Materials used to dye are called dyestuffs. Until the mid-19th century, dyestuffs were developed from natural resources. Creating the proper color required training and skill. At that time, people made certain dyes at home but purchased others at the store. Since each home batch of color was made when needed, no two batches were alike. Colors depended on the composition of the raw materials used.
Dyers followed a recipe much like a cook did. Wool could be dyed at three phases in the process: after washing, after spinning, or after weaving. The last dyeing treatment was called piece dyeing. People added washed wool or yarn skeins, dyestuffs, and a mordant to large pots of hot water and allowed them to “cook.” The color from the dye seeped into the water and eventually colored the yarn. The mordant helped attach the dye to the yarn and secure a long-lasting color. Afterwards, the dyer hung the articles to dry.
The first synthetic dye appeared in 1856 and helped to create more consistent colors between batches. Since then, artificial dyes have dominated the textile industry.
The principal dyestuffs were:
- indigo (blue)
- madder and cochineal (red)
- fustic and quercitron (yellow)
- logwood (black)
- sumac (neutrals and blacks)
An 1831 dye manual called “The Domestic Dyer or Philosophy of Fast Colours” listed the following dyestuff prices:
- Quercitron - $.06/lb.
- Fustic - $.06/lb.
- Logwood - $.06/lb.
- Madder - $.18 ¾ per pound
- Indigo - $2.25/lb.
- Cochineal - $.31 a 37 ½ per ounce
Dyeing display at the exhibit