Turkey red


Sally TuckettA guest post by Dr Sally Tuckett

Dr Sally Tuckett is postdoctoral researcher on Colouring the Nation, a two-year collaborative project between the University of Edinburgh, School of History, Classics and Archaeology and National Museums Scotland. Colouring the Nation is directed by Dr. Stana Nenadic of the University of Edinburgh and is funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Scottish Government under their Major Research Grants in the Arts and Humanities scheme. The project researches the Turkey red dyeing and printing industry in the west of Scotland in the nineteenth century.

The last Scottish Turkey factory closed within living memory, so we knew there would be an interest in rediscovering the importance of the cotton printing and dyeing industry that once dominated the Vale of Leven. But since Colouring the Nation started in 2011 we have been overwhelmed by the positive response we have received.

Turkey red patterns featuring animals and birds

Turkey red patterns featuring animals and birds.

Last year on the Feast Bowl, Graeme Yule showed some of the images we had taken of the Turkey Red Collection so far – and more of these are now available in the online exhibition. Digitising part of the Turkey Red Collection was a huge part of the project (we wish we could have done it all but with an estimated 40,000 textile samples there simply wasn’t the time!). However, another significant element has been meeting all the different people who have an interest in the industry – whether from a design perspective, from knowledge gathered working with textiles or from an interest in local history. We held a number of workshops, each with a different focus and each shedding new light (for us at least) on the Scottish Turkey red industry.

In November 2012 we met with a group of quilters from the Quilters Guild of the British Isles and it quickly became clear to us how important quilting is to the survival of Turkey red dyed and printed cottons. Quilts in America and Britain were often made with Turkey red printed cotton as it was a bright, durable fabric and lent itself well to the colourful designs. Surviving quilts are perhaps the largest body of evidence showing us how Turkey red cottons were actually used.

We have also enjoyed investigating the world of quilted garments – sadly, given the current climate, a trend which is not as popular as it was in the nineteenth century! This quilted petticoat, for instance, has survived in excellent condition. It was made by McLintock and Sons in the late nineteenth century and although we cannot say for certain the fabric was dyed and printed in Scotland, the pattern is very similar to those in the Turkey Red Collection.

Quilted petticoat by McLintock and Sons, private collection. Photo by Graeme Yule.

Quilted petticoat by McLintock and Sons, private collection. Photo by Graeme Yule.

A quilt made of Turkey red fabric. Photo by Graeme Yule.

Stana Nenadic (left) and Crissie White, formerly of the Glasgow School of Art (right) with a nineteenth-century quilt made of Turkey red fabric which was brought along to the ‘Show and Tell’ session in Alexandria, December 2012. Photo by Graeme Yule.

In December 2012 we held a ‘show and tell’ workshop in the Vale of Leven, hoping to create an atmosphere of The Antiques Roadshow meets Who Do You Think You Are? The response was incredible. Not only did more quilts come to light, but we were also shown some of the tools used by the hand block printers at the turn of the century, as well as pieces of machinery which had been recovered from the River Leven since the industry and factories had closed.

A particular highlight was meeting with people who had worked in the factories before they closed in the early ’60s. We met Annie Hussey, née Lacey, who started working at the Craft in the 1920s, and James Howard and Hugh Toole who worked for the UTR after the Second World War, all of whom were willing to share their stories.

Uncut Turkey red handkerchiefs, brought in by Robert Friel. Photo by Graeme Yule.

Sally Tuckett (left) and Stana Nenadic (right) with a length of Turkey red dyed cloth which would have been cut into handkerchiefs.  Brought in by Robert Friel to the ‘Show and Tell’ session in Alexandria, December 2012. Photo by Graeme Yule.

Most recently we held a workshop at the Edinburgh Science Festival. Richard Ashworth of the Society of Dyers and Colourists in Bradford gave us an insight into the history of natural dyes and then we had the opportunity to do some natural dyeing of our own with turmeric, helping to put into perspective just how much effort would have been required to produce natural dyes on a large scale.

Richard Ashworth of the Society of Dyers and Colourists in Bradford explains the effect of turmeric on natural and synthetic fibres at the workshop at the Edinburgh Science Festival.

Richard Ashworth of the Society of Dyers and Colourists in Bradford explains the effect of turmeric on natural and synthetic fibres at the workshop at the Edinburgh Science Festival.

Adding an acid or an alkali solution can completely change the appearance of a natural dye.

Adding an acid or an alkali solution can completely change the appearance of a natural dye.

Thanks to everyone who has participated in our various workshops, who has given us tips on sources to follow up, or has shared their experiences and knowledge of the Turkey red industry. We have thoroughly enjoyed this project and hope that others out there are inspired to find out more!

More information about the project and some its results can be found at www.colouringthenation.wordpress.com. You can see the online exhibition now.

By Graeme Yule, Photographer

Additional text by Sally Tuckett and Stana Nenadic from “Colouring the nation”, a new in-depth study of the Turkey red pattern books in the National Museums of Scotland. Textile History (Forthcoming 2012/3).

