Dyeing to know about dyes?

A sample of natural Indian indigo.

Check out one of our rugs and you may find some interesting information on the tags.  Among the usual information such as size, price, and design, you will also find information about the dye used in making the rug.

Why does the dye type matter, you ask?  There are basically two different types of dyes used in oriental rug manufacturing, and each dye type creates a completely different look when applied to wool.

As we said, there are basically two types of dyes that are used in rugs today, vegetable and chromium.  Natural dyes or vegetable dyes are made from natural elements such as plants, earth, and even sometimes insects.  Synthetic or chromium dyes are man-made using chemical processes.  Each dye type is different in how it is created, how it is applied to the wool, and the colors that they produce.  But once the dye is applied to the wool, the structure and properties of both dyes are essentially the same. 

Natural Dyes
For many centuries, the only available materials to be used for dyes were natural.  These dyes required intensive skills and training to be correctly measured, formulated, and applied.  For these reasons, trade in natural dyes became a major economic boost for many rug-producing areas.  Many colors were so hard to produce with local ingredients that they had to be imported and were sold worth their weight in gold.  Other natural dyes were so essential and commonplace that their production became complete local industries within themselves.

Some of the ingredients that are used to produce natural dyes are: madder root, yellow larkspur, natural indigo, walnuts, cochineal, saffron, and tree bark.

There are many beliefs about natural dyes that exist even today.  Using natural dyes is a very labor-intensive process.  It involves careful and exact recipes, and requires the knowledge and patience of a skilled dyer.  Because each batch of vegetable dye produces a color that is nearly impossible to replicate, many of these color combinations are kept in family recipe books that are passed down through generations.

Primary colors (red, blue, yellow) are the most often used and produced dyes in oriental rugs.  With vegetable dyes, these primary colors are also necessary for the creation of the secondary colors ( orange, green, purple, brown, black.)

Chemical Dyes
With advances that came in the way of chemical production throughout the 19th century, it was inevitable that synthetic dyes would eventually find their place in the oriental rug industry.  Because of the skill required for use, and the expense involved in attaining natural dyestuffs, many chemists made special efforts to create dye processes solely for the purpose of use in oriental rugs.  

Initial chemical dyes, such as aniline dyes, were quickly adopted before realizing that they came with a group of problems that would eventually cause them to be banned. While these dyes initially gained praise for the spectrum of colors that they produced and the amazing light-fastness they provided, it was not long until the realization was made that many of these dyes would run if gotten wet, and some chemical dyes were so harsh as to destroy the structure of the wool.  While these rugs were initially outstanding in color, the long term effects of synthetic dyes left many rugs with blurred colors or even with dead, fragile wool fibers.

With the advent of chromium dyes, the negative side effect of chemical dyes were alleviated, allowing a wide spectrum of colors that could be reproduced almost indefinitely with simple chemical recipes.  These dyes also allowed a new type of production to be born.  Program rug, or rugs that are constantly reproduced in varying sizes, would not be possible without the consistency and reproduction of chromium dyes.

Today, synthetic dyes are used in the majority of all rugs produced.  These are still easier and less expensive to use, and this has caused the master dyer to slowly move away from natural dye and concentrate on the synthetic dyes.  For the rug industry itself, this may be a good change- preserving the customer base that demands a more modern product. Sadly, this is killing the original art form of the master dyer.

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