‘Dye-versity’: Research into Glasgow’s Nineteenth-Century Dyeing Manuals

A Talk by Dr Anita Quye: Senior Lecturer in Conservation Science fgul-post
within History of Art at the GU School of Culture and Creative Arts

TalkLab, Level 3, University of Glasgow Library
followed by refreshments – all welcome!

Between the pages of nineteenth-century technical books in the University of Glasgow’s Archive and Special Collection (ASC) is a colourful treat. A rainbow palette of dyed samples of yarns and fabrics has survived, protected from excessive light and pollution. These vibrant swatches and bound bundles of yarn inside so-called dyeing manuals will please anyone interested in Victorian fashion colours. The dyed samples also chart the commercial introduction of the new synthetic dyes. The first of these was aniline purple, marketed in 1859 and better known as Perkin’s mauve. By 1899 the textile industry had a choice of over 300 synthetic dyes, but still valued a few of the natural dyes that had been used for centuries.

Dr Anita Quye, Senior Lecturer in Conservation Science at the University’s Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History (CTCTAH), has placed the ASC dyeing manuals with early synthetic dyes at the centre of her ‘Dye-versity’ project, funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland [link]. Assisted by postgraduate researcher Julie Wertz [link], Anita’s research has combined research on the literature about historical dye properties with modern micro-chemical analysis of tiny amounts from selected historical dyed samples. The finding and comparing of named and dated aniline violet, blue and magenta dyes from different commercial makers have revealed remarkable chemical consistency despite the perception of nineteenth-century industrial dye synthesis as experimental.


The distinguishing chemical ‘fingerprints’ of eleven dye types gives Anita, Julie and other heritage scientists who identify dyes in historical textiles extra confidence and knowledge in the quest to answer curatorial and conservation questions about the presence and significance of aniline dyes in mid- to late- nineteenth-century textiles. Of particular importance is the identification of dyes which are sensitive to light and moisture because their colours can fade or change during display or study. The dyeing manuals are themselves delicate historical material artefacts of paper, silk, wool, cotton and leather that need the care of archivists and conservators, and the Dye-versity project aids their colour preservation too.

Visit our website, to find out more about the Friends of GUL.

Erika Jagielko on behalf of Dr Peter V. Davies
Honorary Secretary, FGUL, and Honorary Research Fellow, SMLC, University of Glasgow



Categories: Library


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