Long ago dyers realized that as more wool was dyed in a single dyepot, colors became weaker and weaker. Dyers use this notion of depleated dyes to their advantage. The first dyeing produces a deep, strong color. Subsequent dyeings in the same dyepot produce lighter, softer colors. Such changes can often be observed in handmade, hand-dyed rugs in a phenomenon called abrage.
Some Examples of Traditional Natural Dyes
Red and Violet
Red and violet dyes can be obtained from both plants and insects.
Red is also often obtained from dye-insects. Some of the most famous textiles in the world contain this kind of red. For example, the Pazyryk Carpet has a red dye from the Polish kermes, the Safavid prayer rug from Persian in the Topkapı Museum has a lac red, Roman textiles from Palmyra has red from the Ararat kermes, and Ottoman sultan silks and many later Oriental rugs and kilims have a red dye from the cochineal.
– Mediterranean Kermes (Kermes vermilio)
– Ararat Kermes or Armenian Kermes (Porphyrophora hameli)
– Lac (Kerria lacca)
– Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus)
Purple dyeing can be done through the use of purple snails, mainly Bolius randaris and Hexaplex trunculus. Often specified as Tyrian purple, in ancient times, it was highly desired, very prestigious, and expensive.
Yellow and Orange
There are numerous plants that dye yellow, although many of them tend to fade.
– Dyers’ Weed or Weld (Reseda luteola)
– Varieties of Chamomile (Just in Turkey at least 50 species are known)
– Chrysanthemum coronarium and other varieties of Chrysanthemum
– Barberry (Berberis crataegina)
– Fresh or dried peels of Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
– Stigmata of saffron flowers(Crocus sativus)
– There are also numerous other plants such as Three-leafed sage, Strawflowers, Chaste Tree or Monks’ Pepper Tree, Yarrow, Thyme, Verbascum, Foxglove, Daphne oleoides, Sorrel, Dyer’s Sumac, Sicilian Sumac, and Anatolian Buchthorn.
However, these tend not to be as lighfast as the ones mentioned above.
There is only one significant dyeplant for brown, the walnut family.
– Walnut Tree (Juglans regia)
Fresh or dried leaves and the husks of the nuts are used to produce a brown dye with excellent lightfastness.
Black dyes are possible when tannins combine with iron. However, this causes the corrosion of the wool. Use of ferrous mud and salts are less harmful. In addition, a black that is totally free of corrosion can be produced through a triple dyeing process. First the wool is dyed blue with indigo, followed by yellow from dyer’s weed, and finally dyed red with madder. Black seen in classical Persian carpets were made this way.
– Walloon Oak (Quercus ithaburensis)
The acorn caps from this tree are used. First a lightfast, yellow-brown color is achieved by boiling the wool with the acorn caps and leaving them soaking for several hours, followed by a rinse and dip in alkaline water (mixed with ashes). In order to make this turn black, a hot mordant bath with ferrous salts is used.
– Quercus infectoria
These are gallnuts, a cancer-like growth on trees, produced by gall wasps on some species of oak.
– Also other plants have suitable amounts of tannin such as Sicilian sumac and Mullein (Verbascum)
Indigo produces a beautiful blue that is lightfast, has been used for four thousand years. It has no natural competitors, although now synthetic indigo, which is virtually indistinguishable by just looking, is made. However, indigo does not chemically join with the molecules of the fibers. It is only attached by a mild adhesion to the surface of the wool. This is why it is not resistant to abrasion. Vat dyeing is the usual method. There are many species of plants that contain the preliminary stages of indigo, but only a few from the Indigofera family are used for dyeing.
– Indigo Shrub (Indigofera tinctoria)
– In addition, Dyer’s Woad (Isatis tinctoria), Dyer’s Knotweed (Polygonum tinctorum), and Marsdenia tinctoria are some other plants that are used to produce blue dyes.