Madder - Rubia Tinctoria

From: Carol Todd

The quality of dried madder purchased from stores seems to vary. The best red I ever got from madder was when I used the following recipe using my own dried roots from 3 year old plants.


ALUM - GOOD TO EXCELLENT, color faded slightly
COPPER - EXCELLENT, very little color change
TIN -GOOD TO EXCELLENT, color faded slightly toward orange

Tested by hanging yarn outdoors at mid-summer in full sun for 4 weeks. Both alum and tin gave a similar color of red. The alum-mordanted yarn was a little more lightfast than the tin.

2 oz. dried root from my 3-year old plants, dug up in February.
1 oz. pre-mordanted handspun yarn, pre-soaked overnight before dyeing

1) Soak dried madder root overnight.
2) Slowly raise temperature to 180-190 degrees F. DO NOT BOIL. High temperatures make the reds turn towards brown.
3) Keep at 180 degrees for 20 minutes.
4) Add presoaked, pre-mordanted yarn. Bring to 180-190 degrees again and hold at that temperature for 1 hour.
5) Cool 2 days in dyebath.
6) Rinse in cool water.
7) Hang to dry in shade.

From Nelda (fibers)
For 1 lb. RED Silk
Prepare a dye bath of 4 to 6 oz fresh madder.
Add 1 lb of alum/cream of tarter pre-mordanted silk.

VERY SLOWLY raise the temp to 180*. Hold there for about one hour. Allow to cool over night in dye bath. Rinse and dry. If you want a lighter color like dark peach it will of course require less dye material.

From Ian Bowers
The lower the mordanting temperature and the longer/slower the dyeing process the better quality of colour extracted; stay around blood temperature if you have the patience.

A local carpet weaver who creates medieval table carpets, among others, has found that one factor leading to a good quality red from madder is to use alum mordant, BUT to steep the yarn in the mordant solution (25% weight of alum) for up to 40 days at temperatures not exceeding 40C. Actually leaving it for 24 hours givs a good red but a discernible difference can be seen right up to the end of the soaking. Then dye at a low temperature (ie below 40C) for as long as a period as your patience will allow.

From Susanne Grosjean
The best madder bath I did was from madder my mother grew in Balto, Maryland (in 1976). I dyed 10 lbs wool with 1 lb fresh root. (one or 2 years old, I forget).

Madder Tips

I've used madder with an alum mordant, and gotten a wonderful Chinese lacquer red. I did use a fairly heavy concentration of madder root to wool to get the intense color. On another batch, I used some that might have been old, not ground too well, and got a very nice coral color (but not what I had in mind.)
Something like 18 different compounds of pigments are in the roots, so somehow dyers are getting the wrong ones. The most likely solution is that the water contains something that is not bringing out the bluer reds, but is concentrating the yellows and browns, and, in effect, is acting as a further mordant (that you don't want). Wool for the British redcoats was dyed with madder, using an alum mordant.

I've had some great luck with madder, but I think age of the dyestuff has someting to do with it. You'd think that color in dried roots would remain the same, but try to get some fresh, use A LOT, and you may have to test the ph level, the problem may have to do with the water quality in your area.

Are you familiar with A Weaver's GArden by Rita Buchanan. Rita's done a lot with madder, grown a lot in fact, and we talked a lot about the strength of color problem, and came up witht the age theory!

I got orange tones, some deep roses (kind of - with orange overtones) and some purple-ish tones with chrome. VERY NICE!

Be sure to keep the temperature of the madder bath down to 180 degrees. A higher temperature knocks out the red and brings out yellow tones. Nevertheless, madder is a yellower red than cochineal.

I thought you might be interested in what J. & R. Bronson (weavers &c) said about Madder in 1817:

Madder is used in dyeing red, cinnamon, etc.. Ground madder should appear of a bright yellowish red-brown, and it should smell sweet and fresh.

Woolen cloth, mordanted with alum and tartar, gives the most durable of all reds. Cochineal gives a brighter scarlet than madder, but madder red keeps its color better when washed.

For the best madder red, be very careful to keep the dyepot considerably below boiling. Increase the fire towards the end, so that it boils only a minute or two before the wool is taken out. If it boils for a long time, it would extract the light brown matter contained in madder, which would change it to a dull dark red

From Louisa Chadwick
Madder needs a lower simmer so the browner elements aren't released and it prefers a slightly alkaline dyebath (harder water). In my area that means adding a bit of washing soda since our water is very soft.

From Deanna Apfel
My weekend class worked with madder this past weekend. The madder was/is gorgeous. Due to time constraints, the teacher broke all rules and put alum in the dyebath, no premordanting of fabric.

Raw silk: deep rich rust
Silk Habotai: same
Cotton: rich pink, as opposed to bright pink. It's a pink I can live with.

From Annette Johnston
I just checked my samples and see that the deepest red in my samples was achieved with chrome mordant. I agree that the iron dulls it too much. Watch your temperatures when using madder. If you let it come anywhere near the boil, the colours will shift to browns.

