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Rug Colors and Dyes

Aug 17, 2007
The variations found in rugs and kilims around the world are amazing and beautiful.The color combinations present in a kilim or persian rug make it appealing to the eye and a wonderfully decorative work of art. Each color hides a meaning which contributesto it's fascination.
Yellow: weld, vine leaves or pomegranate peel. produces muted gold
Brown : walnut shells or oak bark
Green: combination of weld and indigo
Purple: hollyhocks
Black: walnuts Larkspur: plant
Henna: leaves and flowers

An observation should be made regarding slight changes in color usually seen in older rugs for this happens when the weaver starts weaving with a yarn from a different dye lot than the one previously used .This peculiarity is common when working with natural dyes since it is quite difficult to get an exact color match. Fortunately, this condition does not affect the value of the rug. It may in fact increase it's value.

It is very common on tribal rugs to see this variation in color and is a unique characteristic of hand made rugs. The exact "recipe" used by a particular rug maker was a closely guarded secret which passed from generation to generation, or sometimes died with the passage of time and the rug maker.
The nomads who made kilims could not produce a large batch of dye, therefore sometimes the color would vary from lot to lot in that way as well.Also the type and quality of wool was a factor in the final color result. Long ago dyers realized that as more wool was dyed in a single dyepot, colors became weaker and weaker. Dyers use this notion of depleted dyes to their advantage. The first dyeing produces a deep, strong color. Subsequent dyeings in the same dyepot produce lighter, softer colors

Synthetic Dyes: Aniline Dyes

Aniline dyes were speedily adopted in the carpet industry due to their low cost and easy-to-use characteristic. The use of them was not limited to a specific area but spread throughout the world. In the last years of the nineteenth century aniline dyes were strongly acidic which damaged the quality of the rug by destroying the natural oil in the wool causing the rug to wear off in no time. In addition, the colors ran when the kilim was washed or faded if the rug was exposed to sunlight. Because of these problems, aniline dyes are not used as much as they used to be. Nowadays they are used in the dyeing of inferior quality rugs.
If you do not know whether your precious kilim or persian style rug was aniline dyed. You should rub a damp cloth over the pile. If the rug was dyed with a good-quality vegetable or chemical dye it will not rub off onto the cloth, but if it does then your rug has been dyed with aniline.

Synthetic Dyes: Chrome Dyes At present, oriental rugs are dyed with Chrome dyes. In contrast to natural dyes, these are simpler to use, quite cheaper and their dye is much easier to match. Chrome dyes offer a greater range of shades and colors which are colorfast. The natural oils of the wool are not removed so the kilim will not be worn off as fast as an aniline dyed one.

Although chrome dyes are widely used, in the past there were also complaints with them because their colors were harsher than the hues of natural dyes. This was corrected by the implementation of a light chemical wash which is done to most rugs before being exported to ensure the richness of the rug.
Rugs which are dyed in this way can never achieve the soft hue of a rug which is dyed with a natural dye. The rug fades a bit over time, depending on it's exposure to the sun and general use, but the color which it achieves as a result is warm and unobtainable in any other way. The next time you look at your treasured rug or kilim, think of how it was dyed and appreciate it's beauty all the more. Kilims and rugs are wonderful to behold!
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