Dyeing a Rug
CHAPTER IV – The Oriental Rug by William De Lancey Ellwanger
The dye, the tone, the richness, and colour value of a rug was, and still is, an essential characteristic of the weaving of each class and region; and it was formerly not only essential but exclusive, the dyes being often trade secrets or, more truly said, tribe secrets.
Of course every one knows that the colouring of the yarn of the best Oriental rugs is derived only from vegetable or animal dyes, and to this is due their beauty and durability. It may be noted also, in parenthesis, that it is the yarn and not the wool that is dyed. Alas, that modern weavers, Oriental and Occidental, have learned to substitute mineral or aniline dyes! These not only destroy the wool and fade badly, but when the fabric is cleaned or wet by any chance the colours run, and leave their stains and blemishes. Of course, too, they fail to give the richness, depth, and lustre of the good old method. Generally, their manifest crudity bespeaks the poor quality and coarseness of their make. Some vegetable dyes also fade, but they fade only into softer and more pleasing shades, and more delicate and harmonious blendings, as witness, in many antiques, the soft and beautiful tones of pink, salmon, and fawn which come from raw magentas, as the back of the rug will prove. But that magenta dye was of the old school. Modern magentas seem never to fade away gracefully and becomingly. It must be noted, however, while speaking of the dyes used in the fine old rugs and in the best rugs of to-day, that for one or two colours resort was, and is, had to mineral dyes. Many of the best old Turkish specimens have thus suffered in their blacks and browns, and many a museum exhibit is eaten to the warp where these colours occur. It may be well to remember this, as some varieties of Mousul and of Turkish weave, thus worn to the warp in spots, leaving the other figures raised and in relief, are palmed off on the innocent purchaser as rare, “embossed” pieces. Iron pyrites is the mineral from which these black dyes are made, and some Turkish weavers seem to know no vegetable black or brown. In some of the best Persians, Serabends particularly, the green which is used in the borders has the same fault as the Turkish blacks and browns; and if it does not “fade away suddenly like the grass,” at least it leaves the nap “cut down, dried up, and withered.”
The subject of the various dyes might be extended to a separate monograph, for really the whole history of rug making depends upon the dyes used. The day that the aniline, petroleum dyes came into use doomed the perfect making of carpet or[Pg 38] rug; and not all the strictest laws of the Medes and Persians—which is to say, the Shah of Persia—have availed to prevent the use of the mineral dyes, and the complete demoralization of modern weaving. You may find even in choice, closely woven, artistic Shirvans and Kabistans of fifteen and twenty years ago some few figures in certain colours which are clearly and manifestly aniline. They are the strong reds and especially the bright orange. And in some modern Kurdistans, which should be free from guile, a few figures betray the same telltale glaring media. Used with a sparing hand, as they are, they do not ruin a rug, but they are none the less a blotch upon its fair repute. The theory is, so far as concerns the new Kurdistans, for instance, that these few mineral dyes are bought by the weavers from some traveller or agent by chance and inadvertently, and without knowledge of their character. Otherwise they would hardly be used for[Pg 39] a few figures in a finely woven piece, where all the other dyes are vegetable.
One expert Armenian has a sure test for mineral dyes in his tongue. When in doubt he cuts a bit of wool from the rug, nibbles it a minute or so, and then pronounces his sure verdict. But the test is a delicate one, and the fruit of knowledge is, presumably, bitter.
Again, in speaking of colours and shadings, it may be interesting to know why solid colours so often come in streaks, changing abruptly, for instance, from dark blue to light blue, or dark red to light red. You may have any of several explanations: that the weaver, dipping his wool into the dye, stopped, for any trivial word or interruption, and the wool took on a stronger hue; or, that another hand or one of the women or children took up the work; or, again, that the plant, from which he bruised that particular hue, gave out in his back garden. Any of these reasons may be right. But the more credible one is to believe that the artistic weaver knew how effective is this change of colour, and what a pleasing, changing, varying light and shade it gives to his masterpiece.
