Modernization in dyes and chemicals gave birth to synthetic dyes. Until then, natural dyes from animal and plant extracts were used to color garments. The process of extraction was tedious and hence the garments were expensive. Thus, these dyes were used in making attires for the rich, kingly, and the wealthy. The use of insects for obtaining a certain color for the purpose of dyeing has been dated back to the 15th century.


Murex.jpegOut of all the colors, purple has been associated with royalty. The Tyrian purple remained a personal favourite of the elite in the ancient times. This rare color was extracted from murex sea snails, which were harvested near Tyre, in the eastern Mediterranean. These marine mollusks secrete mucus in small amounts from their hypobranchial glands, from which the color was procured. Lebanon was the biggest producer of the Tyrian purple in those days. However, with the invention of William Perkins synthetic purple, called Mauve in the mid 19th century, the color became available to masses and in wide use.


Lac.jpegLac was another such insect, which was used to procure shades of red for the purpose of dyeing. These insects are found stuck to the bark of trees in Northeastern part of India, Thailand, and China. Lac secretes a resin to protect itself from hatching and maturing into adults. Insects attached to tree twigs are called sticklacs, which are scrapped off. An aqueous extraction was carried out from the sticklacs, to obtain a red colored water soluble dye.


The residue was further treated to produce shellac and seedlac. Shellac was used in the manufacturing of oriental rugs. It was used to achieve yellow to dark orange shades. India used lac for dyeing fabric like silk and wool, while in China leather was dyed with lac. The original red color of lac can be altered from violet to brown. At present, the demand for lac in textile dyeing is low, since it faces competition from synthetic dyes.