Ever wonder how dye was originally made and what was the source of its color?
I confess...I had never given it much thought until touring the American Textile History Museum in Lowell Massachusetts this past weekend with my friend and fellow designer, Jodi Peterman. There was so much to glean from the well presented and informative exhibits…one of them being where did the original origin of dye color.
I learned that animals as well as plants were the source of the color used to make dye in days long ago. So, how did we get the “Color Purple”? The story dates back to the days of mythical Hercules…the ancients believed that the dye used to make purple was found by Hercules while walking his dog along the shores of the Mediterranean.
While the dog was feasting on a rotten murex sea snail along the shore (a familiar tale for any dog owner), Hercules noticed that the dogs mouth became stained a beautiful crimson purple. Apparently, these snails secrete a fluid from their hypobranchial gland that produces a purple color when perturbed…who would have thought?
Unfortunately, the amount of fluid produced by these mollusks is so small that thousands of snails were needed to make one single ounce of the dye. As you can imagine...the color purple was an extremely expensive dye to produce and as a result became associated with only the wealthiest royalty. It was not until the mid-19th century that the discovery of aniline dyes made purple a color that anyone could afford to wear. I have never been a fan of purple...but uncovering these fun facts may cause me to add it to my wardrobe…or maybe not!