‘ Mabel murple’s house was purple so was mabel’s hair… ’
That phrase from the poem by Sheree Fitch comes to my mind when I think of purple. The book of poems entitled ‘Toes in my nose’ was one of my favorite books when I was young. Purple along with pink is a favourite colour for many young children, until the past few years when purple has had a come back. Now, it is a trendy colour for all ages. Purple being popular is not a new thing though. In the late 1850s, a type of purple called mauveine was at it’s peak in popularity among the upper class. It was said that the ladies of the time had the ‘mauve measles’. Everyone was excited about the discovery of chemical dyes by William Perkin, a chemist in London. It just so happened that the first colour that he made, even if by accident, was mauve! After Queen Victoria wore it to her daughter’s wedding, everyone wanted a mauve frock in their own wardrobes.
Soon after the synthetic dye, mauve was discovered other colours followed, changing the way the world saw and valued colour. The cost of fabric and yarns no longer relied upon where the natural dye stuff came from, or how difficult it was to get a hold of. Aniline chemical dyes were made from byproducts of coal and tar that was used to light the streets of Europe. So it was easy to come by and inexpensive. This allowed not only the upper class to dress in brilliant colours, it had become accessible to the middle classes as well. The history of chemicals is quite fascinating and I highly recommend learning more about it in the book entitled Mauve written by Simon Garfield.
Before chemical dyes made their debut, purple dye came from a variety of places. In the 14th century a certain kind of mollusk that grew in the Mediterranean was used as a purple colorant. It took many of these sea creatures to make a purple dye, so it was very expensive and not just anyone could wear the special colour known as tyrian purple (also known as royal purple or imperial purple). Cochineal, which is a beetle that lives in South America, is used as a pink, red, or purple dye, depending on the dyeing process and mordants used.
I like to use purple in my work in the fields and the gardens that I weave. It represents wild flowers like lupins and vetch. One day I would like to grow a garden with basil, beans, carrots, broccoli and lettuce, that are all purple varieties. I think it would be quite funny.