Small outline map

Story of Dyes

People have been dyeing cloth for over 5,000 years.

Until 1856 all dyes were made from plants or animals. Insects, or sea molluscs provided red or purple dyes, plant juices supplied most other colours. The most common dyes found in the Wandle Valley Mills were a black from the logwood tree and red from the brazilwood (despite its name an indigenous tree). A red was also obtained from root of madder mordanted with alum, and blue from woad and indigo.

The dyes were removed from the animals or plants by crushing and collecting the juices, or pulping and fermenting, or boiling and condensing the steam.

Once the dyes have been collected they are diluted in large vats. The clean and wet fabric is put into the vat, which is then brought to the boil and simmered until the fabric is the colour wanted. The cloth is then taken out of the vat, rinsed and dried, and is then ready to be made into clothes or furnishings.

MADDER ROOT (Produces a red dye)


WOAD (indigo) (produces a blue dye)



(Colour produced - Plant)
Purple/Pink Blackberry (fruit)
Yellow - Onion (skins)
Red - Brazilwood (wood)
Red/Orange - Madder (root)
Blue - Woad (leaves)
Green - Nettle (leaves)
Brown - Oak (bark)
Black/Grey - Logwood (bark)