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Kermes is a red dye derived from the dried bodies the females of a scale insect in the genus Kermes, primarily Kermes vermilio. The insects live on the sap of certain trees, especially Kermes oak tree near the Mediterranean region. The English color word crimson is derived from the word kermes, and many other languages have a word for "red" that is derived from the kermes name due to the widespread use of this dye in medieval times and the rich red color that it yields.The dye is of ancient origin; jars of kermes have been found in a Neolithic cave-burial at Adaoutse, Bouches-du-Rhône.
In the Middle Ages, rich crimson and scarlet silks dyed with kermes in the new silk-weaving centers of Italy and Sicily exceeded the legendary Tyrian purple "in status and desirability". The dyestuff was called "grain" in all Western European languages because the desiccated eggs resembled fine grains of wheat or sand , and textiles dyed with kermes were described as dyed in the grain. Woollens were frequently dyed blue with woad before spinning and weaving, and then piece-dyed in kermes, producing a wide range colors from blacks and grays through browns, murreys, purples, and sanguines. By the 14th and early 15th century, brilliant full grain pure kermes scarlet was "by far the most esteemed, most regal" color for luxury woollen textiles in the Low Countries, England, France, Spain and Italy
Following the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, Mexican cochineal, which produced a stronger dye and could thus be used in smaller quantities, replaced kermes dyes in general use in Europe.
A variety of plants produce red dyes, including a number of lichens, henna, alkanet or dyer's bugloss (Alkanna tinctoria), asafoetida and madder. Madder (Rubia tinctorum) and related plants of the Rubia family are native to many temperate zones around the world, and have been used as a source of good red dye (rose madder) since prehistory. Madder has been identified on linen in the tomb of Tutankhamun, and Pliny the Elder records madder growing near Rome. Madder was a dye of commercial importance in Europe, being cultivated in Holland and France to dye the red coats of military uniforms until the market collapsed following the development of synthetic alizarin dye in 1869. Madder was also used to dye the "hunting pinks" of Great Britain.
Turkey red was a strong, very fast red dye for cotton obtained from madder root via a complicated multistep process involving "sumac and oak galls, calf's blood, sheep's dung, oil, soda, alum, and a solution of tin." Turkey red was developed in India and spread to Turkey. Greek workers familiar with the methods of its production were brought to France in 1747, and Dutch and English spies soon discovered the secret. A sanitized version of Turkey red was being produced in Manchester by 1784, and roller-printed dress cottons with a Turkey red ground were fashionable in England by the 1820s.
Munjeet or Indian madder (Rubia cordifolia) is native to the Himalayas and other mountains of Asia and Japan. Munjeet was an important dye for the Asian cotton industry and is still used by craft dyers in Nepal.
Puccoon or bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a popular red dye among Southeastern Native American basketweavers. Choctaw basketweavers additionally use sumac for red dye. Coushattas artists from Texas and Louisiana used the water oak (Quercus nigra L.) to produce red.
A delicate rose color in Navajo rugs comes from fermented prickly pear cactus fruit, Opuntia polycantha. Navajo weavers also use rainwater and red dirt to create salmon-pink dyes.
A strong colour, which is frequently illustrated and spoken of as a preferred colour of the richer sorts. But according to some sources, red was actually seen as the colour symbolising charity. Pinkish-tone red and an almost crimson shade was also fairly common as a dye, being made from madder root mixed with chemical ingredients, such as alum; although the richest and darkest reds would take extra dyeing. Most shades could be made from the basic dyes, though they may not have had the strength of colour.
