Role of Scottish native plants in natural dyeing and textiles
MacIntyre, Doreen L.
Dyes have traditionally come from a wide variety of Scottish native sources, including flowering plants, clubmosses, and lichens. Many Scottish plant sources produce a range of yellows, greens and browns, but few red and blue. These colours were to a large extent provided by introductions most notably madder, woad and latterly indigo. Several species of lichens, used to obtain purple and red shades, were used in the only documented commercialisation of native plant species for dyeing. Various native species were traditionally used for their mordant (fixative) properties. Dyes were commonly used from early times. Tartan is believed to have developed as a consequence of the small dye-lots afforded by native plant material, the plaid wearer’s locality discernible by colours obtained from local plants. During the 18th century the practice of dyeing with plants became more restricted in range, concentrating within the Highlands and Islands. Consequently most records of traditional uses originate from this area. Despite the introduction of chemical dyestuffs at the end of the 19th century which almost extinguished natural dyeing, traditional dyeing has continued in the Outer Isles to the present day. During the 1970s there was a resurgence of interest in natural dyeing, more typically as a hobby than a commercial activity. Fungal dyeing, a modern day discovery with no discernible tradition, was introduced to Scotland in the early 1990s. The need for diligence in the collection of wild plants and the disposal of home dyeing effluent is well appreciated by today’s dyers. Guidelines and home test kits could be produced to support dyers in their quest to follow good practice. It is likely that additional value add could be provided through support of dye-plant production and the provision of a sustainable-source mark for artefacts using Scottish native plant sources.