Until the end of the 19th century, natural dyes were the only dyes used in the production of textiles. During the Victorian era, chemists discovered formulas for producing cheap aniline dyes. These early synthetic dyes swept through rug producing countries like a plague. These aniline dyes faded rapidly and the colors bleed when washed with water. By the mid 20th century, the art of the naturally dyed rug was lost. Up until 1980, if you wanted to own a beautiful naturally dyed rug, you were obliged to buy an antique rug produced before the advent of synthetic dyes.
Luckily for us, this changed in the 1980s. A German scientist, Dr Bohmer, with a passion for antique carpets unlocked the formulas for creating natural dyes. With the help of Turkish authorities, he founded the DOBAG project: creating Turkish rugs made entirely with naturally dyed wool. Soon, other entrepreneurs followed this example and now a small but passionate group of rug producers chose to make their rugs with these superior dyes.
What are natural dyes?
Natural dyes are dyes that are sourced from traditional plant and mineral sources. Some of the most widely used dyes in carpets are indigo, which creates all shades of blue, and madder root which creates reds, from light pink to brilliant burgundy. Other natural sources include pomegranate skin for yellows and walnuts husks for black. Green is created in a two-part process by first dyeing wool blue with indigo and then over-dyeing with yellow.
Advantages of natural dyes.
The synthetic dyes used today are excellent and far superior to the earlier aniline dyes. Nevertheless, natural dyes have many advantages over their synthetic counterparts. Natural dyes are more beautiful. The colors they produce tend to have a more organic and natural hue. Wool dyed from plant sources has a more variegated palate (known as Abrash) that shifts in intensity and saturation creating a pleasing hand-made look. In addition, natural dyes tend to be more color-fast. They fade very little when exposed to sunlight. And, when they do fade, they develop a warm patina of age. They do not bleed when washed with water. And finally, natural dyes are not toxic. They do not pose a risk to the dyers or to the environment.