Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-12-2002 05:10 AM:

Details of washing continued

Hallo all,

Sophia asked on 11.05.2002 more details for the washing, connected with the bleeding problem. It came up first with certain problems of reds in Turcomans. We assume that the reds were dyed with extreme finely grinded madder. It is impossible to wash them out in a close future- and they still may continue to release free dye stuff molecules. What I said is:
slightly acidic (pH 5,5) healthy wool will not absorb that. But if the wool is loaded with acidic material or with alkaline ( after washing with soap) then, it can, aborb the dye stuffs and the impression of bleeding may arise - even with no synthetic dyes used.
It is possible to dye wool without using a high amount of mordanting metal, though the resulting light fastness then is low (nevertheless enough for inside use of some years, but not for putting a carpet into the showcase window, as the example of a Konya amateur dyer showed, who recently got a nice review in HALI - the reds went down within 6 weeks).
It is a small world, as you see.

When dye lakes ( that means: not the Indigoid dyes) are oxidized by light this effect is never visible. If one puts such a thing in water a certain parts of the dye components will swim away. To which extent one can never see before it is done - an experiment that cannot be repeated. Therefore we propose first to repair the oxidation damage, then fix the dye lakes
and then start to wash/clean.

Navajo rugs: as far as I read they used yarns taken out from Germantown fabrics first in order to obtain red dyes. So the early material contains Cochenille reds and these do not bleed.
Later material contains acid dyes and these may bleed. This one cannot stop by use a lot of water when rinsing the wool before weaving - it is a matter of the dyeing process' details.

There is no detailed answer for the problem of your Kurdish bagface possible. To throw it away ? Well, if there is bleeding it most likely shows the piece is not antique. If it is wonderful as you say why throw it away ? Then this discussion would be misleading. I would never propose to look down on late weaves when they are wonderful done - the colour element is only one out of several else.

We have the "old technology" in the sense of Neugebauer and Orendi (1909). To obtain light fast saturated dyes from plants using sustainable technologies needed education, skill, time
and expenses and resulted in high performance qualities. At that time people used rugs ,did not collect them. The Western countries, especially Germany, made a fortune from killing this technology and replacing it with a quick one, done on the ( not - sustainable ) basis of coal or petroleum by-products. This is the "new technology" , has easy access and resulted in a drastic decrease in carpet prices. In Turkish the general name for synthetic dyes reflects this
until today: "hazir boya", meaning "instant dyes". Put water into the pot, add the ready dye powder, dissolve it, add some auxilliaries and the wool, heat, cool down, rinse, ready ...
It is quick but performs low. To make it better skilled people would be necessary. The house wive cannot do it by herself. - According to what we have found in ancient times most of the good dyes were done by professional dyers anyway. This habit people have until today. Carpet and kilim weaving went down in scale. If normal people need dyes for the wool they have spun at home they take it to the "corapci" or to the "boyaci" to have it dyed. In Karaman this was the standard procedure, as well in Kiraman or Eregli, from where quite a lot very famous early antiquities came.


Posted by Lavergne Philippe on 05-12-2002 09:43 AM:

Dear Mickaël,

I think you read my answer to your "turkoman read " because you spoke here about alkaline,

But, I think you can' t believe ( it is very natural, you are not the first, I heard the same here and in Turkey..) what I say ( and I can say it because I made it, and I have the result every day under my eyes ) :

It is possible to make a very strong ( for me strong means not bleeding, not fading ) red - never bleeding - with a good madder, ( or incidently with any plant of the same family, and they are numerous everywhere - " Rubiacées " in french ), and without the slightest mordanting metal ( alun, etc..).

It is evident for me than the experimenters you saw - even speaking in Hali - , were good-willing people, but without understanding of the process..
For exemple, I think they made their colour with a pH too high ( 5.5 is, as you say, two high !, and I assure you than, if you try it, with a pH sufficiently low - I know it, but I do not say how much, because you have to experiment..- it is quite OK for years..). Easy to proove : they do not speak about pH !! or pH-meter, the only way for me to know the pH.

But, it do not mind ! My reds are very solid, my yellows too, depending of the plant ( Reseda luteola, weld, is the best, ) and the blue too.

Ah ! a question : you wrote : " to fix the dye lake " : which is your way to " fix " the dye lake ?

( I made colours with cochineals : it is difficult to have a good red, but not really to have a strong colour..)
For my part, I am not able to fix really numerous colours on a carpet. I can make dyeing, try things, but not to be sure about the result on a entire rug.

" Later material contains acid dyes and these may bleed. This one cannot stop by use a lot of water when rinsing the wool before weaving " The bleeding, for me, depends on the chemical nature of the colooring, and on the process of dyeing, not on a character " acid " of the colouring.

Very difficult to believe.. I can send you some wool I made ten years ago..

Too : I am not able to preview if it is possible to wash ( without danger ) a carpet made after 1860..very often, it is possible, and it has to depend on a little essay and on the knowledge of the washer..).
For the rug before 1860 ( me and friends : no problem, except, possibly about the yellow )

Good luck for your future experiments : you need a spade, to have the roots of the " rubiacées " of your garden, a pH meter, and lemons, or another acid fruit !


Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-12-2002 10:34 AM:

Dear Philippe,
sorry for again begin late with the answer. What you cannot know is that our main job is not dealing with hobby things like antique textiles. We work for the industry, developing dye extracts and supplying the right kind of raw materials. Against milled Rubia tinctoria roots the most secretive antique fragment is a naive school kid, so difficult it is to assess its quality from viewing it. Scientifically I guess your point is wrong: in reality it is not like this that you do not use mordant metals. You use them, indeed. It is the simple fact that quite a proportion of the madder root consists of inorganic compounds - and these include the necessary mordant metals. What you simply do with this method is to dissolve some and let them penetrate to the wool where they slowly react with the dye stuff molecules from the plant.
This is later kind of fixed by an alkaline wash, may be with soap. The light fastness of the operation depends on the right balance between the mordants and the relative amounts of dye stuff, a simple stochiometric thing. In most cases this method gives unsufficient results but not necessarily in all. I remember a case where a certain provenance of Anatolian madder root had so many tiny pure iron particles in it ( new formed by the plant !) that it damaged
the milling machine. - This Konya kid of course does not use a pH-Meter and I will respect your wish not to tell the necessary pH. As I stressed in a previous essay: in this backward socio-cultural environment firm owners hate qualified labour - and then fall victim to some
magical dyeing stories. As did the reporter of this poche carpet magazine ! So we have the happy comedy end, yes ?
I met Anne Rieger, your teacher, at the woad congress in Toulouse in 95. We did not have a fruitful discussion because she insisted on not using "chemicals". I find this erroneous because of course she does: the compounds in the plants are chemicals and work like that.
This type of discussion, science versus anti-science, was stupid and it had no result.
The method of how to fix dye lakes in an antique piece is not subject to patent so I will not disturb the work of my friend Memduh Kürtül by publishing it. He runs the plant which can apply that. Sometimes I do this in my bath tub here for tiny textiles but it is by far less successful.
With Insect dyes this above mentioned stochiometric thing is even more important. I saw very handsome rich Lac dye reds on silks - but fugitive because the ladies in the Northeast of Thailand learned anew to make natural dyes from good intentioned development aid workers who were introduced to "no-chemicals" dyeing at a congress in Indonesia for about 14 days.
I hold the opinion that to learn this job in theory and practice 3 years are necessary. Which carpet dealer would like or could afford to stop his business for so long ? But if you don't:
bleeding and bleaching !


Posted by Lavergne Philippe on 05-12-2002 11:46 AM:

Dear Mickaël

Sure, science versus anti-science, chemical versus non-chemical, are a little stupid.. I am not at all in the rugs or colours professionnaly, and I can understand some science.

It is sure there is some metal and other so-called mordants in natural goods. But the average, is in weight very low ( I read, and you too, than, 10 to 20 % or more of alum are used to dye )..
For exemple, Hemoglobin contains and needs iron, but in a small quantity..And about Popeye..and the spinachs..a lot to say.!

I am sorry for your contest with A.Rieger, because she has a great knowledge about " how-to-do " about many colours, and the results are true..and solid..for what I saw.
It is necessary, to speak with her, not to try to convince her ( about chemical or not or about what ? ) but to try to follow her in her mind, even if it dos'not look like scientific, even it is not...And there is very much to learn from her, and from practice. Craftsmanship is a kind of thinking on the edge, on the side of science. It does not make scientific theories, but " practical ", if I can tell.

About science, do you know a chemist able to dye wool with the di-bromo-indigotine ( purple ), and widely to make with shells a good purple, or a good blue, ( the tekhelet ).. In the old days, as everybody knows, it has been possible..

And about washing, I understand than it is difficult to tell much more than I do..

I hope you ' ll try some day to dye " in your kitchen " : it is a funny game . It is not for industry , even small industry : too much work, too many goods, and too much time. But, in money, inexpensive.


Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-12-2002 12:18 PM:

Dear Philippe,
thanks a lot for this contribution ! You define perfectly what scale you intend and then dyeing is fascinating and fun, as I agree.
The amount of metal that is absorbed to the wool is low, even if you use alum. I respect a lot traditional knowledge, when there is really something there. But our approach is to understand fully what happens in the proces on a scientifical level. I never dyed with antique purple because today I would not kill 10 000 animals for something that I can better from different sources. That is my personal interpretation.
When you think of people who need to earn money from what they are doing we leave the hobby scale and have to find sustainable, healthy and safe methods for fiber dyeing. Imagine that today with a good madder extract one can make a fabulous aubergine in the kitchen: all you need is a water bath of 50°C, well mordanted fibers, a bit extract and some auxilliaries. Then we drink tea and 2 hours later the aubergine is ready. Using the most sensible and expensive analytical procedures you would find it difficult till impossible to find a difference to the same shade in a superb antiquity. To come to this point you must have understood strange sounding mystic dyeing recipes - and must have found the scientifical ratio in them ( and separate mystic nonsense or factors that are locally applicable only).



Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-12-2002 12:33 PM:

Dear Michael and Phil,

Philippe wrote:
I am sorry for your contest with A.Rieger, because she has a great knowledge about " how-to-do " about many colours, and the results are true..and solid..for what I saw.
Michael, did you actually see those results?
If yes, what do you think about them?
If not, Philippe seems willing to help!
Practically yours,


Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-12-2002 12:44 PM:

Hallo Filiberto,

as far as I remember at this Toulouse congress I saw some, yes. But I would take an oath on it.


Posted by Sophia Gates on 05-12-2002 01:22 PM:

Synthetics vs. Dating

Dear Michael,

I wouldn't DREAM of throwing out my Kurdish piece - it's gorgeous, I was KIDDING. But - also making a point: the piece is beautiful & artful, it is art, not junk, regardless of the dyestuffs actually used.

