chapter  11
The secret recipes of Turkey red
Pages 50

THESE TWO chapters might appear to be about the noxious stinking dyeing process, with limited appeal to those who feel equally at home in the kitchen and the cow shed. Cardon quoted an 18th-century French traveller in Greece, in the village of Anibelakia, on the hunt for the secrets of Turkey red. He noted that the stench was so bad that its only inhabitants were the dyers and their families. 1

But there are other wider implications. It is remarkable that no two of either the old or the modern numerous recipes are the same. Su Grierson, who has been distinguished both as a textile historian and a dyer, thinks that this is largely because dyers have an unrecorded and therefore unrecognised practical lore which corrects and improves during the stages of the dyeing process. She cites the example of a battalion of chemists and other experts being defeated by the mystery of obtaining the ancient Phoenician purple from molluscs, until-quite recently-a practising woad dyer, John Edmonds, broke the secret using his practical know-how (see chapter 17). There seems to have been a body of knowledge and skill which is almost lost nowadays. 2

The problem of how the dyer arrived at a complicated successful method which seems to have no clear chemical logic can partly be resolved by his employment of an accumulated practical dexterity which bred its own innovation. In addition, a new theory is described in chapter 17. It is based on a reconstruction of the landscape of an ancient dyers’ thought, which was a combination of folkloric symbolism with the various philosophic attributes of colour put forward by the medieval Arab writers, derived from the Ancient Greek texts.