Traditional dyes of the Scottish Highlands
The following are the principal dyestuffs with the colours they produce. Several of the tints are very bright, but have now been superseded by various mineral dyes. The Latin names are given where known and also the Scottish Gaelic names for various ingredients. Amateurs may wish to experiment with some of the suggestions, but should note that urine (human or animal) is used in many recipes as a mordant. They should also note that a number of the recipes used are for more than one colour, and that this chart is only a guide, and also that Scottish Gaelic spelling is subject to variations.
- Claret – "corcur" – a lichen scraped off rocks and steeped in urine for three months, then taken out, made into cakes, and hung in bags to dry. When used these cakes are reduced to powder, and the colour fixed with alum.
Black – Dubh
- Black (finest) –
Blue – Gorm
Brown – Donn
- Dark chestnut-brown
- Roots of "rabhagach", the white water lily
- Dark brown
- Blaeberry with nut-galls
- Reddish brown - Ruadh
- The dark purple lichen ‘cen cerig cen du' (gun chéire gun dubh – i.e. neither crimson nor black) treated in the same way as the lichen for the claret dye.
- Yellowish "crotal" (type of lichen), the colour of dead leaves – Parmelia saxatilis
Green – Uaine
- "Lively" green
- Common broom
- Dark green
- Heather, Erica cinerea, "fraoch bhadain" with alum. The heather must be pulled before flowering and from a dark, shady place.
- Iris leaf ("Duilleag seileisteir")
Orange – Orains/Dearg-buidhe
Purple – Corcair/Purpaidh
Red – Dearg
- Fine red
- Rue – Galium verum, "ladies' bedstraw". A very fine red is obtained from this. Strip the bark off the roots, then boil them in water to extract the remainder of the virtue, then take the roots out and put the bark in, and boil that and the yarn together, adding alum to fix the colour.
- Galium boreale – treated in the same way as gallium virum above.
- "Cnotal corcur" – Lecanora tartarea, white and ground with urine. This was once in favour for producing a bright crimson dye.
Yellow – Buidhe
- Apple-tree, ash and buckthorn
- Poplar and elm
- Bog myrtle, Roid
- Ash roots
- Teazle – Dipsacus fullonum – lùs-an-fhùcadair/leadan
- Bracken roots – Raineach mhòr
- Cow weed
- Tops and flowers of heather, Erica, fraoch
- Wild mignonette, Reseda luteola, "lus buidhe mòr", dried, reduced to powder and boiled.
- Leaves and twigs of dwarf birch, beithe beag
- Rich Yellow
- St John's Wort, achlasan Chalum cille, fixed with alum
- Dirty yellow
The process employed is to wash the thread thoroughly in urine long kept ("fual"), rinse and wash in pure water, then put into the boiling pot of dye which is kept boiling hot on the fire. The thread is lifted now and again on the end of a stick, and again plunged in until it is all thoroughly dyed. If blue, the thread is then washed in salt water but any other colour uses fresh water.
This article incorporates text from "Dwelly's [Scottish] Gaelic Dictionary" (1911). (Dath), with additions and corrections
- Fraser, Jean: Traditional Scottish Dyes, Canongate, 1983, ISBN 0-86241-108-4