Natural rug dyes have been in use ever since the very beginnings of rug and carpet making. Middle Eastern rug makers, especially, have been known to use natural dyes for thousands of years.
The most commonly used natural dyes are indigo (which is obtained from the leaves of the indigo plant), rust-red (produced by boiling the dried and ground root of the madder plant), and muted gold (created by boiling the leaves, flowers and stems of the larkspur plant). While dying, early dyers realized that the more the wool was dyed in a single color pot, the weaker its color became. They used the depletion of color to their advantage, for example, by using one pot of indigo to produce dark, medium and light blue hues.
It also did not take them long to realize that combining two colors could produce different hues. Let’s take the color green for example, which is important for depicting flora and fauna. There is no naturally occurring vegetable dye which produces the color green, which is why dyers first dyed their rugs in indigo, and then in yellow, thus creating the color green. If you ever come across a vegetable-dyed rug with green in it, look closely. You’ll notice that the color is uneven – sometimes more of a blue-green in some places, and sometimes more of a yellow-green in others. Thus, by simply using depleted dyes to produce different hues, and by combining different colored dyes, an astounding number of colors can be produced from an extremely limited naturally available color palette.
Needless to say, natural dyes are more expensive than synthetic ones. The reasons are many. First, natural dyes take a lot of time to create – first you need to pick or dig up the plant or root, dry it, grind it and then finally, seep it. Some colors like indigo need to be dyed repeatedly in order for them to become permanently embedded in a rug or carpet.
Natural dyes have practical benefits, too – they are extremely stable and long lasting. There are certain museum collections which contain 400 year old rugs and carpets whose colors are the very definition of vibrancy. They stood the test of time and well as that of natural elements (like air, sun and water) to remain as beautiful as they were centuries ago.
However, these dyes are not without their drawbacks. They are expensive to use and hard to work with, not to mention taking a lot of time effort to make. Even if today’s rug makers were interested in developing rugs made from natural dyes on a large scale, it would be impossible to do so because the results would be inconsistent and unpredictable.
To conclude, here’s a chart of a few other colors and the materials they are made from:
|Rug Color||Material Used|
|Salmon||Depleted madder dye (normally used to make the color red)|
|Blue-Red to Purple-Red Lac (resin secreted by insects)|
|Pale Yellow to Yellow-Brown||An herb called weld; larkspur (a flowering plant)|
|Brown||Oak tree bark|
|Black||Tannin, and iron|