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Turkey Red

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Turkey Red

The Turkey Red dyeing process was typically used on cotton cloth and yarn and was produced in large quantities in the nineteenth century.

The dyeing process used natural alizarin, which was extracted from madder root, along with mordants of oil and alum to fix the dye to the cloth. Other natural but rather unpleasant substances, including sheep dung, bullocks’ blood and urine, were also used in a complex, secretive and lengthy dyeing process that produced a highly valued colour that was resistant to both fading in bright sunlight and with frequent washing.  

Although produced for centuries in the east (hence the name) it was not until the late eighteenth century that European dyers perfected the Turkey Red process. It was eventually brought to Scotland by a French entrepreneur in 1785 and was quickly adopted by a number of manufacturers who owned and operated factories on the banks of the River Clyde, as well as in the Vale of Leven in Dunbartonshire. At the time, it was a large industry which employed many thousands of people during the mid- and later- nineteenth century and, as a result, produced millions of yards of dyed cloth.

Though highly competitive and profitable, the Scottish Turkey Red industry came to face challenges from rivaling production in Manchester and, by the end of the nineteenth century, was gradually undermined by Asian manufacturers and the development of cheaper synthetic dyes originating in Germany.


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