Dyeing to know…

Off following links again…  and landing for a short time at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery. 

We will not be finding ourselves at the museum any time soon.  But you may.  The exhibit continues through 2010.  And we can take a closer look through links to the current exhibition called,  

Embellished: The Art of Fabulous Fabrics

Court suit

 The notes say, “Take a closer look at textile patterns and techniques in our new Costume Gallery exhibition. From delicately embroidered florals to bold geometric prints, the clothes we wear transform us into living works of art.
From Chinese slippers to Horrockses dresses, come and discover a secret world of warps and wefts, stitches and sequins, pigments and dyes.”  The website has a wonderful slide show with detailed photographs of beautiful embroidery embellished fabrics and garments.
The current exhibition first caught our eye but then links were clicking.  Madder Modes: The Hidden Meanings of Wearing Red looked so interesting that a side trip to the past was required.  The exhibition was held in 2007.  The page on the exhibition asks, “Did you know that ‘madder’ is a type of red dye made from the root of a plant?  Or that another red dye, cochineal, is made from crushed insects?”  Now cochineal gets us close to home in two ways.  Cochineal is an insect that lives on Nopal cactus, which grows in our part of the world.  In fact, cochineal from Mexico was used to made the Red Coats red.  Cochineal is also something we talk about in Fashion History.


 All those little bugs….and their glorious color.  

The red of the cochineal was as expensive as gold. 

The Red-coats firing during a re-enactment of the Battle of Lexington

 It would be great if there were more garment and textile pictures from the exhibit but even the one picture above of the court suit gives us a feel for the images we could have seen at the exhibition.  There is a short slide show on the website.

The museum notes, “Historically, red has been worn to indicate official status, but it has also been thought to have protective and even healing qualities. In modern times, red is seen as a glamorous colour that draws attention to the wearer. In some cultures red is worn to mark a very special celebration like a wedding. Red is also the colour of romance and passion. This exhibition looks at a variety of red clothing, from hunting jackets to party frocks, and tells the stories behind them.” 

Vivienne Westwood, Red Satin Slash Shoes, c.1991

Costume and Textiles at the museum…

“There are over 6,000 items of costume at the Harris. Although the majority are women’s clothes, there are also menswear, children’s and baby’s clothing and costume accessories. The earliest item is a pair of men’s silk slippers dating from the 1620s.” 

Shall we pull out our passports? 

On a side note… Lana surely loved her dash of red… 


That red will take you places! 

Are you still here?  Okay, then how about a little more on the Horrockses dresses?  Don’t you just love it when you learn a term of speech used in an English-speaking country that differs in just a small way from the common word in usage in our own country?  Follow the link to the Horrockses dresses and you can find some fun terms of your own.  A favorite of ours is “swing tags” for hang tags.  Yeah, that has a great sound!



Filed under Art, Fashion School

2 responses to “Dyeing to know…

  1. Bianca Barragan

    I found it interesting that the bugs (cochineal) that come from the cactus can be used for red dye. I’ve used fruit and vegetables before to see which ones dye the fabric but never thought about using insects! If I ever spot a cochineal I’ll have to test it out!

  2. The mordant fixes the coloring matter, alum is the most common. Tin oxides lighten the red color toward yellow, as on the English Army coats of the 16th century. Cochineal and tin made a vermilion hue, alum would have made a more crimson color. Iron is a mordant used for dark brown and
    black, zinc works for yellow.

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