Turkey Red is made from the red root of the madder plant, related to the coffee and quinine plant, native to southern Europe. The Turkey Red process originated in China and was a foul, costly and complex process involving extracting red dye from the madder root. The process involved anamalising - that is adding urine, milk, dung, blood or egg albumen. The roots were washed, dried and ground into a fine powder. Cloth fibers were covered with a vegetable oil, dressed and treated with tannic acid, before being steamed. Turkey Red was extremely durable and did not fade in water or light.

With the introduction of cotton ways had to be found to make the cotton fibres take the natural dyes, until this time wool and silk were the only materials available and they were easily dyed naturally. The discovery of mordants in India was of great significance to the Turkey Red process. They were substances that formed a bridge between the cloth fibre and the dye enabling one to take to the other, the amount of mordant affected the intensity of the colour in the cloth; the most common modern mordant is alum.

George Mackintosh introduced Turkey Red to Scotland in 1785. He invited Pierre Jacques Papillon, a chemist from Rouen, to Scotland to show him the dyeing process. They set up Dalmarnock Works (later renamed Barrowfield) with David Dale and this became the first Turkey Red works. At this stage, only plain Turkey Red cloth and yarn were dyed.

In 1805 they sold the works to Henry Monteith who already possessed a Turkey Red factory in Blantyre as well as a factory in Bridgeton. By 1823 he could produce 224 handkerchiefs every ten minutes and exported most of them to Europe, where instead of being known as pullicates, they were known as Monteiths. The pattern of the handkerchiefs - red with white spots - became internationally famous and bandanas and scarves were also produced. These were first made using the tie-dyeing method and were imitations of earlier imports from Bengal.

It was not until 1827 when the next major breakthrough occurred. The Croftingea Works announced that it had produced dyed yarn in a commercial process and this was closely followed by Dalquhurn the following year (which, by 1850, was using 130,000 gallons of bulls' blood annually). By the late 1820s the Vale of Leven was well known for the production of Turkey Red.

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