Oct 3, 2008

The color green

During the 18th century, dyes for printed fabrics were mostly made from plants and insects. Many of the dyes were not colorfast and the process of getting the desired color was laborious.
In 1800, for example, when a floral pattern required green leaves, the green color was created in a two-step process. The first step was to create the design in yellow, using dyes obtained from plants such as yellow-weed, tansy or goldenrod. The fabric would then be put into a second dye bath, over-dyeing the yellow parts with a blue dye. Common blue dyes in that era were obtained from solanum berries, woad and indigo. Many early chintzes had blue or blue-green leaves, rather than a true green. Even when a good green was obtained by double printing blue and yellow, the yellow was not colorfast and washed out, leaving blue leaves.
Chemists in both England and France worked in great secrecy to try to find new chemical dyes and improved methods of applying color. In 1808, a colorfast green from a base of peroxide of tin was discovered by the Jouy Manufactory and was called vert faïence. The intentional use of blue-green leaves in floral fabrics persisted throughout the 19th century, giving an 18th century look to 19th century chintzes. The fragment of chintz pictured below is from about 1850.