Oriental rugs are unique for a number of reasons, one of which is their brilliant colors. Among the first questions that comes up when discussing the vibrant hues is whether or not the dyes are natural or synthetic. You may wonder why that even makes a difference, but to rug collectors the distinction is clear. Most will agree that natural dyes are the more attractive option because each color is derived from plant extract rather than chemicals. Not only is the color more beautiful but the dying process is much better for the environment. Because of this, natural and organic dyes in Oriental rug weaving costs 30% more than man-made synthetic and chemical dyes. But they are well worth it. Weavers spend time identifying the vegetable source to be used in rugs which includes vegetables such as madder root, indigo leaves, onion skins, walnut husks, etc. The person dyeing or weaving must first dig up the vegetables, grind them, then slowly seep them. Today you don’t need to purchase an antique rug to obtain the benefit of the old beautiful colors in Afghan rugs. A new Afghan rug made with natural vegetable dyes offers stunning contrasting shades and a wide range of hues that are impossible to achieve through synthetic and artificial dyes. Understanding whether the dyes come from natural sources or synthetic helps to estimate a rug's market value and age. Keep reading to learn more about what goes into the colors.
What Makes Vegetable Dyes So Special?
The simple answer is because plant-based dyes are extremely special. They are much healthier for the planet and for you than dyes made with chemicals. Vegetable dyes also offer brilliant colors that artificial dying simply cannot achieve.
Vegetable dyes are extraordinary because:
- they contain wonderful colors
- they have a look deeply saturated without being edgy or harsh
- they appear glowing and are simply beautiful.
Additionally, some of the colors themselves are extremely rare. If you have ever battled grass stains on
your child’s clothes, it might be surprising that green hues in Afghan rugs are fairly rare. Early Turkoman
rugs have various natural green hues, but in general, prior to synthetic dyes there wasn’t much green.
The reason for this is that when the surface of the rugs is exposed to light, the green looks very splotchy.
On vegetable dyed Afghan rugs natural yellows are mixed with indigo-dyed yarn, but the yellow is
extremely sensitive to light, making green a rarer occurrence.
Blues and indigo are often the hue of choice because it can be derived from a variety of sources. In
addition, it does not dye the entire thickness of most wools. Since it only coats the surface it offers an
attractive fade creating that antique look that is so popular. Darker hues such as browns, dark browns,
and blacks are typically derived from sheep with wool already in those colors. No dye needed! To
distinguish the difference between synthetic dyed yarn and natural occurring blacks is that these Afghan
rugs have a natural variance. The non-uniform look is unique to each rug and beautiful throughout.
Natural Sources of Vegetables Dyes
The natural sources of vegetable dyes vary. They typically come from the extraction of color from wood, bark, roots, leaves, flowers, berries, flowers, seeds and other origins. The following is a helpful chart to learn about the sources of natural dyes:
Let’s examine the source of the primary colors:
Color & Vegetable Source
Red, Rose, Apricot or Pink : Madder Root
Oxblood Red : Cochineal insects from India and Mexico
Blue : Indigo Leaves
Yellow : Onion skins or Weld
Black : Oak Galls or Acorn Caps
Brown or Camel : Walnut Husks
Natural dyes in purples, reds, oranges, and yellows are remarkable in that they have an organic ability to bleed within each other. This creates a glowing, beautiful look without being harsh like synthetic dyes.
Before dying, wool is first dipped into a hot solution of Aluminum or Iron Oxide. This process prepares the wool to bond permanently with the dye. Full color palettes are developed by dyeing Afghan rugs in one bath and subsequent rounds of dying in two or more baths. Substantive dyes such as black walnut, cochineal, and safflower, bond without mordant. This type of chemical compound creates a chemical bridge between the dye and fiber.
In general, the material to be dyed is boiled in a mordant solution prior to dyeing. As you can probably devise, the natural dyeing process is extremely time consuming and unique to each individual Afghan rug.
The Problem with Synthetic Dyes
Besides being less attractive, synthetic dyes have a very dangerous side to them. This is worth knowing if you are planning on having a rug in your house dyed with chemicals. Unfortunately, the chemicals used to produce the bright colors are highly toxic, explosive, and in some cases carcinogenic. These deadly poisons are dangerous to work with, so why would you want them in your home? If you ask us, the toxic heavy metals, formaldehyde, dioxin, and others are not worth the severe danger.
Let’s compare natural dyes to synthetic dyes. Synthetic dyes are one color and monochromatic. Each vegetable natural dye has elements of all the primary colors on the color wheel. Madder root, which makes the red color, has elements of all three primary colors (red, yellow, blue). Madder red harmonizes and looks good with your home furnishings. Additionally, rug wools last longer with vegetable dyes. They are strong and resistant against fading and color bleeding. To become an antique rug, it will contain primarily vegetable dyes.
Regardless if you are a serious collector or simply love having a single Afghan rug in your home, you owe it to yourself to educate yourself about the dyes in your rug. In summary, the qualities of each rug is:
- Synthetic dyes
- stay the same and never change
- Vegetable dyes
- colors form a patina and becomes more beautiful with age retaining their value
Having quality rugs with organic dyes are not only more attractive, but better for. your health and the environment. We carry a variety of rugs colored with beautiful vegetable dyes. This rug will offer a gorgeous decoration to any room.