April 21, 2016


Carpet Dyes – Whether your taste in carpets leans towards floral patterns or more primitive tribal designs the first factor in selecting a carpet is color. It’s the beauty of blending colors that creates a harmonious composition that makes Persian carpets so enchanting. Natural dyes made from natural materials, vegetable, plant or animal bases (bark, nutshells, berries and occasionally insects) produce the most luminous, warm and somber shades.

Among collectors it’s widely agreed upon that synthetic or aniline dyes should not be compared to vegetable dyes. The passage of time and long term effects of using synthetic dye is unpredictable; change of color altogether and dyes eating into the rug are common. It’s clear to see the difference between the luster and sheen of a naturally dyed antique rug compared to the dull uniform color that is produced through the use of chemical dyes.

There is more to the process than just mixing dye with boiling water. Each plant has its own special properties and the dyer skillfully and knowledgeable prepares the yarn accordingly. The dyers craft is an ancient one passed down through the generations from father to son. He is an artisan whose traditions and secrets are highly regarded.

The crushed roots of madder; a climbing plant that grows wild over much of the East produces shades of red. It belongs to the genus Rubia; the root used is that of the Rubia tinctorum. The roots contain three coloring matters alizarin and purpurin which are both red and xanthin which is yellow.

Cochineal a female bug of the species Dactylopius coccus which lives on cactus was imported in 1856 to obtain a more vivid red.

Saffron, turmeric, sumac and the fruit of buckthorns were used for yellows.

Greens were produced by combining indigo with yellow. Though Chinese green dye is obtained from Rhamnus chlorophorus a genus of shrubs.

Different blue tones are made from the leaves of the indigo plant. The color is achieved by both the number of times the yarn is immersed in the dye vat as well as the length of dyeing time.

Tyrian purple dye is found in shellfish.

Henna yields orange.

Beige is made from barley

And black, brown and grey dyes were mainly made from the shells of nuts and the leaves and husks of nut trees.
The dyeing process starts with the preparation of the color. Sometimes curds or sour milk is mixed into the dye to achieve lighter colors, the color is then diluted in a vat. The quantity of water varies based on the desired shade. The wool is then placed in boiling water and after being heated for the desired amount of time the wool is allowed to cool in the dye. The final stage in the dyeing process is to make the color fast. Once the carpet is ready, it is immersed in cold water to rinse any excess coloring and finally laid out in the sun to dry. Variations in color, streaked or uneven shading known as abrash or changes in the dye lot due to the quality of water or texture of wool add to the charm and life of the rug. Color is key, and carpets made with natural dye are to die for. Natural dyes age in a graceful way producing a mellow,faded color palate that remains unrivaled.

Like wool, dyes may vary considerably in quality, and they may affect the value and desirability of the rug. Some are rich and saturated, others are soft. But good dye will have a transparent quality that lets the color shine in response to light. When combined with lustrous wool, transparent dyes make the color effects come to life. Inferior dyes are murky and flat. Good dyes are also fast in response to exposure to light or water. Inferior dyes fade in sunlight and run when wet, spoiling the effects of the design.

Antique rugs were made with dyes derived primarily from vegetable materials, although some like lac or cochineal were derived from insect shells. All such dyes were properly fixed not to run when wet or to fade appreciably on exposure to light. This fixing might take weeks, especially to achieve rich colors. Early synthetic dyes gave bright colors without lengthy fixing, but they were unstable.

Some, like fuscha purple, faded to grey. Others like aniline red bleed terribly when wet, and they may fade as well. Modern chrome dyes developed after 1920 do not fade or run, but they seldom have the depth and warmth of natural vegetable or insect dyes. Within the last twenty years weavers in many rug-producing regions have succeeded in reviving the traditional technique of vegetable derived dyes.

About Jose Harrison