Anyhow the color is beautiful, rich and radiant and the contrasts with the other colors used is perfect. So how can the weaver be faulted for using this color?

Additionally, many synthetic dyes exactly copy the chemical formulas of the naturals. This was carefully done by the people working with the organic chemicals left over from the coal-tars. I don't understand, in these cases, how one could even tell by testing which is which. I'll write more about this when I post my review of the book "Bright Earth", which goes into this process in detail. I hope to have this finished soon.

Moreover, I have been studying the genesis of synthetic dyes and these seem to have been produced since about 1860 and widely distributed by the 1880's. So, by age, I think my piece is quite possibly over 100 years old which makes it antique. Right?

Furthermore, lightfastness in color has ALWAYS been a problem, throughout the ages painters, weavers, etc. have been plagued by vanishing color, bleeding color, etc. etc., and not just in the short period marked by the invention of synthetics. One can easily see this by visiting the local museum. Even extremely stable colors like ultramarine blue can fade out IF any one detail in the process is "off". Cochineals have been known to fade frequently and indigo, as used in painting, is not lightfast at all. Hence, I suspect troubles with synthetic dyes have more to do with the dying process and less to do with the presence of the colorant itself, which as I said above in many cases exactly mirror the organic dyes they are mimicking.

An organic chemical of a certain formula is an organic chemical of a certain formula, whether derived from a plant or from coal tar.

Furthermore, I disagree with you that improper rinsing cannot be responsible for subsequent bleeding. The mordant, i.e., metal salts present in the dye lake, will absorb the colorant in a certain proportion depending upon the chemical formala of each, by weight. Right Steve? I remember studying this in college chemistry. It's quite possible therefore for some dyestuff to be "left over", ie not properly absorbed, and therefore subject to subsequent washout. Ironically this is probably more likely to happen in heavily saturated dyes, i.e., wool that has been dyed repeated to acquire the full saturation we admire, is more likely to carry excess colorant molecules. Pale colors, ie wefts dyed in the dregs, are far less likely to get loose, at least I haven't noticed any.

As far as the Navajo are concerned, improper washing and scarcity of water for the dying process are noted by anthropologists who have worked with the Dineh, Gladys Reichart being the prime example. She was fluent in the language and lived with Dineh families and learned to process wool by hand and to weave. She is also responsible for some of the seminal work on sandpaintings and their place in traditional healing ritual; I will take her word for it. The fact is, other rugs woven by desert dwellers have, according to people I know who wash rugs for a living, similar tendencies to bleed regardless of whether the dyes used were madder or synthetics.

Of course, whether the washed-out dye particles actually adhere to the wool and damage the appearance of the rug must, according to Michael, depend upon the pH of the wool. Right? And not on the nature of the dye. Right? Also, there are practical means by which one can minimize damage from loose dyes but that's another story, the moral of which is, MAKE SURE THE GUY WASHING YOUR RUG KNOWS WHAT HE/SHE IS DOING

Another question: to the extent that rug weavers relied upon the Jewish dyemasters, is is possible that some of the antique recipes are still in existence, among the Sephardic community in Israel perhaps? Has anybody attempted to contact them? Of course there has been much upheaval since then but Jewish people worked all over Asia, along the Silk Road, and throughout the Ottoman Empire, so I'm thinking it's quite possible their descendants might still know something.


Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-12-2002 01:37 PM:


I wanted to say that I would not take an oath on it. That means, too, I do not remember that I have been excited or had a similar feeling. Some other details of that congress I remember better.
Whatever: sure it is possible to develop dyes in this style. Sometimes they may even be better than todays amateurish dyes: look at Rhamnus petiolaris, for instance, Cehri or Persian berries. One has the biggest amounts of useful dye stuff in green berries. The amount necessary is only 30% of the wool weight. Then, I mean heated and using the filtered solution as the dye bath, one gets a brillant yellow of ridiculous light fastness. With this material a "fermenting type" of dyes might get better results. But one can as well use a properly made extract of Rhamnus and will have the "fermented dye" in 2 hours.
Analytically there will be no difference between both of them - if they are properly done.


Michael Bischof

Posted by Sophia Gates on 05-12-2002 04:59 PM:

Use Of Animals

Michael has come up with a good point, also mentioned in "Bright Earth", about the sheer number of animals which must be sacrified to make a good dye. This also holds true for plants of course; and, in the case of woad dying, the process can be injurious for the land as well.

So, best use of natural resources must be considered when discussing dyeing or paint manufacturing on an industrial level.

Personally I am glad we have the new colors. There are so many more of them and from the painter's standpoint at least, modern paints are thoroughly tested for lightfastness and bleeding and, properly used, should last for a long, long time.

However, the best dyes/paints won't save a bad design. I've always thought the "color, color, color" thing awfully simplistic. Indeed, throughout history there has been a conflict between "il designo" and "il colore" - sometimes a complex design might come off better in calmer colors and vice-versa - but this is where the artfulness comes in - not to mention the artist's intent: what does she want to say?

Frankly I believe the more available colors the better. We are scorning crafts made by women who really LIKE pink, purple, hot orange, etc. Are we being connoisseurs or are we being snobs?

And we who consider ourselves connoisseurs, who scorn COMMERCIAL ART, are now driving the market for Natural Dyes (or colors that resemble them). Talk about market pressure. Whew.

