Mike’s post and his remark
«The Mordant is the key. Aluminum for crimson, Tin for bright scarlet,
iron for violet, grey, and black»
is a welcome pretext for me
to mention another, very rare, Turkmen (Salor?) shade: grey.
first please allow me a short general remark about pre-industrial black
and grey shades on rugs and textiles.
It is highly unlikely indeed that
black and grey shades were ever made with a recipe using cochineal, for
two main reasons:
It would be very wasteful indeed to use expensive
cochineal and iron mordant to make a black or a grey.
Besides, it would
not even be easy to achieve these shades with this recipe (1).
Cochineal/iron is only a sensible choice to make subdued purple and violet
Pre-industrial dyers achieved black and grey with one of
the following recipes, mostly using natural grey of brownish wool as a
- Un-dyed natural grey wool, shaded if necessary. (But,
apparently, not natural black wool (5))
- Tannin and iron salts. (The
cheapest way for a black shade but potentially leading to wool
degradation. The range of black shades achievable is a bit limited).
Tannin and iron salts on wool previously dyed with indigo in a deep blue
(More expensive, but giving a large range of black shades. Due to the more
limited usage of iron salts the risk of wool degradation was much lower
too. This was the recipe agreed by King Louis XIV’s nosy bureaucrats for
«Grand Teint» black shades (High fastness quality). Similar regulations
applied in other countries as well.
- Wool dyed with indigo in a very
deep blue (surmey), then «shaded» in a second dyeing operation with madder
and / or a natural yellow. The most expensive recipe.
few modern Afghan Turkmen dyers still know that a natural dyestuff which
they call "ela-rang" , Alkanna tinctoria in Europe (2), yields beautiful
grey shades with bluish or violet cast (3). FIG A shows two examples of
shades dyed with alkanna root-chips on alum-mordanted wool.
would not be surprised if the analysis of the Salor rug below (published
in Opie’s «Tribal Rugs») and of some of his extant friends would reveal
that the dye used for the pile of the gul was alkanna. IMHO this
particular shade of grey would be difficult to obtain with any other
natural dye recipe. Proof of the contrary is much welcome.
Neither would I be
much surprised if the main users of Alkanna would have been central Asian
Jews: The dye is poorly soluble in water (thus difficult to use from an
aqueous dye-bath) but very soluble in alcohol / water mixtures. Jews were
often the only central Asian ethnic group allowed to make alcoholic
beverages. For their own consumption only (at least officially
). This was the case in nineteenth
century Bokhara for example. And of course they also were often mentioned
as competent dyers, especially involved in the indigo
business.(1) The Turkmen weaver who complained to Madame
Moshkova that he would only obtain grey shades with cochineal was probably
merely «dyeing» his wool with a dirty component extracted from the insect
shell, while all the red carminic acid was precipitated and made unusable
by the calcium present in his hard water.Many users of
cochineal dried insects know that during the initial minutes of the dyeing
operation this impurity comes out, quickly goes on wool and soils it.
Therefore, pre-industrial dyers often sacrificed a few skeins of
low-quality wool in the dye-bath to get this dirty «dye» out of it. When
this purification was completed they introduced the wool they wanted to
dye bright red. (2) Source: Marc Roy. Private
communication.(3) The roots of Alkanna tinctoria (Anchusa
tinctoria, Dyer’s bugloss) and a number of other Boraginaceaes (4),
contain a high concentration of a strong dye («alkannin», a naphtoquinon)
which on alum-mordanted fibres yields a variety of grey shades on wool and
subdued violet shades on cotton. I have seen «bishop violet» shades
achieved on wool too (but I haven’t yet found the trick). The light
fastness is not good while probably still sufficient for
rugs.(4) D. Cardon . Natural Dyes. Pages 60-66.(5)
Natural black wool is said to have poor light fastness. I have not yet
verified this information.