Reviewed by Catharine Ellis
Any serious student or practitioner of natural dyeing is familiar with Dominique Cardon’s seminal reference book, Natural Dyes: Sources, Traditions, Technology, and Science (Archetype Publications, 2007). It is the ultimate sourcebook of natural dyes.
More recently, Cardon has published the working dye notes and references of two different 18th Century professional dyers: The Dyer’s Handbook: Memoirs of an 18th Century Master Colorist (2016, Oxbow Books) and Des Couleurs pour les Lumières: Antoine Janot, (2019, CNRS Publications, French only).
Last year, Cardon and her daughter Iris Brémaud published Workbook, Antoine Janot’s Colours (CNRS Publications, 2020). The book is a systematic collection of Janot’s wool dyeing recipes. This little treasure is written in both French and English and delves into the actual recipes used by the Janot workshop for the professional dyeing of woolen cloth, including mordanting processes and dyeing sequences.
Perhaps the most revolutionary part of this book is the representation of the dyed colors. Each hue is accurately illustrated to match the wool samples from the original notebooks. Cardon used a color analyzer and the CIELAB system to precisely portray each sample color. CIELAB is an international method that scientifically analyzes color using a system of coordinates and is a means of precisely communicating the palette.
Any dyer who is looking to more fully understand the mixing of natural dye colors will find this book an invaluable tool. Each color has a name. For instance, Indigo blue is represented by eight values ranging from the lightest, “off-white blue,” to the darkest, “crow’s wing”. The various shades of indigo are the basis from which greens, grays, and black are built.
A few things may cause an experienced dyer to pause, such as the amount of iron used for some colors. Cardon indicates that, although her book is faithful to Janot’s original notes, it is impossible to project all of the other variables that enter into the process of dyeing, such as time in the bath, temperature, etc.
There is much to be explored through this book, whether a dyer is trying to reproduce traditional colors or is looking to expand the use of the classical dyes (indigo, madder, cochineal, or weld). Personally, it has inspired me to delve deeper and to more systematically study color mixing with natural dyes.
Continuing the research into the work of 18th-century dyers, Dominique Cardon, Iris Brémaud, Anita Quye, and Jenny Balfour-Paul have recently published The Crutchley Archive: Red Colours on Wool Fabrics from Master Dyers, London 1716–1744 in the 2020 edition of The Textile Museum Journal.
Catharine Ellis is a studio artist and educator, specializing in woven textiles and natural dyeing. She is the author of Woven Shibori (Interweave Press, 2005, 2016) and co-author, with Joy Boutrup, of The Art and Science of Natural Dyes (Schiffer Press, 2019).