Death of a Dyer

I wrote about Death of a Dyer here. Briefly, the book is a mystery set in 1796 in which the main character is a traveling weaver. That fact and the title compelled me to check the book out and start reading.

Within the first chapter or two, I had to do a little research, and that always takes me down a few rabbit holes. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Nankeen-a quote from Wikipedia. If you follow the link, you will see a picture and a bit about stencils and indigo on nankeen cloth.

Nankeen, also called Nankeen cloth, is a kind of pale yellowish cloth, originally made at Nanjing from a yellow variety of cotton, but subsequently manufactured from ordinary cotton which is then dyed. Also in the plural a piece or variety of this cloth.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange had nankeen cotton seeds before they were destroyed by a fire. I was glad to be reminded of this company because they have lots of interesting seeds there—worth a look.

As the title says, there is the death of a dyer, so dyestuffs are mentioned, like Spanish Red. I’ve heard of Turkey Red, but not this one. That is, until I looked it up. Spanish Red is actually cochineal. The Spanish settled in the Americas long before the pilgrims came to North America, so the red dye was already in use. Like cacao becoming a desired food, cochineal was a valuable dye material. So, even though I am familiar with cochineal, I still found some articles that are interesting. There are a few of them below.

This Washington Post article by Diane Ackerman is really a book review, but it’s still interesting. The book is A PERFECT RED: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire by Amy Butler Greenfield.

I recently was in Arizona (I spent one night with Barb Nelson) and saw a type of prickly pear that’s purple. I wish I had taken a picture of one that was covered with cochineal bugs, but we were driving down the street. If you’re interested, you can see a picture here..

Scutching was mentioned, and I was pretty sure that it has something to do with linen, or rather flax. But scutching knife? There was one that was sold on eBay.

I finished the book, although I really did not enjoy it very much. Turns out that a travelling weaver has a loom that breaks down quickly. Hmm… One small complaint—the dyer had been using local plants to find a green that was all the rage. That’s a problem since most greens from natural dyes are actually a two-step process using indigo (or woad) and overdyeing with weld or another yellow dye. Again, Wikipedia has a nice article about natural dyeing.

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