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The elusive menkudu red

September 21, 2011

Today we had the honour of receiving Patricia Cheesman who has lived in Chiang Mai for 27 years. She is a teacher at Chiang Mai university and she founded Naenna Textiles Gallery. The purpose of the visit was to track down some ingredients for making a rare red colour to dye cotton. She brought her friend Simon who lives in Bali. Luckily Dokmai Garden had the ingredients lacking and so we are looking forward to the results of an exciting experiment.

Recipe for oiling process (weights refer to fresh weight):

150 g 100% cotton threads (Gossypium sp., Malvaceae).

300 g of candlenut oil (Aleurites moluccana, Euphorbiaceae).

10 large green leaves of the giant milkweed (Calotropis gigantea, Apocynaceae).

45 g root of Datura metel var. fastuosa or eggplant (Solanum melongena, Solanaceae).

45 g of turmeric rhizome (Curcuma longa, Zingiberaceae).

45 g of bark of Erythrina variegata (Fabaceae).

45 g of bark of kapok (Ceiba pentandra, Bombacaceae).

Soak the cotton in this mixture for 48 hours and then sun dry the cotton for 4 weeks.


Recipe for dyeing

2.25 litres of water

300 g of pounded bark of roots of Morinda tomentosa (Rubiaceae). The original menkudu is M. citrifolia.

60 g of dried fallen leaves of Sweetleaf (Symplocos racemosa or other species, Symplocaceae). This plant accumulates aluminium and so replaces industrial aluminium salts to make the pigment adhere to the cotton fibres. Similarly the clubmoss Lycopodium thyoides (syn. Diphasium complanatum) was used in Europe before alum was discovered.

Soak the oiled cotton in the dyeing mix for 48 hours.

The bark of Dokmai Garden’s Erythrina variegata is inspected before harvesting. The hands get yellow from simply handling the bark.

Simon carries his own herbal book, a collection of plants useful for textile dyeing. Wool dyeing is popular in temperate climates, but not may people wear wool in the tropics, and so the recipes are different to suit the cotton cellulose fibers. Silk is of course a protein fiber like wool.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell (I adapted Patricia’s recipe to fit gardeners).

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