Brazilwood, was native to Europe, and was used in the manufacture of red fabric. According to some, boiled crabshells and urine made a red dye - others disagree! A deep brownish-red resin called dragonsblood was imported from India to make a deep red dye, but would have been expensive. True crimson dye, known as ‘grayne’ was made from oriental insect secretions and was expensive. Bright scarlet is likely to have been a much more costly dye, and some have quoted the use of the mineral cinnabar, or vermilion, in dyeing.
|Sappanwood (Brazilwood)||Red||from heartwood. Native to Asia, spread to northern Europe before 1200. Often used in combination with madder because of its tendency to fade. Brazil was named for the trees, not vice versa!|
|Murex purple||purples, reds, and blue-violets||From mollusks. The chemical components of mollusc dyes are very similar to indigo.|
|Mushrooms||mainly yellow or dull brown, some varieties blues, greens, reds, oranges, purples, and other colors||Difficult to impossible to tell if they were used historically.|
|Madder, Madderwort||Red||Reds from roots. Native to Middle East, spread to northern Europe before 1066. Very fast dye; has been identified in many Medieval and Renaissance textiles. England was famous for it's madder reds in the 14th C., Turkey red was also madder-based.|
|Kermes||Brilliant Reds and Purples||lac and cochineal - brilliant reds and purples from bugs. Kermes is native to Southern Europe, Lac to the far east, and various cochineals to Poland and parts of the Americas|
Reds from heartwood. Native to Asia, spread to northern Europe before 1200. Often used in combination with madder because of its tendency to fade. Brazil was named for the trees, not vice versa!
MADDER - Rubia tinctorum
The famous red, called Turkey red, was produced using madder root. The red coats of British soldiers also came from the madder plant. Once one of the only source of red pigment, madder is now only used by home dyers and heritage crafters.
All parts of the madder plant contain the pigment, alizarin, but the roots have the largest concentration. Madder is easy to grow but difficult to start from seed. If you cannot get plants from a friend, look for them in catalogs or at wool festivals. The annual Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, held outside Baltimore the first weekend in May is a wonderful place to find dye plants (and other fiber-related items).
Once you have acquired your plants, you will want to put them in a bed about three feet by twelve feet. This rather coarse and sprawling plant needs to be grown for three years before the first harvest. As the plants spread, encourage more roots by burying sections of stem with soil. Madder likes full sun and deep rich, well-limned soil. You will get more pigment if your plants are grown under good conditions.
Harvest the roots with a digging fork. You will recognize them by their bright red color and they will be as thick as pencils or fingers. Save a few plants for a new madder bed. Because madder roots also contain yellow and brown pigments, you will want to take special care washing off all the soil. A brief soaking will leach out some of the undesirable pigments, also. Expect to get about six pounds of fresh roots from a dozen plants.
EXTRACTING THE DYE - After soaking the roots to remove as much yellow and brown as possible, chop the roots coarsely and run through a food processor or blender. The finer you grind the roots the more pigment will be released. If your water is not naturally hard, add some lime or a tablespoon of baking powder per gallon of water. Use about eight ounces of fresh root per pound of fiber for a good rich shade. After grinding the roots finely, soak overnight in the dye pot - the alizarin pigment should begin to run freely in the hard water. The next day, begin heating the dye pot slowly to between 140º and 160º F. This is very important! Use a thermometer. If you get the dye bath too hot you will destroy the red pigment and only get brown. Keep the dye bath at temperature for an hour then allow enough for easy handling so you can strain out the ground root. There is still a lot of pigment left in the roots, so save them in a jar of water for producing paler shades later.
Because it is much easier to grind fresh roots than dry ones, you might want to grind all of your roots at one time and save them in plastic bags in the freezer until you need red dye. When madder was used commercially to obtain red dye, it was often fermented with other ingredients then dried and the resultant pigment cakes were sold around the world.
Either premordant your fiber or add alum and tartaric acid to the dye bath. Immerse the pre-wetted fiber and bring the pot to 140º to 160º degrees and maintain the temperature for about an hour. Allow the fiber to sit in the dye bath until cold then remove, rinse and dry. The dye bath can be used as long as it shows color to dye paler shades. The tops of the plants can also be used for dye. An advantage to using the tops is that they also contain purpurin pigments which add brilliance and lustre to the dyed fiber. The plant tops can be harvested every year for dye even if the roots are still too small. About two pounds of dried tops will dye a pound of wool.
