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Madder ~ Getting Started

Natural Dyeing with Madder Root

Earthy gorgeous reds epitomize the Natural Dye revolution.

And Madder Root, with its ancient history -- its color, always in concert with other natural hues, and its process, brewing a cauldron of long-lasting color, one pot at a time -- is no newcomer.


Madder is sourced from the root of the Madder (Rubia cordifolia) plant, a perennial from the coffee family. Madder is traditionally grown in the Mediterranean, Europe, Africa and Asia.

Madder can be purchased as wood chips and bits, as a pulverized mix of bits and pieces, and as a powder. All sources work beautifully to color, but the larger the chunks, the more time will be needed to extract the color from the fibrous woody parts.


Madder is an important medicine in Ayurveda and an ancient Natural Dye, used in much of the world for thousands of year. And today, Madder is favorite of Natural Dyers -- used to achieve gorgeous, rusty, rich red hues that feel like Nature on fiber and cloth.


I recommend diluting the Madder, if powdered, in a small quantity of water (warm or hot is fine) before adding it to the dye bath. It will be much easier to thoroughly mix in this way.


Madder, like so many Natural Dyes, will show color differently on different fiber and fabric types.

Madder is also pH sensitive, fluctuating color as your water content shifts--it loves hard water!

It also reacts to additives.

To achieve classic reds, use Madder after mordanting with Alum (and do not overheat).

To achieve garnet, add Iron.

To achieve orange-red shades, add Cream of Tartar.


Madder is also very heat-sensitive. So avoid heating beyond 160 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the reds present and dyeing with brightness. When boiled, the possibility of dyeing in the red department diminishes, and, after boiling, Madder dye will turn an orangey-brown that can't be shifted back.