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A LOOK INTO THE ORIGIN OF RUG DYES
Most oriental rugs, including Persian rugs, are woven from sheep’s wool, silk or cotton. Sometimes, camel and goats wool was also used.
These fibres are either hand-spun or spun mechanically using spinning wheels (left image) before entering the hands of families of dyers in their region for colouring.
Traditional dying processes date back to ancient times and most have passed down generations of families of dyers. Many of these processes are still used today to make hand-made rugs.
The colours used to dye these threads are mostly obtained from vegetables and vegetable roots.
Below is a quick look into the types of dyes used in a rug rainbow.
RED.Some ancient reds derived from a species of insects that lived on oak trees, which produced a rich and lasting colour. But fear not! Most reds found in Persian rugs and, more generally oriental rugs of more recent years, are obtained from madder root, which is ground, boiled and sometimes combined with grape juice for colour variation.
BLUE.Blue hues are obtained from producing an indigo colour that is later dissolved. The dark, midnight blues found in older rugs, such as antique Persian rugs, is thought to have been obtained naturally but this dying process has now been lost over the generations.
YELLOW.Ancient Persians were ahead of their time with the use of turmeric for both health reasons and wool dyes! The yellow colour is obtained from a variety of Persian berries, turmeric, saffron and/or sumac roots.
The more orange tone seen in some rugs is created by mixing the turmeric root dye with good old henna.
Quite simply, the greens you see in rugs are a combination of the indigo and yellow dyes described above.
Ancient colourists obtained a purple-type dye from shell fish found in the Aegean Sea, which is now a long lost process. A purple dye is now created from mixing different types of red and indigo vegetable dyes.
Gorgeous and a stand out, but this was a difficult colour to produce in ancient times from vegetables alone. Black was obtained from iron filling, vinegar and pomegranate rind.
In more recent times, black is obtained from logwood - yay for innovation.
We just love how these natural processes of dying fibres have passed down countless generations, creating our rug rainbow!
Source & further reading: The Practical Book of Oriental Rugs, George Griffin Lewis.