Natural Dye Journal Entry 1: Madder Root

Natural Dye Journal Entries are my way of documenting parts of my natural dye journey! This post will reference more advanced dye topics/methods about the natural dye, madder root, without going into detail and explaining those parts for a new dyer. Do you have any questions? Please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email and I will answer it to the best of my abilities! If you are a dyer and have any suggestions or corrections for me, I would also love to hear from you! (And if you are looking for beginner guides/tutorials, please check this link here!)

Madder Root

Natural Dye: Madder Root

Madder is one of the oldest dyes around! It has been used throughout the European and Asian continents for centuries. In fact, there are preserved tapestries and textiles from the 16th and 17th center that still host beautiful and vibrant reds from madder dye. (Botanical Colors Blog)

Madder is considered the gold standard for obtaining red from natural dyes.

While madder is widely known and touted by the dyeing community, I have not had great luck with extracting a true red. In the past, I have at best achieved a coral or orange-red color. For this project, I was determined to get a beautiful and authentic red.

Madder Notes

Whole Madder Root (Rubia tinctorum)
Soda Ash + Detergent @ 1% WOF each
Botanical Colors
– Tannic Acid from Chestnut Bark @ 5% WOF
– Aluminum Acetate @ 10% WOF
– Wheat Bran (Post mordant bath) @ 5% WOF
200 grams of fiber
Madder Root @ 100% WOF = 200 grams
2 Pairs of Socks:
51% Hemp, 38% Organic Cotton, 11% Spandex

(Dye Extraction)
1. Soaked the roots overnight in a warm bath + dumped out the “yellows” from the roots.
2. Added fresh tap water to the pot with roots to extract the “red” dye. Strained out roots.
(Temp: ~150*F | Extraction Time: ~2hr.)

(Dye Process)
I suspended the resist-clamped hemp socks above the dye pot so that just the cuff was below the dye’s surface. Later, I also added a second pair that was fully submerged in the dye bath. The socks were heated for a full hour and left to sit in the dye pot for some time after that.
The socks were allowed to dry and were then rinsed and laundered.
(Temp: ~150*F | Extraction Time: ~1hr.)

(Extraction Methods)
– The Art and Science of Natural Dyes:
Principles, Experiments, and Results (Book)
– Botanical Color’s Website
– Maiwa’s Natural Dye Website
– Conversing with other dyers who have used and experimented with madder



* While I measured out the WOF for 2 pairs of hemp socks, the truest red was obtained after my first dip/soak in the dye bath. This dip/soak dyed only about 1/2 of the sock’s cuff on 1 pair. (See photo for reference.) Because of this, my truest red would have an adjusted WOF of ~ 400%

While my initial results were a beautiful red, once rinsed/washed, the color faded to an orange red. I hope to continue to experiment with madder in the future to find a more sure fast way to obtain and retain a true red. I do wonder if the thickness of the hemp socks as well as the 11% spandex construction could have contributed to the final, muted colors.


The chestnut bark tannin is not a favorite of mine. Next time, I would like to use gallo tannin extract or even crushed gallnuts in my tannin bath to have a more neutral undertone.

I used whole madder roots in my dye bath without chopping or grinding them into smaller pieces. In the future, I will be sure to break them down to give the dye stuff a greater surface area from which to extract dye.

I would also like to experiment with madder extract at a future time.

One of my main goals for future madder experiments is to continue pursing a true red. I have been disappointed by the orange hues I have been achieving. It certainly seems that a very high WOF is necessary for the truest reds.

Natural Dye Journal Entry 1 - Madder Root

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