Arguments, please?


Posted by Steve Price on 05-12-2002 05:31 PM:

Hi Sophia,

I'll toss in my $0.02 worth. My position is that I'm a collector, and probably fairly typical of collectors in many ways. Although I buy new (counting anything younger than me as "new") pieces from time to time, I prefer antiques.

I don't like garish colors on rugs and related textiles, new or old. If this means I am
...scorning crafts made by women who really LIKE pink, purple, hot orange, etc., so be it. It's my dough, my collection, and anyone who likes pink, purple, hot orange, etc., is most welcome to buy the stuff with that in it. They'll get it cheaper because most of us don't want it, and they'll show that they empathize with the weavers by doing so. I don't see it as a moral issue one way or the other.

And I don't think the antique collectors are driving the market toward natural dyes. We don't much care what dyes are used in new stuff. That market drive is largely promotion by vendors pushing new material that they claim is equivalent to the old in every way.

That's my story, and I'm sticking with it.


Steve Price

Posted by Lavergne Philippe on 05-12-2002 05:57 PM:

Dear all,

About the Jewish people , why not ?
But in the book :

The Royal Purple and The Biblical Blue
by Isaac Herzog,
editor : Ehud Spanier
Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd

there is no chin about an actual possibility to make these colours, and no really good idea to try.

The purple making is presumed lost after 1453 ( falling of Constantinople ), but, perhaps some Ladik ( Istambul museum near the old race-course ) have some : a kind of red brownish, that you can see , easily on egyptian christian textiles ( copts ), and testified by mass- spectrography. Sometimes madder + indigo, sometimes purple.

Rhamnus petiolaris L. ( ORR XIII - 6 ) turkish cohri, contains Flavonoïds, like many Rhamnus, and many plants ( Rhamnus = french nerprun, japanese Kuroomemodoki and Polushabeli, have been used all over the world ).
Rhamnus alaternus L. " graine d' Avignon " was used to make the yellow of the Jewish caps, in Avignon.
The cehri or cohri was exported from anatolia to Europe to make dye.
Probably the 30 % is true, ( it looks like my experience with other plants ) and I guess there was a way to make it in a good fast..
And it is not sure at all, than an extract can make it in 2 hours.

To prepare an indigo vat, which is a tipycal ( alkaline ) fermenting type, well known all over the world, it is necessary to have some time, in a few days,and much more than 2 h.

It is only to make thinking that :

- 1 the old good ( and bad ) colours were made with natural plants ( good means for me : old carpets, and old tapestries, before the 16 th century and before 17 th century, Colbert in France ) . Certain
- 2 the actual attempts to make it again , are , very often unsuccessfull ( mickaël ' s facts ) or make a colour of " ridiculous light fastness ". Certain
- 3 the chemists can make very good colours, in a cheaper way, and, even , very fast and strong ( yellow especially, by contrast with natural ). Certain
- 4 there is no explanation or recipe to make strong colours with natural plants, even by chemists ( or, tell me , I except the blue). Certain (?)
- 5 some funny people - unscientific or so presumed - claim that they can do it by a good processing of fermentation..

So, why not test it, and try to improve it, with the means of chemistry ?
There is no economic reason, but in a scientific point of view, there are there facts to explain.

For exemple, making wine is a very old natural process which has been very much improved by wine-chemistry. Is'nt it ?

I can add than fermenting needs no much water, only the minimum to put the wool, and the water can be replaced by urine for the blue ( well known and it works in the best way ) and , why not by milk, whey, or some fruit juice ( not a fact, only my idea ).

The extract is perhaps no sufficient to make a good colour, not in a laboratory, but in a kitchen, with fermenting; it looks not scientific, but with 1-2-3-4, who can proove it ?or the contrary ?

The solutions of these problems are not in searching for secrets, but in working concretely, and, only after, as usually in science, to build a good explanation

One time for all, I beg you to excuse my poor english



Posted by Sophia Gates on 05-12-2002 10:00 PM:

Thank you, Phil - your comments make a lot of sense and clarify some issues. I was wondering about the Jewish connection because of the interest people seem to have in resurrecting the antique dyes. Perhaps some time & effort could be saved.

I'm glad you agree with me that today's chemical dyes are excellent and cheaper than the vegetable/animal alternatives.

A question: this being the case, why not save on the material end and pay the weavers more?

I do believe, however, that hand-spun & hand-dyed wool is probably essential to a good result, with the subtleties people like to see.

Steve, probably most collectors would agree with you where their antiques are concerned. However, I'm baffled as to why people who collect old art aren't also interested in new art.

Why is that? Don't working artists deserve to make a living? Dead artists don't eat! Although, dealers and middle-persons sure do And - isn't it important to see where the tradition is going? Doesn't it give even more meaning to the past to acknowledge the present?

Anyhow. Sorry about the polemics but I think art is important! Living art as well as dead art.

And Steve, I disagree with you that the collector market has nothing to do with the trend in the new production toward natural dyes. I think the Hali community has a lot of clout and is clearly influencing designers and investors in weaving communities. Witness Michael's description of people, tourists, coming to visit Turkish villages and not buying authentic tribal bags, etc., because they were made with synthetic dyes. As I say, their great-grandmas aren't needing food, clothing, electricity, etc. BUT THEY DO.


