Natural Dyes

The craft of creating natural dyes is a fascinating and ancient art that is over four thousand years old. Prior to the twentieth century, traditional paint – based dyes were produced according to recipes handed down from generation to generation.
One of the most important colouring agents was madder, a common plant that grows wild throughout the middle East and provides the basis for different shades of red, pink and purple.

Madder plant
Another bluish red comes from cochineal and kermes insects that live in the shade of the oak tree.

Saffron plant
Wild saffron makes a reddish-yellow dye, while, coltivated saffron, pure yellow. A lighter yellow comes from the roots of the turmeric plant, while the fungus of a mulberry bush provides a greenish-yellow dye.

Indigo
This is the most valued colour of all and derives from the soaking and fermentation of the indigo plant. The indigo colour is between blue and violet . The name comes from India , where this plant was first used commercially. The plant’s bluish colour is responsible for the English word: “Dungarees” , named after the Indian city of Dungaree, whose indigo was used to dye American gold miners’ blue jeans since 1848.

Walnut tree
Dark brown dyes usually come from walnut husks soaked with iron oxide and were the only dyes to contain mineral fixatives or mordants.

In many villages there was a dye Master who produced a very particoular colour. The dye Master proudly wore his colour splashed over his clothing and his arms were permanently dyed. The dyer would pass on his treasured recipe to his son or male heir. If there was no trusted male heir, the recipe was often lost forever.

Below is a recipe that one of the most trusted Pakistani suppliers has been using for a long time:
Natural Herbal Dye process for colouring wool, being used for the production of hand made vegetable dyed hand-spun woollen yarns.
Mostly found in the jungle, cultivated lands or hilly areas, they are :
1. Henna leaf.
2. Dried Tobacco leaf.
3. Elm
4. Saffron
5. Green shell nut
6. Butea leaf
7. Margosa leaf
8. Pomegrane shell
9. Indigo crushed-stone
10.Tea leaf.


Today, in Pakistan, handspun natural herbal dyes (Ghznavi type sheep wool yarn) is being used in the weaving of hand-knotted Zeigler (Chobi) rugs.

This special herbal dyeing technique was introduced in Pakistan by the Turkish and Afghan rug knotters, who emigrated to Pakistan during the Soviet invasion from cities such as Kabul, Akcha, Mazar-e-Sharif, Hazara, Shaberghan, Andkhoi and Kunduz.

More than 200,000 Refugees (both men & women) were skilled carpet weavers and they mostly settled in refugee camps in Pakistan (Serhad Province near Peshawar, Attock, Sawabi, Cheerat and Jaluzai areas).

These Ayrian-Turk people taught and introduced in Pakistan unique herbal vegetable dyes for woollen yarn, to colour Gerdezi carpets having Turkish knots in Chobi (Zeigler) using flat floor handlooms which became popular worldwide.

In fact, more than 3300 years ago, ancient Egyptians also used these vegetable herbal colours in their wall paintings, ceramics, tombs and in the pyramids of Pharaohs.
They mostly used green, indigo-blue, yellow and red shades with an unknown waterproof glue based natural varnish (annamil / leminated coatings). These colours are everlasting and still preserved.

This vegetable herbal dyeing process was and still is natural, non-chemical, non-allergic and non-acidic. This system was used before the adoption of Analine (synthetic) which was introduced in the mid-nineteenth century (between 1850 - 1870).

Analine dyes are artificial, warmer, brighter and remain unchanged even when washed at 65°. The colours do not run or fade. However, vegetable herbal dyes look slightly lighter and softer and somewhat faded, which is why they look natural.

These are totally environmentally friendly.

The richness of the colour scale allows for magnificent decorative effects, through the contrast and harmony of the shades. The recipes of the dyes, both vegetable & animal, have been handed down from century to century.

Today, these same processes are used in Turkey, Turkmenistan, Iran, Afghanistan and, recently, Pakistan, still following the original nomadic traditional formulas of the past.

