Traditional dyes of the Scottish Highlands are the
native vegetable dyes used in Scottish Gaeldom,
The following are the principal dyestuffs with the colours they produce. Several of the tints are very bright, but have now been superseded by various mineral dyes. The Latin names are given where known and also the Scottish Gaelic names for various ingredients. Amateurs may wish to experiment with some of the suggestions, but should note that urine (human or animal) is used in many recipes as a mordant. They should also note that a number of the recipes used are for more than one colour, and that this chart is only a guide.
Claret – "corcur" – a lichen scraped off rocks and steeped in urine for three months, then taken out, made into cakes, and hung in bags to dry. When used these cakes are reduced to powder, and the colour fixed with alum.
White "cnotal" – Lecanora pallacens, "cnotal geal"
Rue – Gallium virum, "ladies' bedstraw". A very fine red is obtained from this. Strip the bark off the roots, then boil them in water to extract the remainder of the virtue, then take the roots out and put the bark in, and boil that and the yarn together, adding alum to fix the colour.
Gallium boreale – treated in the same way as gallium virum above.
Blaeberry – Vaccinium myrtilis, lus-nan-dearc, with alum, verdigris and sal-ammoniac
"Cnotal corcur" – Lecanora tartarea, white and ground with urine. This was once in favour for producing a bright crimson dye.
Limestone lichen – Urceolaria calcaria, "Cnotal clach-aoil" – used by the peasantry in limestone districts, such as Shetland.
Ripe privet berries with salt. (Listed for green too!)
St John's Wort, achlasan Chalum cille, fixed with alum
Peatsoot. Obviously this ingredient on its own will not produce yellow
Rhubarb, (monk's) – Rymex alpinus – lus na purgaid
The process employed is to wash the thread thoroughly in urine long kept ("fual"), rinse and wash in pure water, then put into the boiling pot of dye which is kept boiling hot on the fire. The thread is lifted now and again on the end of a stick, and again plunged in until it is all thoroughly dyed. If blue, the thread is then washed in salt water but any other colour uses fresh water.
This article incorporates text from "Dwelly's [Scottish] Gaelic Dictionary" (1911) (Dath), with additions and corrections
Fraser, Jean: Traditional Scottish Dyes, Canongate, 1983, ISBN 0-8624-1108-4