 Working with Dr Sally Tuckett from Edinburgh University I was given the task of photographing examples of Turkey red for an online exhibition hosted by National Museums Scotland. Due to the specific nature of the samples colour accuracy and continuity were of paramount importance to the cataloguing of this collection.

Turkey red

Turkey red peacock print.

The production of Turkey red dyed and printed cottons was a major industry in the west of Scotland, particularly in the mid to late nineteenth century. Although the extensive works were pulled down in the second half of the twentieth century, our knowledge of this industry is significantly aided by the survival of approximately 200 pattern books, now housed in the National Museums Scotland textiles collection.

Turkey red patterns

Turkey red floral patterns.

These pattern books are the foundation for a new study into the wider Scottish decorative textile industry. The ongoing examination of these pattern books has shown the variety and longevity of Turkey red dyed and printed patterns, as well as providing insights into wider aspects of the textile industry, including issues of design, manufacture and trade.

Turkey red patterns

Turkey red patterns.

The production of a colour-fast red dye that could withstand frequent washing and sunlight was a long-standing ambition of dyers in eighteenth-century Britain. Called ‘Turkey red’ because it originated from the Levant region, the original process, which was time-consuming and expensive, was based on the extraction of alizarin from the madder root, which was then fixed to the fibre using oil and alum, as well as a host of unsavoury ingredients such as sheep’s dung, bullock’s blood and urine.

Turkey red patterns

Turkey red geometric patterns.

Manufactured in millions of yards and in a huge variety of designs, few of these colourful textiles survive today, other than in the form of samples and designs in pattern books. Historians of textiles and dress have long recognized the importance of pattern books as sources.

Turkey red patterns

Turkey red patterns.

Pattern books were kept by manufacturers as records of their designs, manufacturing processes or orders. The National Museums Scotland Turkey Red Collection consists of 200 bound and unbound pattern books.

Turkey red patterns

Turkey red floral patterns.

In all there are approximately 40,000 items in the collection, consisting of Turkey red dyed and printed cotton samples. The condition of the pattern books and the individual samples vary considerably.

Turkey red patterns

Turkey red patterns.

These were accessioned to the National Museums Scotland collections in the 1960s on the demise of the United Turkey Red Company in Scotland, and have been largely untouched ever since.

Turkey red patterns

Turkey red patterns.

Turkey red printed fabrics were rarely encountered in everyday life in Britain other than by the industry’s workers, as the large proportion of goods were for such markets as Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, West Coast of Africa, East Asia and India. Many of the animals present in the designs represent the wildlife native to these export markets.

Turkey red patterns featuring animals and birds

Turkey red patterns featuring exotic animals and birds.

The Turkey red dyeing and printing industry in Scotland was concentrated in the Vale of Leven, Dunbartonshire. William Stirling and Sons established themselves as Turkey red printers in the early nineteenth century. Their main rivals in the Vale were two firms run by brothers, John Orr Ewing and Co. and Archibald Orr Ewing and Co.

Hunting scene

Hunting scene.

Competition between the Vale of Leven firms was brutal, with much copying and theft of designs among the rivals. Knowing that such design espionage existed makes it harder to definitively say if a pattern book belonged to one or another firm. On present research, just 41 per cent of the National Museums Scotland volumes can be securely connected with a specific Turkey red manufacturer.

Huntint scene

Hunting scene.

In 1898 William Stirling and Sons, John Orr Ewing and Co. and Archibald Orr Ewing and Co., along with Alexander Reid and Sons of Milngavie, amalgamated to form the United Turkey Red Co. Ltd. (UTR).

Pattern featuring dancers and musicians

Pattern featuring dancers and musicians.

Having set up a temporary studio in building 15 at the National Museums Collection Centre, great care was taken with lighting and exposure to ensure consistent and accurate results whilst photographing a collection of samples that varied greatly in size, condition and colour.

Each sample was photographed with a colour chart, and a strict colour management work flow was set up to insure the digital processing of the images would maintain the colour integrity of the original sample.

Turkey red pattern book with colour chart

Turkey red pattern book with colour chart.

The large files that we can produce show a level of detail within the design that is not always apparent to the naked eye.

Turkey red pattern with a horse and rider

Turkey red pattern with a horse and rider.

Using extension rings on the lenses allowed us to produce extreme detail within the images, to the point where you can almost count the individual threads of the fabric.

This image shows the threads in the cloth

Individual threads in a piece of Turkey red fabric.

The National Museums Scotland patterns books, particularly when the details they contain can be linked to other sources, are yielding a more subtle understanding of the Turkey red textile industry in Scotland than was formerly possible, showing us the rich and diverse character of this little understood industry. This joint project between National Museums Scotland and the University of Edinburgh is intended to bring a wider understanding of an aspect of the Scottish textile industry which had a global impact.

For further information about the project please visit www.colouringthenation.wordpress.com. Keep an eye on the National Museums Scotland website for more information on the online exhibition, due in 2013.