Book Review: The Story of Colour In Textiles by Susan Kay Williams

It's the Fifth Friday Festival of Fabulousness from Mr X Stitch!

Dr. Susan Kay-Williams is Chief Executive of the Royal School of NeedleworkOpens in a new tab., so it’s safe to day that she knows a thing or two about textiles. Her new book, The Story of Colour in TextilesOpens in a new tab., is an examination of the historical development of colouring fabrics, from the earliest pre-historical references to modern synthetic methods. It’s a fascinating book.

Susan Kay Williams - The Story of Colour in Textiles

We take dyed textiles for granted in the modern age, and for many of us we are passive consumers of coloured threads and fabrics; Susan’s book unlocks the processes of dying, but places them within a historical content that makes the subject all the more fascinating. Contained within the book are interesting facts that change the way you think about the tools you use. For example, in the Middle Ages there were more colours available to painters than there were to dyers, so the woven images were unable to accurately represent the colours of the time. The examples below feature Raphael’s Healing of the Lame Man in paint and Tapestry and illustrate the point.

Raphael - The Healing of the Lame Man (1515) - Painting - via Wikimedia Commons

Exploring the methods of colour production and how these colours had to be adapted for successful application to the growing range of textiles, the book is a thorough guide to this manufacturing process and it generates a greater appreciate for the materials. But the book is also a story of power and wealth, and it’s fascinating to realise how the production of fabric and colour has played a part in global political history. The Spaniards, for example, kept the production process of cochineal so secret that it was only with the advent of microscopes that people realised the colour came from a beetle and not a berry!

The Healing of the Lame Man (1515) - Tapestry - c. Vatican Museums

If you want to learn more about fabric and colour, this book should be an essential part of your library. It’s a thoroughly researched piece of work, that will enlighten you about what it takes to make your personal embroideries filled with colour. You’ll never look at your threads in the same way again!

The Story of Colour in Textiles by Susan Kay-Williams is available from all good retailers. Why not get your copy from the Opens in a new tab.Mr X Stitch Amazon Store?

Mr X

Jamie Chalmers, aka Mr X Stitch, aka the Kingpin of Contemporary Embroidery is the founder of the Mr X Stitch site, the world's longest running embroidery blog, the curator of PUSH Stitchery and the author of the Mr X Stitch Guide to Cross Stitch. He is also the founder of XStitch, the game-changing cross stitch design magazine which launched in Summer 2017.

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