Guide to Rug & Carpet Dyes

Guide to Dyes

Madder (Rubia Tinctorum)

Madder is a plant that grows in Southwest Asia and the Middle East. It's first documented use as a dye was circa 1325 B.C. from red dyed linen from the tomb of Tutankhamon. Barber 232. Dr. E. J. W. Barber in Prehistoric Textiles suggest that it was also the source of the dye from a cloth found with a silver vase late 3rd millennium in Mohenjo Daro, India. Barber suggest that it was indigenous to Asia Minor and spread from there to Egypt , Crete, and Greece. Prehistoric Textiles page 232.Madder is called runas in Persian.
The dye is in the roots. The size and age of the root can dictate the resultant color. All other things being equal the smaller younger reds produce a red that tends towards pink in hue. Older and larger root produces a much browner red.
It now grows as a weed in areas where it was once cultivated such as Crete where it is called little root (Rizari). Prehistoric Textiles page 232.
The bright reds in a Shusha long rug were derived from madder mordented with tin. (A Technical Dimension to Color Esthetics in Old Armenian Weavings: Chemical Analysis of an Antique Karabagh Shusha Long Rug: ORR, Vol. III/4/3-5). Tin mordented madder gives a bright clear red that is seen in Caucasian Rug and Dragon carpets.
Recipe for Madder with Alum Mordented wool

Mordant Recipes:
¼ lb. alum to 1 lb. wool
Place in cold water to cover for 30 days with an occasional prod.
Rinse well and spin.
1 lb. madder root to 1 lb. wool
Place in cold water to cover.
Heat to 40 degrees centigrade and maintain with occasional stir for required time and color intensity.
Take Great Care
Do not use a lid and, as evaporation occurs, add water to keep wool and dyestuffs submerged.

The Haldane Rubio Madder Dye Recipe From Easy Dyeing, Living Colors by Jack Haldane

Madder Dye Recipe
Oranges and reds to plums
Weigh out chips and dust to 200% (of the dry fiber weight). Place madder in a stocking and steep in water for 2 days. After that time, heat enough water to cover the fiber in a dyepot to 120. Tie off the top of the stocking and add it plus the dye solution to the heated water. Mix well and bring to just below boiling for 1 hour (Temperatures below 185 give orangy red colors while 212 and above give browns). Remove stocking and add warm wetted fiber to the dyebath, bring to 140 to 180 and simmer for 4 hours.Remove from heat and let sit in the bath, stirring occasionally overnight. On the following day, remove the fiber, wash and let dry. Period Trade Dyes from the 16th Century- Historical Reenactment - 09/17/98
Fuchsin

William Perkin accidently discovered Fuchsin the first synthetic dye in 1856 Perkin was experimenting with oxidation reactions with coal tar products. "The cost of this material from 1856 through its relatively brief commercial lifetime for yarn dyeing (late 1860s) would have been too prohibitive to have been used on wool yarn for oriental rug dyes. It was principally a dye for expensive silk fabrics. What's more, its commercial lifetime predated production of the huge bulk of oriental rugs of current collector/market interest, i.e., 1880-1920. This "mauve" was a photoactive, cationic/basic dye that faded with time and light to a gray-lavender." Use of Certain Rug Dyes as Markers of Age, by Paul Mushak, (ORR Vol. 15, No. 5, June/July, 1995)
There were several Fuchsines some of which were in use well into the 20th century
Purple (Tyrinian Purple, Phonecian Purple etc...)

The main source of purple in the Mediterranean in Biblical times was from Murex a shellfish. There are two types that were used. Murex trunculus was found and used at Sidon and Sarepta and murex brandaris around Tyre. Murex was rare and very expensive.
Harvesting and processing Murex caused the Phoenicians to set up colonies all over the Mediterranean. In many areas old shell mounds can still be found from where the dye was processed.
Lac

Insect based red dye.
The insect dye lac was the principal red dye used in classical Persian carpets. Whiting, Mark. HALI, Vol 1. 1978
Use of lac yields a "cool" rather than a vivid or "bright" insect red in the blue tones that we associate with cochineal.
Lac is a resin secreted by the lac insect (Laccifer lacca) upon the smaller branches of trees, primarily the fig tree.
Lac traditionally was raised in Northern India.
Lac takes it's name from the word for 100,000 - lahk which refers to the huge number of insects who are needed to make marketable quantities of Lac.
Stick lac is when the lac is still on the branch and grain lac is when it has been crushed and washed.
The dye is derived from the secretions of the lac insect (Laccifer lacca). The insect leaves a resinous coating on the branches of several trees including the soapberry, acacia and the fig tree.
Indigo

Indigoten occurs naturally in a wide range of plants but a legume Indigofera tinctoria was the source of almost all Indigo used in Oriental rug weaving.
Indigo was believed to originate in the Indian sub-continent and was an important export until synthetic Indigo took the market.
Woad Isatis tinctoria is also a source of blue dye but I suspect it's use was European in focus because I do not remember any indications that it was used with Oriental Carpets. The handful of situations were all assumed woad use and were confined to Europe. One problem area is that the source can not be determined in laboratory tests from dyed cloth samples.
The blue dyestuff is produced during fermentation of the leaves, commonly with caustic soda or sodium hydrosulfite. A paste that exudes from fermenting plant material is processed into cakes and finely ground. The blue color develops as the material is exposed to air (13.1-76). The indigo dye is a derivative of indican, a natural constituent of several of the Indigofera species (14.1-19). Indican is enzymatically converted to blue indigotin (14.1-35). The colorfast dye is mixed with different mordants and other plant materials to produce a wide range of colorants. The species name tinctoria refers to tinctorius, meaning "of dyes" or "belonging to dyes" (14.1-3). Today almost all indigo for dyeing cotton and wool is synthesized commercially." Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index Perdue University
"Indigo Dying Experiment Details
Put water into a jam-jar.
Cut the leaves off the plant.
Cut the leaves into pieces one centimeter wide.
Put them into the water, make sure they are all under the surface of the water.
Fill the jam-jar to the top and screw down the lid tightly.
Leave this overnight to ‘steep’.

