Dyeing Techniques

The use of vegetables, roots and other natural items to make dyes has been a well-known art for many thousands of years. This ancient practice continued unchanged and untouched until the mid 19th. Century when synthetic dyes were invented. The findings at a Chinese spring dating from about 3000 B.C. indicate that the science of dyeing was initially developed in Far East. On the other hand, in Europe, the first dyers were most probably people who leaved around Zurich Lake in about 2000 B.C. The dyeing industry was established in the 15.th century B.C. We also know that the art of dyeing belongs to old times in India. Marco Polo in the chronicles of his travels tells us how indigo was cultured before it was exported to Europe by Portuguese to reach and varied Anatolian dyeing processes are a synthesis of the dyeing, the knowledge that was handed down from centuries B.C., and the rich traditions of Anatolia itself. Why are natural dyes so important? Is it because some shades of color cannot be found in various synthetic dyes, or is it because the natural dyes are cheaper or easier to obtain?

The synthetic dye catalogues are quite thick and rich in the kinds of dyes and shades of color that are available. But the natural dyes come from nature's own harmony, and they reflect the preferences of the various peoples through the years and centuries. Plus, the natural dyes (vegetable dyes) will mellow with time, and if left under the sun, they'll shine and radiate the most pleasing shades of color.

In many areas it is a common paractise to expose naturally dyed rugs to the sun so that the colors fade gradually and gracefully to the year ultimate harmony and beauty. But the synthetic dyes don't have this peculiarity. If the dye used is of the chromatic type, the colors are fast to light, as well as moisture, which, in itself, can be considered as an advantage. But if the synthetic dye used is of a lower quality, with time the colors will fade and the various shades will probably be dull and lifeless. We can see with our naked eyes all the differences in dyes, understand the advantages, and disadvantages of each type, and easily discern which ones are more harmonious and eye pleasing.

Fine Turkish carpets recognized for their value and beauty are made with natural dyes obtained from plants, berries and trees. Chemical dyes are also used but to the trained eye they do not have the beauty or luster of natural dyes. The main natural dyes are listed below.

Dyes Woad (Civit Otu) Blue:

From this plant dark or light blue tones are produced by the length of time, which the plant is boiled. It is found along the edges of fields growing wild in Central and Western Anatolia. Dyers Woad and some other plants are used to yield indigo which is the oldest and most important blue dye.

Madder Root (Meyan Koku) Red:

The roots of this plant are known as madder. It grows wild in Central and Western Anatolia. A two-year old plant will be about one and a half meters high. "Rose madder" was a standard color on the plates of the old masters of the Renaissance and today, many expensive Italian and English neckties are known as madder ties because of the rich deep toned red color.

Ox-Eye Chamomile (Sari Papatya), Bright Yellow:

During the spring, one finds this plant all over Anatolia. Its large, golden yellow flowers atop long stems last throughout the summer. It grows along roadsides and in dry meadows. The flowers, fresh or dried, used along with an alum mordant, produce a bright yellow.

Walnut Tree (Ceviz), Brown:

The beautiful walnut tree can be found in the forested country of Eastern Turkey. It is a profusely branched tree, which has a height of up to 25 meters and bears peanut leaves. The fruit is covered with a thick green rind, which along with the leaves, is often used by villagers for a green or blackish-brown dye. The walnut tree is native in Turkey and is absent only in the regions with several meters. Turkey produces 15-20 percent of the world's walnut crop. The effective coloring agent is the brown dye, juglone, which adheres directly to wool fibers without a mordant (mordant means a fixing agent). In ancient times the walnut pods were used in medicine and for the dyeing of hair.

Pomegranate Tree (nar), Yellow to brownish yellow and brown to black:

This tree grows in the mild regions of Western, Southwestern, and Northeastern Anatolia. It's a tall tree with a height of up to 40 meters, with branches that are spiny with very shiny, lance-shaped, dark green leaves. It's easily distinguished by its beautiful pinkish-violet flowers. During autumn, the tree bears a fruit with many seeds, which is the yellow-red skinned pomegranate. The fresh or dried skin of the fruit is used for dyeing. If an alum mordant is used, along with the skin, a yellow brownish shade will result. If an iron mordant is used, a brownish-black shade will result. In Oriental carpets and kilims, the pomegranate is a symbol of fertility and abundance because of it's many seeds.

Buckthorn (Cehri), Deep Yellow:

This plant grows only in Turkey on slopes with altitude up to 3000 meters (9843 feet). Until the 20th. Century, it was mainly cultivated in Central Anatolia (Konya, Kirsehir, Sivas, Ankara and Kayseri). To day only wild shrubs grow along roadsides, in fields and vineyards at Urgup, Corum and Kahramanmaras, which are areas of farmer cultivation. The unripe fruits, fresh or dried are used to create the dyes. When an alum mordant is used, a deep yellow will result. This deep yellow from the dried fruits is mainly used for dyeing silk. This color dye is often used to obtain secondary and tertiary colors.

Supurge (Sutlegen), Yellow:

This plant grows throughout Turkey. The entire plant contains a milky juice in its narrow, undivided leaves and clusters of blossoms. Some varieties bloom during the late summer and early autumn. All parts of the plant, except the roots are used for creating this yellow dye. This dye is frequently detected in cottage industry carpets of Anatolia mainly in the Daskiri, Maden and Ortakoy carpets.

Bast Hemp (Gence), Brilliant Yellow:

This dye is not used as often as other yellow dyes. This plant grows on the mountains of Central and Eastern Anatolia. The brilliant yellow color is common in older flat weaves. The strong color is often mistaken for a chemical dye and for this reason it's not popular in Western Anatolia Workshops where weavers cater to foreign market. In Eastern Anatolia, Lake Van area, the kilims are produced for local consumers who prefer bright colors and are less concerned about the distinctions between chemical and natural dyes.

Wild Chamomile (Beyaz Papatya), Yellow:

During March, in Western and Southern Anatolia, this chamomile plant will cover entire fields with fresh blossoms. With alum mordant, a clear yellow dye will be obtained.

Tree-Leaved Sage (Ada cayi), Yellow:

This herb can be found in most Mediterranean regions. It blooms on the dry hillsides from March up Until August. It is distinctive its tall flowering spikes of mauve or pinkish two-lipped flowers. The leaves and stems, either fresh or dried, are suitable for dyeing. Plants are just one of many sources from which to obtain natural dyes. To obtain a natural dye the plant is boiled to extract the color. Next, to ensure the absorption of the color in to the wool a second plant or natural salt is mixed with the dye. This second plant or salt is known as the mordant.

A mordant prevents bleeding or running of colors thus it fixes the color. If a chemical salt is used as mordant the dye is still called natural. When alum is used as mordant alone with madder a pale red is obtained because alum is a natural light salt. But if iron is used as a mordant a deep red or burgundy is produced. The choice of mordant determines the color of dye. Today, some people believe that there are no natural dyes because of certain chemicals, which are used as mordents.Mordents are form from natural chemicals of the earth not synthetically produced, so when they are added to natural dyes they act as a fixing agent and produced the color desired by the weaver.

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