Video of how to dye a full-room carpet
How to Dye Carpet: Full Room
CHAPTER IV – DYEING – Oriental Rugs, Antique and Modern by W. A. Hawley
Introductioninto Oriental Rug Dyeing
HOWEVER remarkable the achievements of Oriental art in any field, their most pleasing effect has always been associated with colour. Without it the beauty of the lustre tiles of Persia, the marvellous porcelains of China, and the delicate textiles of Western Asia would fade into insignificance. It is indeed the wonderful harmonies of exquisite tints chosen by the touch of genius from a palette of many thousand pigments that awaken the appreciation of the luxurious splendour of the East. This love for colour is inherent in every rug-producing race of Asia and is older than history. It is but natural, then, that the earliest carpets should be radiant with glorious tints, which in a lesser measure are reflected in modern fabrics.
If high praise is due to the artist who, by a skilful association of different colours of co-ordinate tones, creates the picture that delights the sense, a fair measure is also due to the artisan who not only controls the secrets of the dyes, but has mastered the difficult knowledge of their proper application; for the beauty of the finished woven product depends on the judicious dyeing of the yarn more than on anything else. From father to son for many generations has been transmitted a knowledge of those particular vegetable and animal products of root, leaf, fruit, and insect, and the manner of their use, by which the imperishable lustrous sheen and colour of the finest woven fabrics are produced. Indeed, this art requires to-day more technical knowledge than any other branch of rug weaving, since modern designs are no longer more than the imitation of those in older carpets; and so important is it regarded that a successful dyer is a man of distinction in his tribe.
Sources of Dyieng colors in ancient times
The sources from which are obtained many of the dyes that give the innumerable carpet colours are recorded. A few of them are received from remote countries, but most of the plants from which38 they are extracted grow in marshes and on hills and plains where the nomads wander with their flocks. Many of them are used without blending, but even some of the seven primary colours are derived by proper blending; and from a number of dyes of different strengths and qualities are produced an infinite number of rich and delicate shades.
The principal blues of Oriental rugs are obtained from indigo. This is derived from colouring matter in the leaves of plants of the genus Indigofera, that grow to a height of four to six feet in the East Indies, when they are cut and placed in a vat containing water. In about twelve hours fermentation ensues; and after this subsides the liquid is drawn off into another vat, where after one or two hours of agitation the indigo forms as a precipitate. Many different species of this plant grow wild throughout Asia, and from the earliest times have been used to produce dye-stuff. Indigo is one of the most valuable of all dyes, as by using it in conjunction with others an infinite variety of shades result.
Some reds are obtained from the plant madder (Rubia tinctorum), that grows abundantly in Central and Southwestern Asia, Its colouring properties were known to the ancients; and for a long period it has been cultivated in Asia Minor, where the succulent roots of the second and third years’ growth are regularly dried and prepared for use. Other reds are derived from the insect cochineal (Coccus ilicis) that lives on oaks of the countries bordering the Mediterranean, and was known among the Arabs as “kermes,” signifying Red Dye. After the discovery of America another species (Coccus cacti) was found that was more productive of dyeing qualities. The females, which alone are valuable, are plucked from the trees and killed by exposing them to vapours of acetic acid, or placing them in hot water, or in an oven. From their dried bodies, of which over fifty thousand are necessary to make a pound, the dye is produced. As both these dyes are noted for their fastness, they are constantly used, but when silk or wool is to be dyed cochineal is preferable to madder.
The yellow dyes are obtained from several sources. Some are from the berries of plants of Western Asia. Others are from the leaves of the sumach bushes, that are indigenous to nearly every part of the world. An orange tinge is derived from the turmeric extracted from the short root stocks of a plant of the genus Curcuma. From time immemorial a beautiful yellow has been obtained from39 saffron. It is the product of the stigmas of the fragrant crocus, which are so small that over four thousand are necessary to furnish an ounce of dried saffron; yet the dye is so powerful that it will give a distinct tint to seven hundred thousand times its weight of water. As saffron has something of a stimulating effect on the human system, it has been taken by the Persians when mixed with their rice.
With none of these three basic colours was any national feeling associated, yet the Persians excelled in the use of blues. The Turkomans of Turkestan and Asia Minor produced better reds than any other colour, and the best yellows, even if generally inferior in positiveness to blues and reds, were those of the Chinese.
Though other primary and secondary colours sometimes result from the application of a single dye, the many thousand different tints can only be produced by the blending of two or more. Moreover, the qualities of the same dye vary greatly, as they depend on the soil where the plant grew, the time of year when it was removed, and the weather and other conditions prevailing during the dyeing.
