How To Dye Fabrics

To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of history is discovering how people did things in the past. Like clothes for instance. These days when we need a new dress or blouse, we go to a shop where we can choose between a vast array of clothes in all kinds of fabrics, styles and colours. But it wasn’t always like this. In the past, people either went to a dressmaker or made their own clothes themselves. But what did they do when they wanted to change the colour of a garment? I’ve found the answer by perusing the 1816 edition of the Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions &c:

To dye Wool a permanent yellow

Boil the yarn or cloth with one-sixth of its weight of alum, in a sufficient quantity of water, for half an hour; and then, without rinsing, plunge it into a copper, containing a decoction of twice as much quercitron bark as equals the weight of the alum employed, and agitate it in the dye liquor till it has acquired the intensity of colour wished for. This being accomplished, a quantity of powdered whiting or chalk, equal in weight to part of the wool, must be thrown into the copper, and the mixture suffered to boil very gently for about a quarter of an hour longer. By this method a bright lively yellow is produced.

To dye Silk a bright clear Yellow

First impregnate the silk by soaking it for a few minutes in soap and water; then rinsing it, and immersing it in a solution of alum and water, and then passing it through a decoction of weld till the desired shade of colour is produced. The weld is to be tied up in a coarse bag, and put into the copper, with a sufficient quantity of water; and after having boiled for about half an hour, and the fire slackened, the silk, previously impregnated with alum, is passed through this bath.

Gold or deep Yellow

Add a small quantity of pearl ash towards the end of the process; or still better, add the pearl ash to a second decoction of weld, and pass the silk through it, after having been first dyed a bright clear yellow, in the manner before stated.

Orange Yellow

may be dyed, by adding to the decoction of weld a small quantity of annotto. The silk, being first dyed a clear yellow in the manner before stated, acquires a rich golden hue when passed through a bath of weld, to which a small portion of annotto has been previously added.

Jonquil Yellow

This colour is given to silk by adding to the decoction of weld a small quantity of crystallized acetate of copper (crystallized verdigris).

To dye Cotton Yellow

Let the article be first well cleansed by boiling it for about a quarter of an hour with a small quantity of pearl-ash; then impregnate it with alum, and dye it in a bath of weld, in which the quantity of weld is at least equal to the quantity of cotton to be dyed. When this is done, soak it in a bath of sulphate of copper and water for twenty-four hours; and, lastly, rinse it in water, and. suffer it to dry. Instead of weld, quercitron bark may be used; but the yellow dye which this bark gives, is not so bright and lively as the yellow obtained from weld.

To dye Silk Crimson, Poppy Red, Cherry Red, Rose Red, and Flesh Red

Silk may be dyed red, of various shades, by means of cochineal or carthamus. It may be dyed crimson by first steeping it in a solution of alum, and then dying it in a cochineal bath, prepared in the following manner:— In the first place, dissolve one part of sal ammouiac in eight parts of nitric acid; and add, by very small portions at a time, one part of granulated tin, and afterwards dilute the solution with one-fourth part of its weight of soft water. Then put eight ounces of this solution into an earthenware pan, with a sufficient quantity of water, and add also ten ounces of cream of tartar, and six of finely powdered cochineal, and boil this mixture. In this hath the article to be dyed must be immersed till it has received a fine bright colour. By adding a little turmeric root in powder, the red colour is rendered more brilliant. The colours known by the names of poppy, cherry, rose, and flesh colour, are given to silk by dying them with carthamus; that is to say, by keeping the silk immersed in an alcaline solution of the colouring matter of carthamus flower, into which as much lemon-juice, or instead of it a solution of crystallized citric acid, has been poured as produces the desired shade of colour. The solution of carthamus is prepared in the following manner:—Take any quantity of carthamus flower, put it into a bag, and squeeze it in water, to deprive it of all the extractive colouring matter which can thus be separated by the action of water; and repeat this process till the water, thus employed for extracting the colouring matter, ceases to be tinged. This being done, infuse the carthamus, thus deprived of its yellow colouring matter, in a weak solution of carbonate of soda in water, which will extract the red colouring matter that it contains, and which is soluble in the silk, whilst the acid of the lemon juice combines with the alcali of the carbonate of potash.

To dye wool brown, fawn, and Nankeen Colour

Wool may be dyed a brown or fawn colour by making a decoction of the green covering of the walnut. It is well known that walnut-peels strongly dye the skin. To dye brown with them, nothing else is required than to immerse the article in a warm decoction of them, till it has acquired the wished-for colour. The intensity of the colour is proportioned to the strength of the decoction. The walnut-husks may be kept for a long time, indeed for many years, in vessels filled with water. The root and bark of the walnut-tree give a decoction much resembling the fruit-husk: it may be employed to produce a very fast buff or fawn colour; if alum be added, the dye becomes somewhat lighter. A good bright and permanent nankeen colour may be given to cotton by iron liquor (acetate of iron). It is only necessary to soak the cotton previously in a weak solution of sub-carbonate of soda or of potash, and then immerse it into the iron liquor : or the article to be dyed may he soaked first in the iron liquor, and the fluid may then be super-saturated with a solution of a sub-carbonated alcali. It must afterwards be rinsed in a very weak solution of sulphuric acid.

To dye Wool, Silk, Cotton, and other stuffs, a permanent blue

Boil in a pipkin, or saucepan, nine parts, by weight, of pearl-ash, with as much bran, and one part of madder root, in a sufficient quantity of water, and add to this mixture nine parts of indigo, ground up with a little water, and keep the mixture boiling for about half an hour. Or a still richer blue dye will be obtained thus:—Mix up together one part of indigo, two parts of green vitriol, and two of quicklime, with a sufficient quantity of water; stir the mixture together, and suffer it to remain in a closed vessel for four or five days. With the clear liquor thus obtained, wool, silk, cotton, or any other article, may be dyed a permanent blue. The article comes out of the dye of a green colour, and turns blue by exposure to the air. When the article is thus dyed blue, it is necessary to rinse it in water very slightly acidulated with sulphuric acid. This heightens the colour, and extracts any earthy matter, which would give a harsh feel to the stuff, and impair the lustre. Every kind of stuff may be dyed blue with this dye.

Further reading:
Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions &c, 1816

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