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Dying Process for Handmade Rugs

Dying Process for Handmade Rugs

In order to create rug designs, weavers need different wool colours. The aesthetic appeal of any rug depends on its colours, and this is achieved through dying the wool.
There are two types of dyes, natural and chemical.

Natural Dye

In the early days of weaving, only natural dyes were available to colour wool. These were often derived from boiled vegetables, plant roots and insects. Reds came from madder roots or cochineal beetles; blues from the indigo plant; yellows from Persian berries and turmeric; browns from walnut husks, oak bark and pomegranate skin; orange from henna leaves, and green from a combination of weld and indigo.
Using natural dye is both environmentally friendly and gives the wool a more beautiful look, but more importantly it does not affect the quality of the wool. Natural dyes can produce a wide variety of tones, and in time will mellow with age, like a good wine.

Chemical Dye

In 1856 aniline dye was discovered in England by William H Perkin. The first colour he discovered was violet, but he was soon able to produce a range of other colours – and in large quantities. These dyes were inexpensive and started being imported into Persia and Turkey in the 1860s.
Unfortunately, aniline dyes negatively impacted wool quality and faded quickly. The reputation of oriental rugs became seriously affected by use of these dyes, and in 1903 aniline dyes were banned in Persia.
A new synthetic dye was developed in the 1920s, called chrome dye. In contrast to its predecessor, it was of excellent quality; it did not negatively impact the wool quality and the colour was unaffected by sunlight and washing. It was also available in over a hundred colours and was easy to apply. This reliability led it to become widely used in all carpet-producing countries, and is still used today. However, poor quality dyes are still sometimes used in mass production as a way to cut costs.

Mixed Dye Use

Natural dying is a very delicate, complicated and time-consuming process, but the end result is a subtler colour than its synthetic counterparts.
However, a good synthetic dye can be valuable in the right circumstances – if it does not affect the quality of the wool, it can be a good alternative. Rugs may use a combination of wool coloured with both types of dye in order create the desired effect.
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