Madder was cultivated in the Near East and Europe. The plant was 3-10 ft high and the dye was made from its roots. The plant was left in the soil for 24-30 months before harvest. The dye was from the skin of the root and its woody heart, each root about the thickness of a pencil. Asian farmers tried to make the roots larger to get more dye but Europeans were able to get more from making the roots longer instead. The roots are cleaned, dried, and then ground into powder. They were used in Ancient times but were lost to Europe from around 400 to 700 AD, and were brought back in the 900s. During the middle ages, red dye was favored almost as much as purple. Holland was the main place for growing madder, then Spain and a little in France.
The Emperor alone was allowed to wear purple robes during Roman times. Senators had to make do with purple ribbons on their togas. German emperors continued the tradition of wearing purple robes as a symbol of power and they were joined by the cardinals in 1468.
Strict clothing regulations were enforced in Europe up to the times of the French Revolution. Pure colors were reserved exclusively for the rich nobility. Preparation of pure bright colors from natural sources was very tedious. Development of complex technical processes such as extracting of carmine from the cochineal insects or red dyes from the madder plant made it finally possible to achieve bright red tones. Wearing red coats was the exclusive right of the nobility in medieval times and the red robes of kings, cardinals, judges and executioners announced their power over life and death.
Advent of modern dyeing procedures and deteriorating power of the nobility led to the demise of red as a symbol of power. Red military uniforms became common up to the 19th century, Today’s Judges on the Supreme Court in Germany wear red robes.
The Germanic god of thunder Thor had red hair, and lightning was believed to originate from blowing into his red beard. Here, Thor is fighting the giants, as painted by a Swedish artist, M.E. Winge in 1872.
Negative connotation of red
Hair of Virgin Mary and the robes of Angels were depicted red in medieval paintings. The definitely positive connotation of the color red which originated with the neolithic hunter peoples and continued with the ancient Germans starts to change around 1500. The Germanic god Thor (other names include, Ása-Thór, Donar, Donner, Thór, Thunder, Tor) had red hair. More about Thor from Ashliman at University of Pittsburg. Red animals such as the robin, the fox and the squirel were Thor’s sacred creatures. Beard and eyes of Wotan, the Germanic god of hunt, were fiery red too. Advent of Christianity diminished the power of these two Germanic gods. They were transformed into the devil with his red hair and red beard. Red haired women were reputed to be witches and whores and the poppy became the devil’s flower. Sexuality which was also associated with red was demonized in Christianity. Mary’s hair became blonde. Old sayings discriminated people with red hair or red beard: "Red hair, evil hair" and "Red beard - devil’s way". Such prejudices still prevail in some rural areas of Europe.
The effect of the color red used to play an important role in politics. Red is the most frequently used color for national flags, mostly due to its excellent visibility. Red became the symbol of communism and socialism during the Russian Revolution in 1907. Red color had usually a positive connotation in cold countries like Russia throughout history. Red Army’s alternative name was "Glorious Army" and Russian words for red (krassnyj) and beautiful (krassivyj) are very similiar. Western cultures frowned upon red color in its political sense. "Better dead than red" was popular in cold war days in the US. Black swastika of the National Socialists was painted on red background to suggest association with the working classes.
Effects of red color
Infrared radiation is used for healing purposes due to its warming and pleasant effect. The general effect of red is stimulating and appetizing. Mere perception of red color enhances the human metabolism by 13,4 % (source: Theroux 1998). It is the favourite color of children. On the other side aggression and violence can be triggered of by red color. Barnett Newman’s huge red canvasses were attacked and damaged by the viewers. Spanish bullfighters bait the bulls with red cloth - unnecessarily though - bulls are color-blind and would react to any color whatsoever. The important factor is the mere movement of the bullfighter. Red is the color of emotional outbursts: Shame or anger colors our face red. Loosing control lets one to "see red".
Red traffic lights and brake lights announce danger. Animals use red color to recognize its own kind, to announce the mating season or to issue a warning. Red in advertising is used to evoke erotic feelings (red lips, red cars, etc.).
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