Dyeing - Continued

The dye industry changed dramatically with the discovery of dyes which could be obtained in large amounts and cheaply from oil. The first of these was the violet dye, Analine, discovered in 1856 by W.H. Perkins. During the thirty years which followed, the big chemical companies found many more such dyes and produced even more by chemically altering these. The colours produced by the man-made dyes were much brighter than the traditional plant dyes.

 In the shops today, as well as the bright modern coloured tartans, it is possible to buy tartans in what are known as "old", "ancient", or "muted" colours. Again these are coloured with chemical dyes, but they are the manufacturers' attempts to reproduce the colours of the natural dyes most commonly used in and before the 18th century. There is one further variation in the dyeing, namely faded colours. This is an attempt to reproduce the colour changes which occurred in tartan which had been buried in a bog, where all the colours changed to different shades of brown.

Another important dye used for centuries in Scotland is cochineal. This is a red dye, made from the dried, dead bodies of insects. The insects are called Dactylopius Coccus. They are parasites living on certain cactus plants.

Four centuries ago, the Mexican Indians were seen using little brushes to gather the insects from their prickly host plants.

Today, however, cochineal can be found not just in Mexico. People have replanted the special cacti in many hot parts of the world, including South Africa, the Far East and Australia, and there they breed their own insects.

Dyeing is often a question of experiment and luck. Different mordants produce variations in colours. Also the time of the year when the plant was gathered has an effect. The type of ground and weather in an area also affects plant colours.

Because the weavers had to choose their colours from plants in their gardens and fields, tartans made in the same area were very often in the same colours.

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