Dying clothes to imbue them with a different colour or a pattern is an ancient art. Clothes dating from the first Egyptian civilisation from approximately 4000 years ago, depict individuals wearing clothes clearly marked and coloured. Clothes have often been used by members of the upper class to differentiate between themselves and the other lower classes. The upper class would generally possess clothes of higher quality, more intricate designs, or with special dyes.
Historically, the first dyes were plant and animal in origin. They were based on flowers and plants with natural pigments. It is assumed that the first dye created was a shade of yellow. The vast majority of plants had yellow-coloured flowers.
The colour carmine is a bright red shade obtained by crushing the scales of a parasite. This parasite is found on its host, the Opuntia cacti. The Phoenician purple dye was obtained from a sea snail. The dye was extremely difficult to source, and it is estimated that 12000 snails were required to produce 1.2 grams of the dye. The scarcity and rarity of the colour meant that it was exclusive to the nobility and royalty. Possessing clothes of purple was considered a great social standard.
Blue was obtained from the Indigo plant. The colour produced is an intense shade, very dark in colour. India has had a historical relationship with Indigo, with English colonisers intensively cultivating Indigo in the states of West Bengal and Odisha.
As the importance of colours became more significant in society, new techniques were made to ease the process of dying. Mordants and Mordanting is the process of preparing a fabric before dying it. It is done to ensure that dyes bond more effectively with the fabric, it is also useful because some dyes to not bind to clothes without pre-treatment. This was one such method that allowed dyes of all sorts to stick to the fabrics.
Eventually, synthetic dyes were produced serendipitously by William Henry Perkin. And during this time many more colours were being made. The dye Mauveine, was discovered while trying to produce the anti-malaria quinine from coal tar. The dye produced a bright purple colour when applied to clothes. This allowed for large scale production of a dye which was otherwise so restricted that only the Queen in England could afford it.
Since the era of synthetic dying on an industrial scale for the masses began, Synthetic dyes had an additional advantage wherein they did not need any preparation of the fabric beforehand. They dyes would bind firmly with the fabric without the need of a mordant. The discovery of other synthetic dyes lead to the slow demise of mordanting for cotton fabrics.
We at Plair use High-quality dyes, and as a team whenever possible, indulge in hand dying our fabrics as well and see if we can create a new shade of our own! As a part of the article, we’re working towards a special collection all hand dyed which we’ll be launching very soon.
If you found this article interesting, do share and stay tuned next week for another one! Till then, why not checkout our current collection!