Fabrics / Home Design / Interior Design

The History of Purple Cloth and Fabrics


There are many out there that are against decorating interiors with the color purple, and even some that are simply afraid to decorate with purple — feeling that it is too bold of a color. For us, we love to use purple fabrics in interiors as a secondary or trim color. Purple is elegant, powerful, and comforting to the eye. Today, we will go into a brief history of purple cloth and fabrics.

History of Purple Dyes

Purple dyes in ancient times were fairly hard to come by, as purple is not a widely occurring natural color on this earth. Even many attempts to create a dye out of bright purple flowers ended in sickly blue dyes, or purples that quickly faded to a drab grey. While there were few instances of bright purple dyes for fabric and cloth throughout history, the first notable purple dye came in the form of “Tyrian Purple.”

Tyrian Purple

78434429Tyrian Purple was also referred to as Tyrian Red, Royal Purple, Imperial Purple or Imperial Dye, and was used as far back in time as the Phoenician civilization — 1570 BC. The dye was made from sea snails or rock snails that secrete a purple mucous. This mucous is collected and the fabrics are dyed, creating a brilliant and vibrant purple color. The snails used were usually from the Bolinus brandaris species which live in shells similar to the one pictured on the right.

Though humanity had finally found the perfect source for natural purple dye that will not fade easily, there came with it a problem. Harvesting enough of it to dye a measure of cloth or fabric is intensive, and in-turn very expensive. In fact, the dye was so expensive that throughout history the dye was worth its weight in silver. At one point in time, during the reign of the Byzantine Empire, a law was enacted that only royals were allowed to where the color, and the color was only to be used as symbols for the Imperial Court. In fact, the saying “He was born in purple,” means to be born into great wealth or Royalty due to the Tyrian Purple.

The Creation of Mauveine

You have probably heard the term “mauve” in decorating and design before; this is short for “Mauveine, which was first synthesized in 1856 by William Henry Perkin. The creation of this dye was done on accident when its inventor was trying to synthesize quinine. Noticing the gorgeous purple color that the black tar he created left as a stain, he realized that it was the perfect agent for a synthetic purple dye. This invention made owning purple dyed fabrics and cloths affordable for almost everyone in the world. Mauve enjoyed a glorious era after it was released, with much of Europe clamoring to be seen in purple clothes, and have purple cloths adorning their homes.

While the “royal” attributions of the color purple have long-since passed, its beauty is still relevant and can either be used in interior design to achieve a classic and opulent look, or be paired with greys and whites for a modern accent. Knowing the history of purple cloth in design and style, maybe it’s time to once again use more purple in our homes and interior design.

3 thoughts on “The History of Purple Cloth and Fabrics

  1. Wow, nice history about purple… I love that color a lot its beautiful and so elegant in our walls. Even we looks so beautiful with purple color cloths. Thank you very much for sharing such a lovely post.

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