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Early bleach works were simply fields intersected by channels of water with rows of beech hedge between them. The hedges prevented the cloth from being blown about. The cloth was spread out on the grass and water from the channels was sprinkled over it. This was a seasonal activity, but could take about four months, cloth could only be outside during the summer months. It was not until the chloride of lime process was discovered by Charles Tennant from Glasgow in 1749 that bleaching became independent of the weather and could be carried out indoors in a day. Later, chemicals such as chloride and sulphuric acid were also used. Between 1728-1768, the bleaching process stopped being an end in itself and became part of a production process. Boiling off was the first stage in the Turkey Red process. Cloth arrived in a grey state and was washed in vats of boiling water with bleach to take the stiffness out of the material. This was stirred with poles. It was then left in piles to go into a dryer which were about 10ft high and 6ft across. Once the cloth was dry, it left the department.


Once the cloth had been bleached it was printed. The cotton or linen was printed with a mordant so that, when immersed in the vat of dye, it reacted to produce waterproof, permanent areas of colour. The dye was taken up by the unmordanted areas but could then be washed out. Depending on the type of mordant, different shades could be produced. Most mordants are metal salts which form a bridge between the dye and the cloth. The most popular is alum which produces red from madder, but iron could be used with cedar, logwood or on its own to create dull colours and blacks and browns. Copper brought out green. The printer used a block containing one mordant down the whole length of the cloth and then repeated the process with a different block and mordant. Mordants based on different strengths of alum and eron produced red, browns and purples. Yellow and drabs were produced by mordants containing weld. Blue was pencilled in with a brush by using indigo and greens were made by pencilling indigo in over yellow. This task was normally carried out by women or girls. To save money, yellows were often blocked or printed in to avoid additional dyeing but the yellow dye in this method was fugitive and in many eighteenth century textiles, this has almost entirely disappeared. The cloth was then left for a few days so that the mordant could bind with the cloth. Eventually, steam was used to set up the mordant in a process called aging. This also removed extra mordant or thickening agents left on the surface before it was dyed in the vat.


Then came immersion in the vat of dye to which dung, urine and blood could be added to make the mordant active. This was called animalising. By the second half of the nineteenth century, the dyeing agent in madder - alizarin could be extracted in a concentrate and applied as a paste in a steam chamber. It was not until 1870 that Turkey Red could be produced artificially, this was known as para red. The dyeing process took three and a half hours in the 1840s and three dyes per day were often completed by the teams of a man and a boy per vat. New mordants could be applied after the cloth was dried. Henry Monteith improved on a process where several colours could be fixed to fabric at one time, enabling quicker production of his handkerchiefs. He used a perforated press in which layers of cloth were stretched and a discharge liquid poured through, this led to fast, efficient production. The colours used in discharge were limited to a bright citrus yellow, a bright mid-blue and a mid-green as well as black and white. This process was invented by Koechlin of Mulhouse in 1810.


Patterns were, at first, simple designs using three colours. This was done by hand, and printing blocks cut out by a block cutter. Printing blocks were either wood or were made up of copper inlaid with felt. The maximum size was 460 mm square. Pins on the end of each block allowed them to be placed on a track so that all the patterns were correctly aligned. A different block was required for each colour in the pattern. The spaces between the lines were cut away leaving the design standing in relief, as in letter press printing. The colour was then applied to the surface of the block and the coloured block pressed down on the cloth. The pigments for printing were mixed with starch, gum or varnish so that the colour was in a viscous state and didn't run from the raised portions of the block. Additional colours were applied by a brush. The first block printing was done at Levenfield. Thomas Bell invented a method of engraving the pattern onto a copper cylinder - the 'roll method' in 1783 although it wasn't widely used until the middle of the nineteenth century. The rollers were printed with a tar-like substance and the unpainted bits etched with acid. This method presented the foundation of the roller printing we still use today.


After printing the cloth went into a steaming box, ammonia was then poured in which brightened the colours. The cloth was then sent to the calendaring department for gloss and then beetled by being hit with big metal or wooden hammers to produce a soft finish. Hurlie men transported the newly dried cloth in wagons to the folding women. They ranged from girls of fourteen to women of fifty. Piles of cloth were separated and sorted; graded to size and colour and pattern. Then they were then trimmed and folded. Tickets were used for identification, marks of quality and to indicate the destination and market for which the cloth was intended. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the labels were black and white and were designed not to offend caste or religion and to appeal to as many people as possible. These evolved into colourful labels bearing the manufacturer's name. They served as a brand trademark and built up a strong loyalty among customers. By the end of the nineteenth century, Hindu themes dominated the tickets as they were the largest and wealthiest sector of the population, as well as being the brokers and sellers of the cloth in the bazaars. The tickets were usually 7x10 inches and bore the company name (which was translated into three or four Indian languages) and had space at the bottom for the length of material in the bale to be added.

Methods of Printing

The technical term for a method of printing is a style.

There are four main styles, these are:

• Discharge

• Direct

• Resist

• Dyed

Discharge Style

This involves the fabric initially being dyed all one colour. A paste (called a discharge paste) is then applied which will destroy the colour, either by itself, or when submerged into a vat of another chemical. The areas where the colour disappears are called discharged. These can be over printed with other colours or a colour can sometimes be added to the discharge paste, which will simultaneously bleach one colour and add another.

Direct Style

In this process, the colour is printed onto the fabric. The print paste contains the dye together with any other chemical that is necessary to fix the colour to the fabric fibres. The style was used very little until the development of synthetic dyes. It is the most important style in use today, when many fabrics are now printed with pigments rather than dyes. The process is cheap but not easy and the results are sometimes not of the highest quality.

Resist Style

This involves masking areas of fabric to prevent the dye being absorbed. In batik, the areas are covered with wax which is removed after dyeing, a method very common in Java and West Africa. Tie and dye is another method of the resist style in which the fabric is tied around with a small cord. This method is still used in Africa, especially Nigeria, and was extremely popular in Europe for much of the nineteenth century when a thick paste of gum or pipeclay was used to make a pattern.

Dyed Style

This method was used in ancient Egypt and was still of great importance in the nineteenth century. It is based on the use of dyes that need a mordant to fix them onto the fabric. By using the same dye but in different strengths and different mordants a wide variety of colours could be produced. This method involves printing the fabric with a mordant followed by immersion in a dye and then washing. This style was mainly used with the dye madder and Turkey Red is a good example of the use of this style.


The labels used by the Vale of Leven Companies were themselves great pieces of art. The labels told the buyers in India,China,Japan and the West Indies whose cloth it was, who had printed it and the length and weight of it. Each print works had its own set of labels, and even after the amalgamation of firms the labels remained.

The designing of the labels was the only part of the process not carried out by the United Turkey Red Company.