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Red Dyes with Making & Knowing

Date: 22 March 2019
Location: Columbia University, New York
Organised by: Sophie Pitman and Naomi Rosenkranz


How did artisans create vivid red textiles? What can grinding cochineal and kermes teach us about early modern dye techniques? What early modern colour worlds are possible to experience through reconstruction?

This reconstruction collaboration dye workshop was organised by Sophie Pitman and Naomi Rosenkranz, Project Manager at the Making and Knowing Project, Columbia University. Its aim was to enable hands-on experimentation with a range of materials commonly used in the early modern period for dyeing red, including the widespread madder, the expensive kermes and the potent cochineal, one of the new materials being imported into early modern Europe. The workshop also was intended to foster a collaboration between the Making and Knowing Project at Columbia University with the Refashioning the Renaissance Project.


  • To experience the processes of dyeing with cochineal, kermes, madder, and weld, and to see the range of colours achieved with different natural dyestuffs
  • To dye silk, wool, and linen with natural colorants in order that we have samples for later testing with stain removers
  • To learn about safe handling of materials in a chemical laboratory


  • Experiencing the range of vivid hues created by natural colourants
  • Witnessing how different materials take on dyestuffs
  • Highlighted the importance of engaging with materials in order to value the skills of dyers, and the wide range of variable ingredients and techniques that could be used to achieve colour
  • Handling natural materials and learning how to work with a range of tools, such as a mortar and pestle.
  • Sharing organisational and note-taking techniques with colleagues, and experiencing working in a scientific lab environment