"Colouring the Nation: The Turkey Red Printed Cotton Industry in Scotland C.1840-1940" by Stana Nenadic and Sally Tuckett is a comprehensive and authoritative history of an important, but little known, part of Scotland's industrial past. "Turkey Red" was a complex method of dyeing cotton fabric in bright red patterns that arrived in Scotland in 1785. The process had originated in the middle east, which explains the name it came to be known by. Cotton was increasingly replacing wool as the material of choice for use in clothing by people across Scotland by the end of the 1700s, and the availability of a means of turning cotton into a truly attractive material added fashion to comfort and practicality as reasons for its growing popularity.
The Turkey Red industry developed primarily in the Vale of Leven, and found itself able to exploit highly lucrative markets in Asia, and in India in particular, as well as domestically. The end game, in the first half of the 1900s, was perhaps inevitable, and the industry in Scotland found itself squeezed out of existence by the increasing availability of new synthetic dyeing processes, by more efficient producers in Manchester, and by the loss of markets in India to indigenous dyers. The main Scottish companies engaged in the process merged in 1898, but Turkey Red production had largely ceased by the start of World War Two, with surviving factories turning instead to other textile products. The last factory that had been engaged in the Turkey Red process, The Alexandria Works, closed in 1960.
This book is part of a collaborative project between National Museums Scotland and the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, and is intended to show that Scotland's industrial past was not just about heavy industries such as steelmaking, shipbuilding and coal mining. The book itself tells the story of the Turkey Red industry, and also examines the dyeing process and ways in which patterns were developed and exhibited, before going on to look in detail at many of the patterns used. It concludes with chapters looking at international and domestic markets. The book makes an important contribution to our understanding of the industry and is well worth reading in its own right. It also complements very effectively National Museums Scotland's online exhibition (also entitled "Colouring the Nation") which is based on a collection of 200 pattern books, known as the Turkey Red Collection. This was acquired by the museum following the demise of the industry in Scotland in 1961. The online exhibition can be found here.