With the leaves that have been left overnight :
Strain the water from the leaves into a beaker.
Add some alkali (ammonia can be used) to make the pH about 9.
Bubble air through the mixture for 5 minutes.
Add some sodium hydrosulphite (1 spatula full).
Warm the mixture up to 60oC.
Wet the material you want to dye with cold water.
Put it into the dye bath and leave it for 5 minutes.
Take the material out and wash it well with tap water, then allow it to dry." IACR - Long Ashton
Safflower

Safflower or Carthamus tinctorius. This plant has two dyes, yellow and red but the red is more sought after. Dr. Barber mentions in Prehistoric Textiles that the yellow was fugitive and the red is permanent Barber 232.
The other reds are insect-based dyes. The primary dye agent would have Caraminic acid from either grain Cochineal or Armenian Cochineal.
There are of course reds such as madder but I find no indication that madder was used for scarlet although it can match that shade with the right mordants and conditions. I have to suspect that the scarlet dye would have been Safflower or Kermes.
Techelet

A blue dye was prepared from a sea creature referred to as the Chilazon, from which a blue dye Techelet was produced to dye the blue cord used in the Mitzvah of Tzitzith. It is only really important in Jewish ritual if I understand this correctly that when the great temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt the belt of the High Priest must make use of Techelet. The bone of contention as I understand it is that many hold that without the blue strand dyed in the blood of Chilazon then Tzitzith is incomplete. The problem is further complicated by the reports that the Chilazon only leaves the sea every 70 years and has not been used conclusively since before the Jewish Diaspora. One Rabbi identified cuttlefish as the Chilazon and produced a variation of Prussian Blue with the fish. But for everyone who believes it seems that one or more disagree.
Mordants

Alum Mordant Recipe
Weigh out the fiber. Place the fiber in a pot of warm water with detergent. Simmer for one hour, drain and rinse. Weigh out 10% alum and 5% tartaric acid (of the dry fiber weight). Combine in a glass jar with warm water to dissolve. Simmer enough water to cover fiber in a dyepot, add alum mixture. Add warm, wetted fiber to the mordant bath and simmer for one hour at 190 and then let cool in the bath for one hour. Wash and rinse.
Copper Mordant Recipe
Weigh out the fiber. Place the fiber in a pot of warm water with detergent. Simmer for one hour, drain and rinse. Weigh out 10% copper and 5% tartaric acid (of the dry fiber weight). Combine in a glass jar with warm water to dissolve. Simmer enough water to cover the fiber in a dyepot, add copper mixture. Add warm, wetted fiber to the dyebath and simmer for one hour at 190 and then let cool in the bath for one hour. Wash and rinse. Period Trade Dyes from the 16th Century- Historical Reenactment - 09/17/98
Egyptian Use of Copper Mordants
To trace the history of copper compounds it would be necessary to go back much further than the fourth millennium BC. Records found in the tombs of the early Egyptians suggest that, at least, this ancient civilisation employed copper sulphate as a mordant in their dyeing process. Today, more than 5,000 years later, copper sulphate is still employed by the world's dyeing industry in the after treatment of certain dyes to improve their fastness to light and washing. Uses of Copper Compounds

For example, cochineal with allum will appear crimson on natural dibers. Yet a copper mordant will turn those same fibers burgundy. http://www.knittersreview.com/article.asp?article=/review/profile/010607_a.asp

BLUE VITRIOL (copper sulfate) saddens colors and brings out greens. It is a good additive. Used alone, one ounce will mordant a pound of wool. Rinse fiber well, store wet or dry. Blue vitriol is poisonous. Earth Guild Instruction Sheets

Iron Mordant Recipe
Weigh out the fiber. Place the fiber in a pot of warm water with detergent. Simmer for one hour, drain and rinse. Weigh out 2% iron (of the dry fiber weight). Combine in a glass jar with warm water to dissolve. Simmer enough water to cover the fiber in a dyepot, add iron mixture. Add warm, wetted fiber to the dyebath and slow boil at about 210 for one hour and then let cool in the bath for one hour. Wash and rinse. Period Trade Dyes from the 16th Century- Historical Reenactment - 09/17/98
Saia

Saia sha or cutch (Acacia catechu) is a brownish red dye used extensively in India in the Mughal and pre-Mughal period.
Etherington & Roberts. Dictionary--cutch
Cutch Dye Recipe
Warm golden browns Weigh out the chips at 400% (of the dry fiber weight). Place in a glass of hot water and let sit overnight until dissolved. Next day, heat enough water to cover the fiber in a dyepot to 120. Add the dye solution to the heated water. Mix well and bring to a boiling for 1 hour and then add warm wetted fiber to the dyebath. Bring to a boil for one hour. Remove from heat and let sit in the bath to cool. Remove the fiber, wash and let dry. Do not let sit overnight in the bath or the colors will dull considerably. Period Trade Dyes from the 16th Century- Historical Reenactment - 09/17/98