In nature green is one of the most pleasing colours, but in carpets it is most unsatisfactory, as it has generally a faded appearance, due probably to the fact that one of the dyes of which it is formed by blending is less permanent than the other. The Chinese greens obtained from the buckthorns are generally the best.
Greys and browns are sometimes derived from gall nuts, and reddish brown from henna. For very dark browns and black, iron pyrites has been largely used in both old and modern rugs; but unfortunately the dye has a corrosive effect on the wool, so that the black knots of old rugs are often worn to the warp.
In parts of India flowers of the bastard teak (Butea frondosa) make a favourite dye, from which are produced, by blending with other dyes, a large number of shades ranging from deep yellow to brownish copper tones. Another well known dye is Butti lac, obtained from an insect, Coccus lacca, that lives on the twigs of trees. It is a substitute for cochineal and produces different shades of red, crimson, terra cotta, and purple, according to the other dyes and the mordants with which it is blended.
Besides these few dyes are innumerable others that are used either singly or in combination. Furthermore, different colour effects are produced by the application of different mordants, which it is necessary to use for the reason that without them many40 fibrous materials are unable to absorb a large number of the dyes. The most valuable of all mordants is alum; and the sulphate of iron and tin are largely employed in the case of red colours. Of the vegetable mordants, pomegranate rind, which contains some yellow colouring matter, is the best known. Valonia also is sometimes used, as well as limes, lemons, the fruit of the tamarind, and the mango.
Carpet Dyieng Colors – How to DIY
In the monograph of Mr. Harris on the “Carpet Weaving Industry of Southern India” are a number of directions from an old manuscript owned by a dyer who stated that he was the descendant of twenty generations of dyers who originally came from Tabriz, and that he had made his copy from a Persian book of dyes which had belonged to his grandfather. A few of these are given below, because they show not only the dyes and mordants, but also the methods employed.
“Birbuls Blue. Take cinnabar, indigo, and alum, grind and sift lighter than the light dust of the high hills; soak for ten hours; keep stirring it; put in the wool and soak for many hours. Boil for three hours; wash in kurd water, water in which kurds and whey have been well beaten up; leave for three hours, and then wash and beat again in water.
“A Fine Indigo Blue. Take indigo, soak it in water for twelve hours, grind it to a fine paste in a mortar, add some Terminalia citrina, pomegranate peel, and alum; and mix thoroughly. Boil; put the water into the hot bath and keep stirring till cold. Now mix in some iron-filings water, and boil steadily for another two and a half to three hours; wash with a beating and dry.
“Ruddy Brown Grey. Take sulphate of iron, Terminalia citrina, oak galls, and alum; mix well; dry; then steep for twenty-four hours. Put in the wool; soak it for twenty-four hours, then boil for two or three hours. Dip in a soda-bath, wash, and dry.
“Cinnamon. Take oak galls, acacia bark, cinnabar, and alum, and steep for a night. Put in the wool, and soak for twenty or thirty hours; boil the water for two or three hours and give a soda-bath wash; dip in acidulated water; and wash again with beating.
“Crimson. Take lac colour and cochineal. Steep for from four to six days in the sun, in hot weather for the lesser time, stirring constantly till a rich deep colour comes where some has stood for a few minutes in a thin glass bottle and settled. Then strain through two cloths, and put in pomegranate rind and good iron-filings water. 41Add mineral acid; steep wool for thirty-six hours, then boil for three hours, wash well, and dry.
“Pale Greyish Green. Take copper rust, asburg,5 and alum. Mix well with any hot water, not boiling; soak wool for eighteen hours, then boil for three hours. Give a bath with water acidulated with some limes, and dry in shade.
“Old Gold and Rich Yellow. Take turmeric and asburg, cinnabar and alum. Soak all night. Steep wool for twenty-four hours, boil for four and a half hours, wash with a beating, and dry in shade.
“Dark Grey. Take of the fruit of Cupressus sempervirens, seeds and seed pods of babul (Acacia arabica), iron-filings water, and alum. Steep over night. Now add the water and let it soak for twenty-four hours, then boil for two or three hours, until the colour is right, then wash and dry in the sun.
