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
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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