There is a special technique for dyeing using minerals & vegetables.
Each hank of hand-spun sheep yarn is immersed into a mixture of raw grinded powder forming herbal dyes, then gathered, dried naturally and finally exposed to the hot sun.

Sometimes, two to four colours are mixed to make one new colour, e.g. by mixing yellow, blue, orange & olive we obtain a leaf green shade. After washing, all these combined colours are slightly visible, which create a sophisticated cool feeling.

In conclusion, natural dyes, when properly used, without doubt give the best results when, for example, making a handwoven rug into a piece of decoration for the home.

The following shows which Leaves, Roots and Barks from various Trees & Plants are used to make " VEGETABLE DYES "

Organic Dyes & Obtainable Colours:
Sources : natural dyes from parts of plants.
- Vegetables & Fruit Shells.
- Roots & Leaves.
- Flowers.
- Barks & Berries.

RED GROUP:
(1) Madder Plant .......... for bright Shade ........... RED (for Zeigler/Chobi rugs/Linen/Silk Dyes )
(2) Cochineal ......................................................... PINK

YELLOW GROUP:
(3) Saffron ............................................................... YELLOW (for Cotton, Wool, Denim/Jeans Fabrics )
(4) Willow/Birch leaves ......................................... YELLOW
(5) Zarik ................................................................... Dark YELLOW
(6) Turmeric ............................................................ Light YELLOW
(7) Tobacco ............................................................ Light YELLOW, Creamish, Golden YELLOW

BROWN GROUP:
(8) Black Wood ....................................................... Dark BROWN
(9) Log Wood ..for Fur, Silk, wool………………….. Dark Brown & BLACK
(10) Walnut husks .................................................... Light BROWN
(11) Purging Cassia ................................................. Choco,Charcoal Blackish
(12) Tea Leaves (Black/Green) ............................ Grey, Light BROWN

GREEN GROUP:
(13) Henna Leaves (for hair,leather)…………….. Yellowish/Olive GREEN
(14) Lusern Grass ...................................................... pastel GREEN
(15) Royan ................................................................. dark ORANGE

BEIGE GROUP:
(16) Mustard Seeds .................................................. Light Cream, BEIGE
(17) Onion skins ......................................................... Grey , Light CREAM

RUST GROUP:
(18) Pomegranate/Oak barks, Vine Leaves ........ Reddish RUST
(19) Mint +................................................................... Light Greenish, light COPPER

PURPLE GROUP:
(20) Black Berries (Roots) .......................................... PURPLE
Water Lilly & Dafoddil flowers

Synthetic dyes
The shift to chemical dyes began in 1834 when a German chemist noticed that distilled coal tar or aniline resulted in a bright blue–violet colour when treated with bleaching powder. His discovery helped pave the way for the development of other aniline dyes.
Unfortunately, the original aniline dyes made fabrics stiff and dry and the colour faded.

In about 1870, synthetic dyes made their way to the coastal region of Turkey. They become a popular trade item on the silk route and made their way to the nomadic people of the Caucasus region and Iran.

Particularly for the shade of red, the new aniline dyes proved more economical to use than natural dyes, allowing the rug maker to speed up production and increase demand. These dyes also afforded greater control of colours from one lot to the next, an actractive characteristic in view of the belief that western buyers wanted a more evenly dyed rug.

However, the aniline dyes had a limited success. Village dyers were given bags of powdered dye and a recipe. Following the recipe was necessary for a successful outcome. Unfortunately, most villagers could not read or understand the scientific instructions - which were often written in a foreign language – and these villagers were used to measuring in handfuls. Given these obstacles, it was almost impossibile to mix the colours in a correct way.

In 1940, chrome dyes were developed using potassium bicarbonate, which allowed for a wide range of rich, colorfast hues that were not harmful to the wool. Over the years, synthetic dye formulations have been created to provide interesting palette that no vegetable dyes could offer.
The synthetic dyes do not cause rug fibres to disintegrate and this issue must be considered in terms of the rug’s history and the quality of the material from which it was woven.

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