Rug Terminology 101: “Abrash”

Naturally occuring abrash in a veg. dyed. Kazak.

Oriental rugs, like any other high-tech devices, come with their own language.  Many of these terms aren’t even in English, so it is understandable when a client has a hard time knowing what their dealer is saying.  The word “Abrash” is one of those terms that is often thrown around, with rug dealers often assuming that the customer understands.

Abrash is a variation in color that occurs in oriental rugs that is usually present due to the use of vegetable dyes, changes in dye lots, or the planned use of varied color to mimic an old rug.  Abrash can be very consistent changes of color, or can be inconsistent and even drastic.

Simulated abrash in a synthetically dyed Karastan.

A quick side note:  Abrash is often misconceived as a flaw in the dyeing process.  While an excessive amount of abrash may point to inconsistencies in the dye process, in most cases abrash is not only an acceptable characteristic but is a positive characteristic. 

In most cases, abrash is a side effect of the use of hand-spun wool and vegetable dyes in the rug manufacturing process.  Vegetable dyes are a basic building block in the rug industry.  Prior to the 19th century, synthetic dyes did not exist, and vegetable dyes were the only dyes available.  Natural dyeing is a very complex and labor intensive process.  Despite all of the skill and labor involved, it is still a relatively inconsistent.  The raw materials used, such as natural indigo, madder root, and yellow larkspur vary depending upon location, weather, and harvest season.  Additionally, the creation of the dye and application of the dye will vary depending upon the temperature and humidity during the process.

Hand-spun wool also complicates the process.  The process is very similar to tie-dyeing a t-shirt.  Hand-spun wool is a cottage process where raw wool is carded, and then spun into yarn by hand.  With machine spinning, the wool is twisted at a higher and very consistent rate.  Spinning by hand means that there are fewer twists on the strand and the consistency of the number of twists along the strand is simply not there.  Where there are more twists, less dyes is absorbed into the fiber.  Where there are fewer twists, more dye is absorbed.

Due to the cottage-industry nature of natural dyeing, dye lots are also often very small.  Vat dyeing is responsible for the majority of this type of dye, and multiple dye lots are often used in rugs 4×6 or larger.  In some cases, these dye lot changes can be very apparent.  Not to worry, this is not only normal, but sometimes highly sough after.

Even with the use of chemical, synthetic dyes, abrash is very common.  The reality of it is that many of the finest and most sought after rugs in the world feature abrash.  And the “old world” look featuring abrash is very popular.  In an attempt to re-create that look, synthetic dyers use chemical processes and new knotting techniques to mimic the look and feel of naturally dyed rugs.

So our take on abrash?  It’s great, adding beauty and an artistic, homegrown touch to a 3000 year old craft.   And if you run into other rug terminology that may seem a little confusing, ask your rug dealer to explain it to you.  We don’t always speak English, you know…

Leave a Comment