Posted by Steve Price on 05-12-2002 11:17 PM:

Hi Sophia,

I do collect new art - but not very many new textiles. Actually, there's lots of things I don't collect. I don't think that's unusual or immoral, and requires no defending. It is not an expression of hostility against living weavers any more than the fact that I don't eat certain foods is an expression of hostility against the farmers who raise them. Perhaps a more appropriate target of frustration would be the people who don't collect anything at all. There's lots more of them than there are of us.

The "Hali community" that influences the tourist preferences isn't the collectors, it's the promoters. The majority of the collectors don't buy much new stuff, and it doesn't matter to them whether the new stuff is made with natural or synthetic dyes, handspun or machine spun wool. The vast majority of the tourists who go to Turkey looking for rug bargains in the villages don't subscribe to HALI.


Steve Price

Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-13-2002 02:48 PM:

Hallo all,

wouldn't it be better or more logical if we continue technical details of dyeing on, for example, the thread
"Turcoman reds" ?
I will anser Philippe's interesting contribution there and try to focus answers here on this subject of details of washing. Otherwise one would have a kind of corrupted index for our readers.



Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-15-2002 03:34 PM:

Steve, I must contradict. Those tourist people in the village were specialist textile tourists who were grouped according to this theme. The desire to buy at the source ( instead to use the source mainly for learning) is a big important factor in preventing them to elevate to be a "big" collector. The size and the character of a collection has not necessarily to do with the amont of money which is spent !
Let me try to introduce a total different perspective. The reason why such people were challenged too much is different. I do not know exact figures but I guess not even 5% of antique pieces are there in mint condition, what the light fading concerns. Most of the material is in the form of "pale ghosts", often enough bad condition, holes, worn out .... As it seems most collectors need to be insured by such properties (which are all damages in the real art world) of the age of a weave. Therefore they never learned to judge the age indepen-dant from the condition, so they cannot improve easy enough. And : they never saw pieces where one can see the original intention of the artist, that one with the undamaged strong dyes. To open the pile, take measures of the dye that did not bleach at the ground of the pile, go back and then try to visualize how it must have looked is obvious a hard thing to do for most of them. But then we slowly come to the art level. The other one is collecting and dealing.
Not only to look for the jobs of the living is a point. To grasp the beauty of saturated natural dyes would be another thread and to enjoy the results when talented people combine them,
on the basis of their own textile tradition, but with creativity is another one. In antique pieces such joy is simply not available for the majority of the collectors.
- That these thoughts do not touch the present "production" business which replaces worn out natural dyed antiquities with cheap carpetoids or kilimoids is another thing.
If one neglects this aspect such things that we imaginaated in our essay and that materialized some days later at ACOR in such a wonderful way will build up automatically to form an outlet ...

But our master weaver Susan Yalcin, a Yomud Turcoman descend from Taskale / Karaman,
said: in old days most of the women did not have talent and did not want to weave, as well as it is today. That is the same what our arts teachers in my school in Rüsselsheim/Germany, tell me. The percentage of talent does not change. In addition to the talent the laborious task to learn the skills must come.This is where the problem today is situated.



Posted by Steve Price on 05-15-2002 03:54 PM:

Hi Michael,

Do you really mean to say that the vast majority of the tourists in Turkey are people who are fairly knowledgable about rugs? That isn't my impression. Tour groups consisting entirely of ruggies can't be a major force in the marketplace unless there are lots more of them than I think there are.

I don't think the push for natural dyes in modern production results from pressure by collectors, but from promoters whose target is the not-very-well-informed buyer who only knows that collectors who understand a little about rugs place great emphasis on dyes being natural. You and I know that the reason for this is that synthetic dyes are an unambiguous sign that the piece does not have what collectors call "good age" (an oxymoron if there ever was one, speaking as someone who is of "good age" himself). The not-very-well-informed buyer knows only that natural dyes are important to collectors. He doesn't know why. He doesn't subscribe to HALI, or even know that it exists, so he can't possibly be influenced by its content.

Or am I way off in my estimate of the percentage of Turkish tourists who are rug collectors?


Steve Price

Posted by Sophia Gates on 05-15-2002 11:24 PM:

Dyes & The Market

Michael, Steve, and all:

I think there are several issues here. One is the desire of dedicated people like Michael, who are working hard to recreate the glories of the past and hopefully also, to see that their excellent dyes can be used creatively as well as traditionally by well-trained & dedicated weavers. That's great - and probably the master-weaver cited is correct: today's weavers, highly trained as artists, and having chosen their craft instead of having to do it as a matter of course, can probably reach new levels of excellence and beauty.

Another aspect of this trend, however, is the decorator market that Steve speaks of, some of whom are like people who go out to buy paintings to go with the couch.

But finally I agree with Michael that a lot of the pressure on the market might actually be coming directly from the nexus of collectors and collector dealers who in turn influence manufacturers. Look how closely collectors, dealers, promotors & manufacturers are working these days! A glance at a recent Hali should reinforce the point.

Some of that is good - i.e., the standard of excellence desired is never a bad thing. However I worry when certain ideas such as "saturated vegetable dyes" get in the way of what is actually being created in terms of real folk/tribal art as opposed to carefully controlled industrial art, such as Zollanvari is producing - which can result in beautiful stuff but which is not the same thing as I, and I think Michael, are discussing at all.

Does this make any sense? Ultimately I think it's all good, but I would like to see a little more flexibility on the part of American collectors concerning both real people's art - the art of the Turkish village women, the art of the Berber weavers working today, etc., which deserves respect even if it doesn't match a certain idea about beauty; and also a more subtle and knowledgable understanding both about color theory and dye materials including the possibilities unleashed by the sheer number of colors available through the miracles of modern science.



