Magical madder


I received a gift of dried madder root recently: it could be years old! But then, the tradition of madder dyeing is ancient and there was no reason to think it was past its use-by date.  I followed Rebecca Burgess‘ instructions in the beautiful Harvesting Colour to process it during a dyeing day with a friend who (happily) shares my enthusiasm. Here are our fibres going in:


I left fibres soaking in the dyepot for a week afterward.  And here they are after drying.


The alpaca/wool (larger skein) is really red, and so is the smaller skein of mohair.  The cotton mordanted with soy on the left is a red-brown shade, and the well-loved but unmordanted silk fabric (previously a precious shirt handmade for my friend) is a lovely red-orange.  This madder bath didn’t begin to give orange until it was on its third exhaust bath. After that, I kept dyeing with it until I got down to peach on some handspun wool and banana fibre blend.

It’s exciting to see madder dye red with my own eyes, as every madder-dyed textile I have seen dyed by anyone I know is decidedly orange.  Not unlike the colour I can get with many local eucalypts.  And it is also exciting because my madder must be getting close to possible harvest!  Here it is at the height of our Australian summer, which is to say, partially crisp.  But about two or three years old and so promising…



Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

2 responses to “Magical madder

  1. Great job. The alizarin – the chemical that makes red is not as water soluble as the yellows in madder, so usually it is a matter of simmering and pouring of the water a few times before the red colors start appearing. Perhaps soaking for a week helped it also.


    • I’m hoping so. I did the things I have seen suggested (online and in books) in relation to madder… pouring off the soaking water, which was indeed quite yellow, keeping the temperature low and soaking. Thanks for the explanation of why they make a difference!


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