Hard Water/Chalk

From Carol Todd
Rita Buchanan says in her book, A Dyer's Garden,
Roots can be used immediately or dried. Grind dry roots in a blender. A tablespoon of ground limestone or chalk dust will bring out the red pigment. It is my understanding that she uses this amount of chalk dust for 4 oz. of wool and the roots from 2 madder plants.

Ida Grae in Nature's Colors uses 3 1/2 oz. madder, to 1/6 oz. ground chalk, to 8 oz. wool. I don't know if the madder roots are fresh or dried.

I seem to remember that madder does better in slightly hard water. See Ida Grae. She calls for some chalk (limestone).

Madder usually required hard water with a calcium content.

I do know some of the old dye books specify hard water for madder, and adding slaked lime if necessary.

Powdered, or Ground Madder

From Ian Bowers Ian
'Powder madder'. Generally it is easier to use this form as the dye is extracted more readily, however there has been a continuing worry about the level of adulteration of the powder with soils and other inert substances. We have certainly had this problem from suppliers in the past, and have found considerable level of impurities which dull the colour and limit the amount of dyestuffs extracted; this is not a problem with our present supplier, based in Turkey. With the roots WYSIWIG.

From Gina Gerhard
I almost always use ground madder as it is readily available from my supplier, saves the time and hassle of grinding, and is about the same price. I heard once from someone that they had experience with the ground madder being not as good quality. I have read that madder vendors sometimes mix impurities (brick dust, other stuff) into the ground madder because it is not noticeable.

I soak the madder "dust" for 1-2 days, and find a little Dawn or Palmolive will help it mix in with the water better.

I do know it's important to grind the root well, to release the red pigments, which are deeper in the roots. The browns tend to be in the "bark" and closer to the surface.

I usually soak the dried madder root for a couple of days in plain water, then grind it in an old blender (I wouldn't use a food one, especially because the roots really dig into the jar, and sometimes bend the blades). An old fashioned meat or coffee grinder would probably work best. A newer coffee grinder (which you can't use for grinding wet stuff) just bounces the stuff around.

Make sure you grind the madder as fine as possible. I even soak it for several days, then grind it again in a blender, to extract as much color as possible.

From NANCY ROSE When I was doing natural dying, some years ago, I would soak the madder overnight in water to cover, which softens it considerably, then run it through the blender with the soaking water until it was nearly a paste.

Curing and Preparing Madder Roots

From Louisa Chadwick
In an old newsletter from Gordon's Naturals, a dyestuff supplier from the early '80's, Flo Ann Gordon wrote that she thought commercially available madder root was insufficiently cured. She recommended putting it in the oven at 150 deg.F. for 2 or more hours. Then pulverize it (she used a blender) to get it as fine as possible before using the madder in the dyepot. She claimed this gives brighter colours. I've never read this anywhere else before and haven't tried it myself yet.

From Dick Lindell
J.& R. Bronson (weavers etc.) says to dig roots in September and October. Sort and wash in clean cold water and dry by a stove heat.

The first pounding separates and brings into the form of a powder the smallest fibres of the roots, with the skin or husk of the larger ones, and any earth which may have been left adhering thereto. This powder being sifted is used for cheap, dark colors.

A second pounding separates about one third of the remaining part of the larger roots. This is sifted and is called ordinary powder.

The third and last pounding is made from the residue and bright part of the roots; this produces the best of reds.

Growing Madder

From Nelda (fibers)
A container about 24" in dia., allowed to grow for 3 years, should yield enough roots to dye 10 lbs of fiber. The vines will of course out grow the container but I just lay them back into the contain and bury the ends so they will produce more roots. Madder doesn't become root bound as some plants do.

I have been growing madder for years. I keep in check by planting in a LARGE plastic garbage can, cut in half w/holes in the bottom. In the winter, I put it on a dolie and roll into the carport. Granted, we don't have very cold winters in Gulf Coast Texas, but the vines are doing well for me. It isn't a very pretty vine but I don't mind because the roots yield wonderful reds. Never to be compared to the dried roots I used to buy. Native Seed /Search has the seeds, but they are a bit hard to start so plant twice what you really want.

P.S. It does take at least three years for the colors to develop well in the roots.

From Dick Lindell
J. & R. Bronson (weavers &c)says to place plants 4 feet apart in a rich deep soil. Roots will grow to a depth of two feet or more.

From Susanne Grosjean
Last spring I got some seeds from Richter's. Beautiful germination. Planted the month old seedlings in a mixture of compost and gravel. Many years ago my madder did terribly in my heavy , wet, cold, eastern Maine soil. After an entire summer and early fall of no rain the plants took off with Sept. rains. They grew 2 feet tall and a few even set seed! I'm so exited. I banked them and hope they will make it through a Maine winter.

From Carol Todd -

Rita Buchanan says in her book, A Dyer's Garden, grow madder in full sun, in fertile well-drained soil. Add ground limestone to acid soils. Roots should be at least 2 years old. Dig when plant is dormant, (Fall or Spring).

Madder messages without email address are courtesy of Ron Parker at the FiberNet BBS.


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