Turkey Red


Photo curtesy of Pixabay.com

One wouldn’t think that a color could elicit world wide espionage and deceit, but in the 1700’s that is exactly what happened with a dye that produced a colorfast, bright red fabric. Up until the time when “Turkey Red” became available on a global scale, red fabrics would have a brownish hue and with sun exposure and regular washing, it would fade quite quickly. But due to a unique dying process that was said to have started in the Levant region of the Middle East, the world soon experienced something that would change the history of the textile industry forever.


The term “Turkey Red” refers the process of dying that was used to produce a fade resistant color. The name “Turkey Red” was used to convey to the consumer that the red dye that had been used to color the fabric, was the world renowned, fade resistant, vibrant red that they could depend on. 

red fabric

Photo curtesy of pixabay.com

It was not the people of the Middle East who perfected this dye or created a world wide demand for it though, but rather it was the skilled dyers of Holland and France who did this. Although the Dutch and the French went to great lengths to keep their recipe a secret, the persistent actions of spies from around the world finally unveiled the secret recipe and sometime in the 1780’s Britain began to manufacture, what we know as, the Turkey Red dye.



Red Yarns.png

Photo curtesy of Wikipedia.com

I have not had the privilege of seeing this particular dye process first hand, but I have read that it was quite a complex procedure involving the root of the Common Madder plant (Rubia tinctorum), rancid olive oil, sheeps dung, bullocks blood, parts of the sumac and oak botanicals, soda, alum and a solution of tin. The end result was an amazing array of colorfast reds that ranged from rose color to pumpkin orange to deep burgundy. Of course in quilting history, when we refer to Turkey Red, people automatically think of the bright red fabric that is neither orangey red or bluish red, but rather a true bright red.

Shades of Red

Photo curtesy of Wikipedia.com

Today we have a wide variety of reds to choose from especially when it comes to quilting fabrics. Take a look at this collection of reds from Moda Fabrics, Bella Solids collection:

Missouri Star Red Fabrics

Image snapshot curtesy of Missouri Star Quilt Company

There are 20 different shades of solid red fabrics available just from this one fabric line! 

Red Silk.pngTurkey red was not just for 100% cotton fabrics though; linens, duck, wool, seersucker, silk, pongee, chiffon, velvet, satin and all the rest of the fibers of the day could also be dyed using the Turkey red process. I believe that, for the most part, fabric that was dyed red was initially used in the home and perhaps for mens garments, but gradually it became fashionable for respectable women to wear it also. Cloaks, shawls, hats and even evening attire looked absolutely stunning in the popular Turkey reds of the times. The wide variety of textures that the various fabrics provided, gave different looks to different pieces of the attire, for use during different times of the day and for different occasions.

Unbeknownst to them at the time, the dyers of the Levant region of the Middle East, quite literally changed the course of textile history and possibly even the historical events that took place in the world between the years of 1700 and 1900. How cool is that?

T Quilt 2

“T” Quilt

This article could not have been written without the wonderful information that I obtained from the various sources:






6 thoughts on “Turkey Red

  1. myquiltprojects says:

    Interesting and yes did change history. During the 13 colonies and colonization of what is now the united states….fighting for our independence we certainly would not have fought the red coats. I wonder what color their coats were? And when I think of old kings and queens cloaked in red, even in red on a deck of cards. Yup very interesting! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isabella says:

      That is exactly what I was thinking! What if the British wore grass green coats? Or sky blue? How would it have effected the mentality of the men wearing those coats? How would their enemies have reacted as they saw them crossing a field? Would it have had the same fear-filled effect? I am so glad you brought this up. My husband discussed this in length the other night, but I couldn’t figure out how to include it in the article without making the post 3 pages long.

      I’m glad you liked the article, thank you for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s