“Rose Colour. Take ratanjot (Onosma echioides), a thought of cochineal, manjit (Rubia cordifolia) or lac colour a very little, and cinnabar. Add water, soak them for twelve hours, put in wool, and steep for thirty-six hours; cook it for three hours, then bathe the wool in alum and wash nicely; afterward dry in the shade.
“Persian Scarlet. Take lac colour, and if you choose a little cochineal for richness, and soak from four to six days; strain it in two cloths and add alum and a little turmeric; let it stand for three hours. Put wool in and steep for twenty-four hours, then boil for two hours. Take out the wool and add mineral acid; re-enter wool and boil an hour more. Wash fifteen minutes when cold, and dry in the shade.
“Saffron Yellow. Take turmeric, cinnabar, and soda, add water and keep for a full day. Then add some alum, make the dip, and soak the wool for thirty hours. Cook it for several hours, and dry in the shade after beating and good washing.
“Rich Yellow. Take asburg and turmeric, soak for a night in water, steep the wool for twenty-four hours, add alum, shake out, and dry in shade.”
COLOUR PLATE II — OUSHAK CARPET
Background of dying in historic times
Identical shades of a number of colours are not produced in all parts of the Orient, not only for the reason that soil, moisture, and climate affect the colour values of dye-stuff, but because each family of dyers preserve inviolable the craft secrets transmitted from their forefathers. Thus it happens that different parts of the 42 rug-producing countries adhere to particular tones that help to identify the locality where the fabrics were woven.
Unfortunately the Western aniline dyes, which were introduced about the year 1860 and quickly adopted because they are cheaper and less complicated in their application, have to such an extent transplanted some of these fine old vegetable dyes that a number of the richest and most delicate colours found in the rugs of a former century are no longer produced. Thus the superb blue of the fine old Ispahans, as well as of lustre tiles and illuminated manuscripts, belongs to a lost art. The disadvantages of the aniline dyes are several: they have a tendency to make the fibres of the textile fabric brittle, and when it is wet the colours will frequently run. Some dyes also fade more readily than others, so that if a colour be the product of two or more dyes, the resultant tint may be totally unlike the original. On the other hand, not all vegetable dyes are fast; but as they fade they mellow into more pleasing shades. Efforts have been made to encourage the use of old vegetable dyes; but unless the laws which have been enacted in parts of Asia to restrict the importation of aniline dyes be more stringently enforced than in the past, the cultivation in the garden patch of the dye-producing herbs and plants will soon cease to be the time-honoured occupation it was in days gone by.
Almost as important as the art of preparing the dyes is that of properly applying them to the yarns. It is an art that demands infinite pains in its technique, as well as a lifetime to acquire. It is in itself a separate profession practised by artisans who guard with jealousy the sacred secrets that transmitted from generation to generation occupy their thoughts to the exclusion of almost everything else. The homes of these professional dyers in the larger villages and cities are located on a stream of water which possesses mineral properties that long experience has proven especially suitable as solvents for the different kinds of colouring matter. Ranged about the walls of their low dwellings are jars or vats containing liquid dye of various colours. Suspended above them, from hooks driven into beams, are the yarns from which, after immersion in the proper vats, the liquids are allowed to drain. After this the yarns are exposed for the proper length of time to the dry air and burning sun. It is, therefore, the suitable mordants, the preparation of the proper dyes for the vats, the immersion of the yarn in correct sequence and for the correct length of time, as well 43as the exposure to the glare and heat of the sun for a definite period to be gauged to the exact moment, on which the colour results depend. This complicated process by which, for instance, the infinitely different shades of a red, a blue, or a brown may be conveyed to yarn by using the same dyes but by slightly modifying the steps requires the greatest precision, for which no rule but an experience amounting almost to instinct is the guide.
There was a time when the Oriental had not learned the meaning of tempus fugit or seen the glitter of Western gold, when his dyeing and weaving were proud callings, in which entered his deepest feelings. Then the old vegetable dyes that mellow, grow softer and more lustrous, were almost exclusively used; but now throughout all weaving countries the dyer has deteriorated so that he can no longer produce some of the rich colours in use half a century ago. Yet remote from the principal lines of travel, on the edges of the desert, in lonely valleys, among rugged mountains, half-tamed tribes are still dyeing their hand-spun yarn as did their fathers’ fathers.
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