Posted by Chuck Wagner on 05-16-2002 09:14 AM:

What she said...

Hi all,

I'm with you Sophia, on the "what is art ?" and the market pressure issues. It's amusingly ironic to me that the very charateristics that many collectors rave about in very old tribal carpets (naievete (sp ?), totemic symbolism, abstraction, coloring, novel material combinations, etc.) are completely rejected in modern products simply because of blanket application of the following rule: If It's Modern It Must Be Inferior And Cannot Be Art Because All Weavers And Dyemasters Are Cynical Moneygrubbers Now.

Hmm. That's interesting. Money as the motive. There's a book that's come out recently discussing contemporary oriental rugs. It is the most blatant touting of a dealers manufacturing buddies that has been seen in decades. And yet because the buddies are using natural dyes, some very ghastly color combinations, non-traditional designs, rudely coarse construction, ENORMOUS CRUDE SIGNATURES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RUGS, and industrial production techniques are warmly accepted by the collection community as a rebirth of the rug as art.

So who's contaminating the environment with commercialism, the weavers ? Maybe.

It seems to me that tribal art (such as it is) is really nothing more that goods produced by tribal peoples that contain colors and motifs that the maker likes to look at day after day, that are then collected by persons outside the culture for their viewing pleasure. These goods are made with the materials that are intrinsic to the makers culture at the time of manufacture. These days, that frequently includes synthetic dyes, often poorly applied due to cooking over an open fire in an iron pot.

It's important to acknowledge that carpets are understood by all persons in the weaving regions to have value, and are accumulated by nomadic families for use as currency during hard times. That's not the same as banging out a piece of junk to dump on some dumb tourist, though. You can't assume that if you see synthetic dyes then you're looking at a product made for commercial purposes.

And the weavers aren't dumb; they know that a wash will modify the look of a synthetic dye.


That's life. That's what you get from these cultures today. That doesn't mean it's not art.
If you don't want it to run, HELLO: Don't get it wet.

The nomads are not the ones reverting to natural dyes. Their lives are too hard and the dyes are too expensive. It's the "Sayahis" and "Zollanvaris" of the world (and to "their" credit, SOME of the carpets are absolutely gorgeous !) driving the move to natural dyes.

And it's not because they think the boys in Maxwell, Nebraska, are going to climb down off a grain harvester and drop big money on a rug for the farmhouse, now that the Nebraskans lifelong dream of the "return to natural dyes" is realized.

It is EXACTLY because these manufacturers hang out with influential moneyed collectors, and dealers who have a profit motive behind their requests, that this drive is occurring.

Regarding the decorator market, remember that it is very likely THE place where most people who collect carpets as art buy their first carpet. After doing so, they then proceed to learn about, and appreciate, the effort and skill that goes into a handmade product. Then their money is gone because they spend it all on collectible rugs for the rest of their lives. It's a curse I rather enjoy myself.

There's a big difference between "art" and "art I will spend my money on". Once someone determines "what art is" in their own mind, one can be quite happy with whatever weavings one accumulates. This difference, however, is the source of much of the bickering that takes place between collectors. But it's not an art question, it is a personal standards question.

Those standards are often subtly, but firmly, driven by the art market. One can't really pay attention to what the high dollar collectors are after without a nod to the value side of the equation. And when that happens, art changes to the art business. That is where arguments about art should cease.

Regards, Chuck Wagner
Chuck Wagner

Posted by Sophia Gates on 05-16-2002 10:58 AM:

Well said, Chuck.

Yours truly,
Sophia Someday I'll Learn To Make Couch Paintings Gates

This thread ccontinues on another page. Clicking the blue numeral "2" at the lower left part of the screen will take you to it.

Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-16-2002 03:57 PM:

tourists - new weaves - standards

Hi Steve,
no , I simply meant that the tourists that I cited in our example were such textile tourists and not normal tourists. In most villages this tradition does not exist any longer anyway and there is no mass tourism for textiles at all. These normal tourists buy them in the touristic areas itself or at some specially constructed "carpet villages" that one has at the main roads ( and, for example, in Cappadokia). These are normal carpet firms with a special kind
of active showroom ( or interactive selling display ).
The reason for pressuring for natural dyes you estimate in the right way. Ironically natural dyes are not suitable for the normal cheap furniture textile type of weave that is offered there:
if ecology and sensorical pleasure are not that important suitable synthetic dyes that must not
be washed chemically to get the right look are better. May be some guys noticed it: in Turkey
the hit of the new season is "köklü boya" ( "natural" dye) as opposed to kök boya (natural dye). In the first case you apply synthetic dyes and a handful alibi roots , the second word would mean that 100% of the dye stuff is natural. This is not offered anyway: the Indigo is still synthetic Indigo, again with the exception of two dye plants.
We forget a bit the repair. Synthetic Indigo has a nuance which is different from the Indigo in the antique pieces. To get it one not only would need natural Indigo - it must be applied in the right way and not with the usual hydro sulphite/caustic soda process. As both is not at hand what is done is the following: normal bue yarn, dyed with synthetic Indigo, is put into an acid bath of potassium bichromate. This ultra-toxic material then oxidizes the Indigo (!) plus the wool and one gets a kind of broken shade that semi-educated people tend to move close to the look of good old Indigo. The wool is affected a lot as this is an artificially enhanced decaying oxidation ( like sun bathes or chemical wash). Make sure that your repair connection does not do that !
Sophia, this name that you gave I know, the products I know less well. I come over it at domotex in Hannover each year. The heavy chlorine smell normally prevents me from coming really close to the things. What this smell means I had explained here before. The Moroccan project of Wilfried Stanzer is of entirely different character. I do not believe that the traditional Oriental carpet and kilim made full use of the sensoric-aesthetical potential that the combination of beautiful saturated natural dyes and traditional skills may exhibit.
One reason for this situation I see in the fact that even experienced collectors see the orginally intention of the antique weaver too seldom in form of very early pieces in colourwise good condition. The pieces no. 1 and 5 are such rare exception and this enhances for me the importance of this Essen exhibition. A chance to fine tune the own standards.



