Natural madder dye for linen

After two years of waiting, I could finally harvest some madder roots! From seed it takes three years until the first harvest, but I received some madder shoots from Michaèl Brandt from the Nederlands Openluchtmuseum in 2019, this way I could do a little harvest this year. I don’t actually know the perfect time for harvesting the roots, but I didn’t have much choice as I am not regularly in Germany anymore (where the madder patch is) and the plants were growing outside the patch onto other patches. I harvested a full row by using a spade fork. I noticed that it was really important to dig quite deep in order to get all the roots out. That was of course because I did not hill around the stems.

When I was back in the Netherlands, I immediately started to dye with the roots. I was really curious if there was a difference in dying with the orange parts of the plants and the roots, or if it really didn’t matter. For my first experiment I used old linen bedsheets and leftover industrially woven linen. I used alum mordant on the materials beforehand. I weighed the same amount of dry madder stems (I call them stems here instead of roots, because I did my first experiment with the orange part of the plant) and let them soak in a glass of water for 24h. Afterwards I made the dye-bath by putting the stems in a fine net and adding the glass with red liquid and the net into a (stainless steel) pot with approximately 1 liter of water. I heated the bath up to 80 degrees Celsius and put the fabric in there with it. I let it simmer for 3h at the same temperature and topped up some water from time to time. I let the bath cool down to room temperature with the fabric in there. Already during the process I was amazed how the colour of the fabric changed from white to pink to a light red and then to a brick-red. It was my first time dying with madder roots and to dye the colour red, I was so very happy with the result! Now I am curious if the actual root gives an even deeper red colour, or if I need to check other mordants for getting a more intense colour. I will find out soon!

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