Category: 

What is Madder?

Article Details
  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 December 2016
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
President Richard Nixon had an entire speech prepared in case the Apollo 11 astronauts became stranded on the Moon.  more...

December 8 ,  1965 :  Pope Paul VI promulgated Vatican II into ecumenical law.  more...

Madder is an evergreen plant native to the Old World. This plant has historically been used as a source of animal fodder, but it was commercially important for its red root, which was used to manufacture a dye known as madder or rose madder. The color varied from a medium to intense red with a rosy tint. It was one of the first dyes to be duplicated synthetically, in the form of alizarin crimson in the 1860s.

People have been using madder for centuries. Archaeological evidence shows that the Egyptians used it as a textile dye, and that it may also have been used in cosmetics. The color also appeared in Ancient Greece and Rome. It was one of the most wide-spread red dyes in use in Europe, leading people to compare people's lips to madder in verse, since the color was so commonly known.

Madder can be used on cotton, leather, wool, and silk. A mordant must be used in order to fix the dye, however, or it will run. Mordants bind with dyes to turn them insoluble, ensuring that they will bind to the material being dyed, but they do not prevent fade and eventual washout. In the case of this dye, alum was a commonly used mordant.

Ad

In addition to being used as a textile dye, madder was also employed in some traditional herbals, in the belief that it could be used to treat intestinal complaints and jaundice. The stem, flowers, roots, and seeds were all used in medical tinctures and preparations which could be swallowed or applied topically, depending on the formula. Many people thought the plant was good for the skin, especially in women, perhaps because it would have left a faint red blush behind after application.

Like other natural dyes, madder can be extremely inconsistent. Depending on how the roots are grown and handled, the color can vary, and even when a mordant is used, it is often not colorfast. As a result, most people prefer to use the synthetic form today when they want to create the distinctive rose hue of madder. However, natural pigment is still available in specialty dye shops, for people who like to experiment with traditional dyes, and enterprising crafters can also make their own dye, assuming they can find wild plants or those under cultivation, which can be a bit of a challenge.

Ad

You might also Like

Recommended

Discuss this Article

Charitable
Post 4

@TimeTheorist - I've seen rose madder hues that were considerably "pinker" than what you have described. In fact, I've seen a color that much more closely resembled hot pink called "rose madder". I think that traditionally, rose madder hue is supposed to resemble the color you've described. I guess it just goes to show how much variation there is amongst dyes, even in today's industrial market.

TimeTheorist
Post 3

@lotusfeet - I can. It's a very deep red. It's not so much a dark hue as a deep one (when compared to thinner rose reds and darker crimson hues). When rose madder paint is thinned out a bit, it has traces of a very light purple in it, which I suspect helps to give the color such a deep tone. So, simply put, it is a middle range red color with a very slight purplish undertone.

lotusfeet
Post 2

What does the now standard modern "rose madder" hue look like? Can someone describe it to me?

anon109381
Post 1

Thank you for this article. I've used Rose Madder in my paintings for a number of years and love the color, just regret the tendency for it to fade.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously

Login

username
password
forgot password?

Register

username
password
confirm
email