Dye recipe notebooks: bringing colour to history

8 April, 2021

Museum and library collections are overflowing with special stories. Museums tell these stories in their exhibitions. The stories from library collections are often only known to the individual visitors. Therefore, the TextielMuseum’s library starts the project Dye recipe notebooks. Jantiene van Elk (Head of the museum library) tells you more on these intriguing dye recipes and their hidden stories.

The TextielMuseum’s library stores a collection of manuscripts with dye recipes. The original, hand written recipes were used in the textile industry. A majority of them is from nineteenth century Tilburg, and the oldest document is from 1700.

Photo:  De heer J. van Meurs. Tilburg, 1836.


In February 2021, the Regionaal Archief Tilburg digitised this collection. The archive has also ‘lent’ a number of transcribers to this project. These volunteers convert hard-to-decipher manuscripts into readable text. The recipes are full of surprises: we discover beautiful names for colours and many name variations for the dyestuffs and auxiliary ingredients.

The notebooks show how Tilburg was connected to the world. Dyestuffs came from all over the world – often from European colonies. Take cochineal from Mexico, lichens from the Canary Islands, dye woods from Latin-America and indigo from the South of the United States of America, Indonesia and Surinam.

Photo left: Rubia tinctorum, Common Madder, Botanical Garden KIT, Karlsruhe, Germany. H. Zell, 7 June 2009. Photo middle: Dactylopius coccus, H. Zell, 6 Oktober 2011 Photo right: Orseille (Rocella tinctoria), Jandia, Fuerteventura, Kanarische eilanden, Spanje, Norbert Nagel, 21 Juli 2011

Citizen Science

The collection of dye recipe notebooks invites us to add new, multi-voiced stories to the history of Tilburg. The manuscripts were important for the Tilburg textile industry, but there’s so much more to research!

Photo: Dye labratory De Regenboog in Tilburg. Sjef van Delft, 1953

The museum library wants to research the context of these dye notebooks with inquisitive and curious people in a citizen science project. Citizen science is scientific research with volunteers together with or under supervision of scientists. In a first meeting the potential participants explore their research interests. Together, the participants and the library decide the direction of the project.

The project is part of the activities for the public for an exhibition on textile dyes in 2022. The results will be part of the exhibition and a publication accompanying the exhibition. The research will be published via websites, digital maps, talks, a blog, lectures, Wikipedia pages and websites such as Geheugen van Tilburg and journals. Your research will be seen!

Are you curious about the history of these dye recipes? Please sign up for the citizen science project and be a member of this research project. If you have any questions or want to register, mail to [email protected].


Curious about the manuscripts? Check out these documents:

Het verfboek van De heer J. van Meurs – Tilburg, 1891

Het verfmanuscript van S. Sterneborg – Dinxperlo, 1844

Het stalenboek van Janssens en Bierens – Tilburg, 1836