clothing. These continued to be imported from England and France. The 18th century brought the Machine Age and the Industrial Revolution to Europe and America, enabling them to produce more than enough affordable cotton prints by the 1830s.
The inorganic chemicals industry was born mid-18th century bringing a plethora of coloring and assisting agents to the awareness of textile scientists, in the form of mineral dyes, hydrochloric acids, sulphur, chlorine, soda ash, ferrous sulphate and lead acetate. Mineral-based colorants are pigments (insoluble and fix to the surface of the cloth), producing brilliant hues of color that stand out bright and luminescent (picture # 1) when placed next to cotton dyed with organic carbon-based dyes from animals, plants and vegetables.
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