Madder madness


or - what  NOT  to do if you desire true red.

Dye day in the middle of winter ... what else could we expect?
We were not precise.  We did not follow protocol.
Fortune might favor prepared minds but when it came to trying this new dye source
our minds were  not  [prepared, that is] ... which actually seemed ok at the time.
Our main objective was just to play,
see what happened if we flew by the seat of our pants ...

Spelled out, to see what happened
if ... we didn't carefully weigh the correct amount of madder powder
if ... we didn't pre-mordant our cloth
if ... we didn't check the water pH
if ... we didn't use a thermometer to check dye bath temperatures while cooking.
Although the bath never did come to a boil [big no-no],
with a list like the above it's a wonder we achieved any pleasing color at all.

~ frontispiece silk blouse #1 ~

It was January
and like a pair of hooligans with only a couple of hours to spare before the pub closes,
we went about things a bit wildly, bypassing [most of] the well-published rules ...
we prepped our dye pot mainly on a couple whims, a few educated guesses
and several generous splashes of laughter.

Obviously, this was not the recipe to follow
if the color one is after is anything akin to true royal  RED.
Dyeing with madder has a rich and ancient history and although we were intrigued,
the desire to 'wing it' won out in the end.
We were short on time and long on laissez faire.

Maiwa provided useful background info over on their site:

Madder – Rubia tinctorium, Rubia cordifolia, and Morinda citrifolia is one of the oldest dyestuffs. It is frequently used to produce turkey reds, mulberry, orange-red, terra cotta, and in combination with other dyes and dyeing procedures can yield crimson, purple, rust, browns, and near black. The primary dye component is alizarin, which is found in the roots of several plants and trees. Madder is cultivated and grows wild throughout India, South East Asia, Turkey, Europe, South China, parts of Africa, Australia and Japan. 
Madder is a complex dyestuff containing over 20 individual chemical substances. 

Alizarin is the most important because it gives the famous warm Turkey red colour. But also present in this wonderful plant is munjistin, purpurin, and a multitude of yellows and browns. Madder is dyed at 
35-100% wof [weight of fabric] for a medium depth of shade.

Our first lesson of note is contained in that last line about weight of fabric:
next time, for deeper shades, we definitely need to add more madder.
[L. brought back quite a hefty bag of powder from her recent travels
so we have plenty for another go ...]

~ silk blouse #2, no iron, bundled around copper ~

So although in principle I am not adverse to toasty apricot, salmon-pink,
or something resembling a mango chutney,
I'd like to accomplish a deep luscious red

someday ...

~ silk blouse #3, iron bits inside bundle, folded like a sandwich with native madrone ~

~ concentrated color in dry-down marks ~

After-the-fact research on this dye stuff has been fascinating, while some of the
best examples of color comparison I found online were those done on wool yarn -
which, as it happens, depends heavily on the use of mordants.

~ photo credit: Brush Creek Wool Works ~

I chanced upon this comprehensive blog post,  'Madder, in Many Ways'
over at  Sea Green and Sapphire ...
some excellent photos there showing the multitude of hues & tones that can be achieved.

Since I'm most interested in dyeing silks, my road to hoe may differ somewhat
but I won't know how much until further experimentation.

The historically acclaimed light-fast and wash-fast properties of this plant dye
certainly hold much appeal.

~ Rubia tinctorum, courtesy of Wikipedia ~

Next time we'll put ourselves in a more "scientific" frame of mind
before setting out ...
and in the meantime, if anyone stopping by here has a suggestion or two to offer,
my most appreciative ears are wide open.


  1. Christi very good experiment and fun , i think that madder is a bit difficult to work with , have only tried with roots and your colour look like mine not so strong as i wished , i have a old danish book about colouring and they describe also with a reciepe , i think you need it here . try again - good luck

    1. Yes, definitely need to follow a proper *recipe* Bodil, that's a good way to look at it.

  2. I don't know anything about dying, but I like how the blouse turned out. Good luck with your next try for deep red.
    xx, Carol

  3. Ah, if you ever tire of your oranges, rusts, and such I will happily take them off your hands ...

    Seriously though, these are indeed my favorite colors and you have inspired me to explore madder dyeing. Many thanks for a great post.

    1. Heh, that's great news, Liz ... hope you'll post about your Madder Road, too ;>]] We can all keep learning from each other.

  4. I love all those patterns you have created, and I think the colours are perfect just as they are!

    I'm so glad you found my blog post useful.

    1. I'm only sorry you aren't writing your blog anymore, but I understand how things can change.... You wrote many wonderful, informative posts!

  5. Love all the prints and dyes. I don't have good dye from madder, only the brown color like onion. The blouses are great !

    1. Thank you, Terriea. I think [from what I've read so far] that browns occur when the bath temperature is too high .... Will you be trying again?

  6. no words of wisdom for ya girl, only I get that wanting to wing-it mindset.
    and dyeing is a whole lot like making cheese. sciencey-sh*t! ;)

  7. You may not have acheived red but you have some lovely results anyway. Half the fun is the experimenting.

    1. Yeah, the experimenting is actually quite addicting I've found. It's been interesting to discover along the way which of these pre-processed dyes [in this case, a powder] allow for large margins of "error" and which ones are quite finicky. For me, I have to really love a color to bother with it again & try and get it right. Madder red is a definite.

      Thanks for the kind words, Debbie.

  8. I will use symplocos as the mordant the next time I dye with madder. It will I think produce the red we are looking for. A friend used it with great results.

    1. Oh, now where have I heard of symplocos before? Came across it recently but for something else, I think. I will research this, Molly - thank you for the tip. Do let me know of your results, please!

  9. Whew. I have a pouch of madder waiting for me if I ever finish my renovation. I can't wait and this post is a great reminder of being more 'mindful'. Thank you for winging it and documenting your results.

    1. This red would be soooo beautiful in your desert surrounds. Very best wishes for a successful renovation - and for finishing! - your place is looking really beautiful ... you must be thrilled ;>]

  10. symplocos used as a mordant gives a gorgeous red, I used it recently, on silk, whereas the tannin/citric acid recipe given by Michel Garcia gives a tomato red with a tinge of brick on wool, but a pale coraly orange on silk. I think maiwa sell symplocos? it is a good thing to buy as it helps sustain tropical forests and provides work for the women there (Malaysia) I also used it with logwood and got a super rich royal purple, and need to try some other dyestuffs too.

    1. Thank you very much, Jane, for this helpful information. I'm looking forward very much to opportunity for more experimentation. Your comment also has caused me to think that perhaps our dye bath was a bit acidic [hence the corals] ... for me & my pal were both doing some dipping into an iron solution made with vinegar. Hmmm, perhaps that swayed the pot the 'orange' direction. All great fun tho, whatever happens!

  11. What an interesting experiment...I surely do like how it turned out. Makes me so curious as to what will happen next! Madder has intrigued me but am not yet brave enough.