Sample of printed cotton cloth showing a trade mark for ‘First Quality Turkey Red’, 1867. Image courtesy National Museums Scotland with kind permission of Coats plc
A vibrant online exhibition from National Museums Scotland explains the history of ‘Turkey red in Scotland’, an ancient dyeing process that formed a thriving industry in the Vale of Leven, Dumbartonshire during the 19th century. The bright, fast red produced in the sophisticated process became the preserve of the wealthy who desired to have their cotton textiles dyed a sumptuous hue of crimson! Unlike colours such as black and yellow, the method of producing red remained an expensive process due to the complexities involved in its creation. Synthetic dyes eventually won out, but not before a beautifully ornate history had been spun as the ‘Colouring the Nation’ exhibition demonstrates.
Textile sample of Turkey red dyed and printed cotton, c 1840-50. Image courtesy of National Museums Scotland with kind permission of Coats plc
The exhibition is based on a collection of 200 pattern books (the Turkey red Collection) which National Museums acquired when the Scottish industry ceased trade in the 1960s. Much like the Stoddard Design Library held by GSA Library, these pattern books were consulted as in-house design tools with a few kept as ‘show books’ for merchants and esteemed customers. The useful feature of the collection from a research point of view is that the books also form a record of the printing techniques used, something which the online exhibition has successfully adapted to interactive format. Over 500 of the designs from these pattern books are included in the exhibition, all of which are compelling not only for their variety and opulence, but for the stories they tell about the Scottish textile industry’s international client-base.
Textile sample with hand block printed design of five peacocks within a large paisley motif and one large peacock to the right with floral borders, c1860. Image courtesy of National Museums Scotland with kind permission of Coats plc
This is a visual feast of colour for the eyes which vividly recalls the history of a glorious age in the history of Scottish textiles. Search the collection by theme or conduct research into the history of the industry and its textiles by reading the collection of interpretive essays.
We’re currently cataloguing a collection of shawl designs from the 1840s-1850s featuring the Kashmir cypress cone or ‘Paisley’ pattern, so named because weavers in the town of Paisley near Glasgow, became the foremost producers of these shawls in the early 19th century. Some of the designs in the collection were donated by T C Campbell Mackie (1886–1952), an architect and Head of the School of Design at Glasgow School of Art from 1920-1948, who used the designs as teaching aids.
They’re far too pretty to keep to ourselves. The catalogue should hopefully be available to view on the Archives Hub soon.
The ‘Colouring the Nation’ project is a two-year collaborative research project between the University of Edinburgh and the National Museums Scotland, funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Scottish Government. It will investigate various fancy textile industries of Scotland from the nineteenth century to the present day, including the Turkey red dyeing and printing industry in the west of Scotland. Research is primarily based on the Turkey Red Collection of pattern books and textile samples held in the National Museums Scotland. Some images from these pattern books and more information about the project are available here.