Posted by Sophia Gates on 05-16-2002 04:36 PM:

Time Travel

Dear Michael:

You are making me wish to travel backwards in time!

I am beginning to understand too why you feel provenance is important. Alas, I'm starting to have that Unsafe Feeling, especially on the 'net. Some of this stuff looks really awesome on the screen but in person - oi.

Once again thank you for this discussion. It's uncomfortable sometimes to confront one's own preconceived ideas about things but I for one have benefitted greatly.

Here's to the success of the talented people working to make beautiful rugs!


Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-17-2002 02:24 PM:


Hallo all,

"So who's contaminating the environment with commercialism, the weavers ? Maybe."
No, Chuck Wagner. Simply because in todays "production" system the lowest place in the hierarchy is for the female weavers. They have no say. The most uneducated little male helper in any cottage industry carpeting firm has a higher status than she has. The weaver gets the ready design that she has to execute knot by knot. When there is a technical deviation ( even if real reason is that the firm is not able to deliver suitable yarns of reproducible thickness) her money is cut. You wants to see this with own eyes may give us a note in time and then you can see this in the Karaman area. Before and after this visit you may see the results in Istanbul.
To find out whether there is genuine creativity or fabricated "creativity" would be more tricky than finding fakes. You would need to speak the local language perfectly, know the society there via inside views and even then it is not easy. By sheer luck sometimes one comes over it. In this respect Turkey is much easier than Iran, if you look at the visa restrictions and many other official obstacles. How can one expect then to find out what is arranged behind some curtains ?
"You can't assume that if you see synthetic dyes then you're looking at a product made for commercial purposes." - Of course not, you are right. In old days they had to buy natural dyes because any other did not exist. According to our results of research they must have been quite expensive. A very long paper "The economy of carpet weaving in antiquity and today" is with Steve Price and some other collectors in the USA for further use ... It is a long and hard job to get pure nuances of vivid colours out of natural materials. So this once had a very high visual status and when it seemed to become available at low prices with the synthetic dyes no wonder that people ran to join the progress. That one produces 18 - 20 kg highly toxic waste in order to get 1 kg of pure synthetic dye is no problem as long as cryptic support money ( you must not pay for the equivalent for cleaning up your pollution) is paid. And as long it is that much cheaper in application people are not eager to look unbiased at the big quality difference in terms of visual pleasure, vividness etc. that prevents synthetic dyes from competing with excellent natural dyes. So the village woman that needs some dyes for a pullover or a carpet gets them cheap at her dye plant , in Turkey mostly the "corapci".
"MAYBE THEY WANT IT TO LOOK THAT WAY. " - No, they do not. But one has to be exact: in Karaman often the neighbours of Susan Yalcin come to her and ask for small amount of saturated natural dyes as a little highlight for an own pullover, whereas they curse at "natural dyes" that some Konya firms bring to her to be woven into carpets. In the "normal business" these "natural dyes" are a nick name for something that stains the fingers, puts dust on them and more often than not creates quality disputes later when a light blue is disappearing in the final wash and the Istanbul based firms owner accuses the weavers of being stupid: didn't they see in the design that this should be blue and not white ....

But the mainstream cottage industry works different: the firms bring the dyed yarns to the looms, and here you are in error: the big quantities are synthetic dyes made on purpose to look similar to what the average customer might perceive as natural dyes. Sometimes, that means not in all cases, they add this alibi handful of roots to have "köklü" boya ... And most of them are offered as "natural dyes" (what they never are, at best "partially natural dyes").
For those who like to enjoy ( and to pay) real natural dyes today can be applied in the following forms:
- dyed yarns ( wool, Mohair, silk, cotton, linen, even paper) for carpets, kilims, knitting,
embroidering , for certain carpet repairs, for faking repairs ....
- pigments ( one produces the dyes in form of extreme fine dust which can me mixed with
a carrier substrate like oil, wax .... like in ancient times ) . Ask artists for the difference !

- an application as cosmetic is just beginning to be developed
The most overwhelming blue that I have seen as a pigment is a specially cleaned Lapislazuli pigment that a friend of mine produces in Germany and sells worldwide, a knockout dye. The price is extreme, but one doesn't use it for house paintings - and for certain things it is a must. Most likely with excellent dyes it is similar like with wine: the majority does not have the taste and therefore not the need to insist on the real thing ... but then the minority sets the standards.
Therefore I am happy that after the first wave of kilim exhibitions ( like "Mr. Miller proudly presents this purchases ...) now higher aiming efforts are done. The importance of this Essen exhibition lies in this point: it was based around one concept and included A-pieces in a condition where we can be sure that about this was the weavers intention.



