Simon Garfield: Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World
Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World.

Science history buffs and folks curious about how synthetic dyes entered the world might find this book interesting. Because of my long-standing interest in color theory and dyes, it caught my eye during one of my recent visits to The Weaving Works.

Before knitting dominated my needlecraft life, I dabbled in the quilting world. I really like the concept of quilting but seem to get stumped when I can’t find fabric that matches what I have in mind. Sometimes I’m looking for a certain design to fit a theme and other times I’m looking for a specific color. My constant quests for the perfect fabric eventually lead me to the world of dyes. While I haven’t been able to commit much time to developing my dyeing skills, I still dream about being able to find more time to pursue this interest.

This book is a biography of William Perkin who accidentally came across a way to produce dye from coal-tar. He was one of the first chemists (if not the first) to translate his new discovery into a very profitable market. The author believes that Perkins is directly responsible for the hugely profitable modern chemical industry. Companies such as DuPont, BASF, AGFA and Bayer all have roots in dye manufacturing.

Besides being a biography about Perkin, this book gives some brief tidbits about the modern textile industry. My favorite is about an observation by Don Vidler who is a sales director for a company that markets Tencel. Vidler noticed that while designers and color forecasters love to come up with new exciting color pallets each season, most adhere to a “New York uniform” of all black for their personal dress.

While the subject of the book caught my interest, I didn’t particularly like how the author organized the content. The first couple of chapters were confusing. He starts by talking about Perkin but then jumps to the modern world. Once I understood the author’s formula, I started enjoying the book more. I noticed that quite few of the reviewers on Amazon also had mixed feelings about this book. I would recommend it as mildly interesting reading for those interested in dyes and textiles, giving it three out of five stars.

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