Madder Dye – Rubia tinctorum

Madder Dye – Rubia tinctorum

When growing madder dye plants you will need to consider the space you have in your garden, as many can be quite large bushy plants!

Madder grows to approximately one metre high and therefore requires an area of the garden with plenty of room.

Plant the seedlings in Spring and by Summer they will have a flush of pale yellow flowers and black berries. In Winter your madder plants will die back and look like dried straw. An alkaline soil will produce a better red dye and so a handful of lime will be of benefit top you if you’re growing madder for dyeing purposes.

Once you’ve harvested the roots, wash the soil away and cut them into small pieces. You can use the roots fresh or dry and store them for future use.

Dried Madder root for dyeing
Dried Madder Root

Creating the Madder Dye

The red color in madder dye comes from the root of the plant.

Madder roots have been successfully used for the dyeing of fabrics and fibres for over 5000 years!

A basic rule of thumb when considering harvesting your Madder is ‘the older the plant, the stronger the color’. Therefore the plants should be left to mature for between 3 to 5 years (or more) before harvest.

To extract a good ‘madder red’ dye from the root of the madder plant, slowly raise the heat of the dye vat, but never higher than 180F (82C)!

To increase the intensity of the color you can hold the temperature there for an hour or more. However, if you allow it to get too hot the red will fade and the yellows will come out – resulting in a more brownish color.

The roots can be simmered a number of times – extracting varying colors – until no more color is seen.

madder final
Differing results from madder dye