Tinctorial Plants embroidery in cross stitch 1/2

Tinctorial Plants embroidery in cross stitch 1/2

- Categories : Museums and Heritage

Tinctorial plants embroidery - Museum and Heritage - First part

Flowers for dyeing threads and fabrics

I got the idea for this pattern chart when I visited the Textile Museum in Cholet. Apart from the rooms dedicated to the history and fabrication of the famous red handkerchiefs, this delightful museum has a small garden full of plants that are or were used for dyeing threads and fabrics. Flowers being a subject I am often asked to reproduce, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to create floral motifs related to textile. As with all the subjects in the Museum and Heritage Collection, I do not pretend to have explored all the plants used for dyeing fabric and thread. It is more of a subjective evocation. Even if I put in a lot of research, it was also important to find an aesthetic aspect, so that the finished result was a harmonious blend of sizes and colours.
The Cholet handkerchief loom
Cholet red handkerchief weaving loom. It is still in operation at the Textile Museum in Cholet.

The title of the embroidery

Heading of tinctorial plants embroider Sajou collection
The title is made up with letters in the style of educational charts of days gone by, used to present geographical maps showing agricultural productions and other industrial wealths. Tinctorial plants signifies “plants used for dyeing”, from the latin, tinctorius - of or belonging to plunging in or dyeing, and tingo – to moisten, dye, bathe in liquid.
As far as possible, wanting each of these projects to be embroidered on a different coloured fabric, I chose cyclamen for this one, the soft mauve colour highlighting the varied colour of the flowers. The pattern chart measures 345 points by 345. When embroidered on 12 count (per cm) linen over two strands, the finished project measures 57.5cm square. In order to leave enough fabric for mounting, I recommend using a 70 x 70cm swatch. The ribbons by the side of the flowers evoke the colours obtained by the plants. If you have not bought the complete kit, choose ribbons from your own collection similar to the colours of those on the chart.

The plants in the embroidery

Dyer's Madder

Dyer's Madder in cross stitch
Dyer’s Madder, Rubia tinctorum has been used since Antiquity – the Romans used it in Pompeii and Vaison-la-Romaine for their mural frescoes. Many French regions in the 19th century owe their economic and agricultural development to this plant. The famous French chemist, Claude Berthollet, examined this issue in the 18th century, noting that “mouldy baths dye better than fresh baths”. This was before the discovery of the benefits of bacterial action. The large root of this plant gives the inimitable red colour known as Turkey red, one of the first countries to adopt this plant for dyeing purposes. The technique quickly spread to France where the Alsace and Vaucluse were large producers of this plant. Turkey red print dresses became hugely popular in 1820’s England.


Woad, Isatis tinctoria, also known as glastum, has been cultivated for centuries in England, Germany and France. It can be traced back to Neolithic times. The town of Coventry in England was famous for their colourfast blue ­­­­fabric and the origin of the phrase “as true as Coventry blue”, often shortened to “true blue”, signifying loyal and unwavering. The production of woad was so important in the 16th century that Queen Elizabeth I issued a “Proclamation against the growing of woade” on 14th October 1585, to encourage the growth of cereals. ­­­The use of woad was superseded by the use of indigo in the 19th century, but has recently regained the interest of scientists.
Woad in cross stitch

True Indigo

True Indigo in cross stitch
Also known as true indigo, Indigofera tinctoria has been used for dyeing purposes since the dawn of time, so long in fact, that the exact origins are not known. The Latin Indigofera means “coming from India”. When the Romans imported it in compacted form, it was hardly used, except by painters. It was used by European dyers in the 1600’s, although it was considered a rival to woad. Many dyers considered it necessary to ferment the mixture, often using urine to help this process – a method still used in Scandinavia!.


Asperula tinctoria from the Latin asper, meaning rough, is the name for dyer’s woodruff, a plant often considered as a bit of nuisance, as it the flowers cling on to clothes and animal fur. It is found on mountainsides all over Europe. It has a delicate white flower and red roots, which are used for d­yeing purposes.
Woodruff in cross stitch

Carnation of the Indies

French marigold in cross stitch
Tagetes patula originates from tropical regions of South America, explaining the French name for this flower, carnation of the Indies. It arrived in 16th century France where French horticulturists created numerous varieties, and it became known in English as the French marigold. This versatile and easy to cultivate plant is used dried as a spice, in essential oils and is an excellent tinctorial plant, from which we obtain yellow, orange and even russet tones.

Dyer's rocket or weld

Reseda luteola of the oldest plants used for dyeing purposes. It is also known as Dyer’s rocket or weld, from the German walda (meaning reseda), which became gauda in Spanish and gaude in French. The botanic name Reseda luteola signifies yellow reseda. Luteolin, the principal yellow colouring, was first discovered by the French chemist, Michel-Eugène Chevreul (1786-1889). It can be found in both ­the plant and the stem.
Dyer's Rocket in cross stitch
See all the Tinctorial plant kits and pattern charts in the Museum and Heritage Collection.
Discover our collection of Sajou in bloom products.

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