Friday, 11 June 2010

Death By Green Cardigan

I think you know already that I am an inveterate reader of just about anything. Well, just last week I was reading the fine print on a DMC shade card. This is what I read: The solid colours of DMC Mouline threads bear the OEKO-TEX label. They therefore meet human ecology standards with respect to harmful substances. This is a relief to know - but I wonder if in the past things were different. I remember my mother telling me off  for nipping embroidery threads with my lips before threading my needle - and the same with loaded watercolour paintbrushes when I wanted a delicate line. Once in the USA I bought a whole lot of delicious(!) green water colour paints which were unobtainable in the UK. The reason I later discovered was that the chemical consituents of these shades were phthalates, banned here on safety grounds. In earlier times the chemical constituent of green dyes was....Arsenic! There are tales of poor wilting Parisian flower girls who made flower leaves with green dye. In fact the colour green could and did fell whole families. It was impregnated into textiles, playing cards and even wallpaper. The compound was so unstable that the slightest draught (we have a few of those in the UK) was enough to create toxic arsenical puffs which would lead to death in a couple of weeks. The scandal was terrible and when it broke Queen Victoria had all green wallpaper removed from Buckingham Palace. But deadliest of all was the green cardigan when protecting bare arms. On a happier note, I have a Pearsall's shade card on my desk looking for a happy home. Be assured that none of the Pearsall's colours are toxic. If you would like to leave a comment here then on Sunday afternoon I shall make a draw and send the shade card to whoever is first picked out of the bag. If you are interested in reading more about the green dyes, then my source is The Arsenic Century by James C Whorton.


  1. Oo! Color chart! I love those things! Please enter me in a drawing!
    Monique in Texas

  2. Sounds like a good Sherlock Holmes series J!! The Dye Murderer; I was not aware of this, but never to old to learn :-)))

  3. Ooo! A shade card! I love those! Please enter me in a drawing.

  4. Jacqueline,

    How interesting about the color green! Who ever would have thought of it?? Arsenic???? OUCH!

    Please put me in the drawing for the card? I have a few sample cards - but none of Pearsall's Silks.

    I don't know, but has anyone noticed that sample cards with real threads are getting hard to find? Even DMC has done away with the real thread sample card (I have one, thankfully!) And to make things worse, some of our favorite threads don't even have a sample card to find! (Overdyed threads for example)

    It's frustrating to say the least!

    Anyway, I hope your day and weekend to come is lovely. :D


  5. Your story reminded me of when I was learning to spin. The woman who taught me to spin yarn was a nurse and said that commercially prepared wool was dipped in sulfuric acid before washing the fleece to prepare it for apinning. And she didn't know anyone who wasn't a little allergic to sulfuric acid. After that comment I always handwashed my fleeces with a mild, natural soap. It takes longer, but there isn't any sulfuric acid in the bath water. Of course, I can't speak about the commercial yarn I've bought....

    Would love to enter your giveaway! Thank you!

  6. That explains why my mum always said it was unlucky to wear Green but never knew why (and no she is not as old as Queen Victoria) LOL:-) Thank you for the interesting article as always.

  7. I have never heard of Pearsall's silk. I would love to investigate. I always wondered why my mom passed on the same information to me. "Do not put the threads in your mouth before threading the needle." Maybe she did not even know why for sure.

    Please put me in the drawing too.


  8. I'll admit that I'm a thread-licker, but perhaps I can blame my obsessive collecting of sampler charts and almost every thread color I can find on the old dye chemicals that I have absorbed over the years?

    I'd love a Pearsall's color card, ordered one last year but it was unavailable at the time.

  9. I used to know a textile conservator who preached against thread-licking, swearing that the chemicals in saliva would break down the fibers or dyes in the thread. She described examining an old sampler in which the thread ends were all discolored. "It's either licking," she said, "or some mouse peed very precisely." That engendered a usenet debate about whether drawing licked thread through the work contaminated the whole project or whether cutting off the licked bit or washing the piece after completion was sufficient to preserve precious needlework forever. Lickers :-)~ and non-lickers :-X took good-natured sides in the Great Floss War. Where do you stand?

  10. Oh, I just got my first ever shipment of Pearsall's, and the colors are just lovely!

    Please enter me in the drawing, thanks!

  11. DMC changed it`s threads a few years ago here in North America to comply with anti-pollution a result, not all the colours are now guaranteed colourfast (esp the red), but i`ve not had any trouble with running colours. I now am wondering what I ingested from all the thread licking...

    ttfn mj

  12. What an interesting post. Now I know why my Grandfather always said that the colour green was so unlucky.

    Plese put me in the drawer as well.

  13. I've read that Napoleon's death, once he was exiled to an island, was partly contributed to his green wallpaper, and other health complications. What an ending for the poor fellow!
    I'd love to be in the drawing :-)

  14. This could be a dream came true for me!!
    I am a real Pearsall's silk lover and I have bought 160 skeins from Carol. I've been hoping to have the colour card for months but this wasn't available...

    About the green, I'm a fine art's store owner and in the last years many colours have been banned from the market because of arsenic, mercury and lead content.
    Now the attention on this substances in colours is very high.

  15. How very interesting! I homeschool, and those are some of the fascinating details I like to include in our history lessons. Please enter my name in the drawing. Thanks!

  16. Please enter me in the drawing also!

    Another interesting color history is:
    Mauve: How one man invented a color that changed the world.
    By Simon Garfield

  17. I wonder if that`s where the name 'poison green' came from?

  18. This was a very interesting tidbit. Where do you find these things!! Enter me in the drawing.

  19. Hi! I also would love to be entered in the drawing. After reading this post I remembered a friend's mother telling us that when she was a girl wearing green was just "not done,' not proper for young ladies! She did not know why, but I'll bet this was the reason! Thanks for an always interesting history lesson.

  20. Hi Jacqueline.

    Wow, I had never heard about the dangers of green! You are certainly a fountain of knowledge. Thank you for all that you share with us.

    I would love to have a Pearsall's color card. Please enter me in your drawing.

  21. amazing i had heard about some hazards with dye but not this one..

  22. Thank you for all your wonderful and informative comments. The draw was picked and out came Elmsley Rose - please click on the flying angle on the right hand side of the blog to send me your address so I can airmail your Pearsall's Colour Card to you.