Posted by Sophia Gates on 05-17-2002 06:02 PM:

Lapis Lazuli and "Bright Earth"

Hi all,

Michael mentioned a pigment made from ground up lapis lazuli. As most of you probably know, lapis lazuli is a blue stone found, among other places, in Afghanistan and one frequently encounters it in jewelry from the Orient.

It has been known since ancient times but due to its expense and the fact that the stone must be brought from far overseas, the pigment became known as Ultramarine Blue. It is one of the mainstays of the of the painter's palette and produces a glorious blue with purple overtones.

The process of obtaining the pigment from the stone and the description of the fortunate discovery by scientists in the 19th century of its synthetic analogue is written about in the book, "Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color", by Philip Ball.

I keep promising to write a complete review of this book but I seem to always be running short of time. So briefly, this book is a must for ruggies. The author is a scientist, with an undergraduate degree from Oxford and a Ph.D. in physics. So he is more than adequately equipped to explain the scientific processes of obtaining pigments and dyes from plants and minerals and insects and mollusks, etc., as well as their synthesization in the lab. Herein you will learn of the difference between pigments and dye lakes, and also of the ingenious processes by which our ancestors learned to obtain color from the natural and not-so-natural resourses around us. Frankly I was amazed when I read of the complex manner of making Egyptian blue frit, an ancient pigment - how on earth people figured this out is beyond me. And I wonder how many processes of invention began as Cooking Accidents?

In any case, Ball is also expert at describing color theory - by which I mean SCIENTIFIC color theory, as in physical law - which I believe is a must for ruggies to understand if they want to improve their connoisseurship. Contemporary fine artists and designers are of course trained in this science with a view toward improving their ability to use color in their work and apparently, intuitive artists from ancient times have understood something of how light and color function both physically and expressively. For example, the fact that complimentary colors set directly side-by-side can actually vibrate and gray each other out must have been noticed by old tribal & workshop weavers and designers, who generally surrounded or outlined areas of strong, saturated color with neutral tones of grays & browns - thus allowing each saturated color to glow without stepping on its neighbor. This subtlety is frequently lacking in modern natural dye rug production and therefore the rug, although the dyes are of good quality, doesn't glow like the originals. That's one reason I say that merely possessing "saturated color" won't make a good rug, painting or design. Knowing how to use color in accordance with physical law, whether observed intuitively or studied in school, is vital both to artists and to connoisseurs.

There is much humor in this book as well. Ruggies might particularly appreciate the chapter on time and restoration, which is right on point for this Salon. For example, in the 19th century "conservators", in order to make Old Master paintings more "tasteful", covered them in brown glazes to tone down the colors! Does this sound like a tea-wash or what? Many of us have grown up with the idea that Old Master paintings are dull when in fact that's the effect of 19th century varnishes. In fact, the search for vivid color, color that will even begin to approximate the glories of nature, is as old as man. And the limitations of material has always been a problem. Lightfastness, stability, expense -- all have been factors from day one.

The point Ball makes about the explosion in color research since the Industrial Revolution really got me thinking. He points out that, prior to scientific synthesization of color, natural dyes could produce only about twelve dependable dyes or pigments - and now we can choose from over 4,000. As a painter, I can't imagine living without the cadmium and cobalt and pthalocyanine colors that are a staple of my palette, along with the antique alizarin madder lakes and ultramarines and earth colors known to painters for centuries. So, as a rug collector I have been forced to confront my prejudices concerning natural dyes vs. synthetics - frankly, much loved painterly movements such as Impressionism would have been flat-out impossible without the cadmium pigments, for example. So - who am I to say that the Middle Eastern weaver shouldn't avail herself of the beautiful new spectrum as well?

Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color. Philip Ball. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York, New York, 2001.

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 05-18-2002 05:07 PM:

An Uphill Battle

Hi Michael,

First, let me clarify a remark that you may have misunderstood. When I said:

"So who's contaminating the environment with commercialism, the weavers ? Maybe."

I didn't mean to imply that I actually DO believe the weavers are responsible for the decision to use poorly dyed wool. Quite the opposite. It's more like using "maybe" as follows:

"Will the politicians listen to the voters this time, and lower income taxes ? Maybe."

I'll be dead long before politicians lower my income taxes. Understand ?

Having said that, I'll go on to point out that I was commenting on how art, dyes, and carpets fit together, in my mind. Briefly: I simply don't accept that "carpet art" can ONLY occur with the use of natural dyes. And, I don't accept that "carpet art" MUST occur with the use of natural dyes. There are plenty of boring, ugly, rugs built with high quality dyes. They are not art.

I'm well aware of the scale of the "cottage weaving industry". I can't speak for Turkey, but in Iran in the mid 90's, there were about 2 million people, and 1.2 million looms scattered through more than 200 towns and more than 20,000 villages producing about 7 million square meters of carpets per year. In Pakistan, they produced about 2.5 million square meters. Who knows what the numbers are for China. Quite the "cottage industry", even after you discount the city rugs.

Most of the weavers in that industry are just trying to make a living like the rest of us. In some cases the firm contracting the work allows the weaver some flexibliity regarding the design, and genuine creativity shows up. But often (as you point out) the creativity is designed in from the beginning. But what if the design itself is really good art ? Are a few replicas then NOT art ? It's not an easy call.

But there are still nomadic weavers, and cottage weavers, who are disconnected from the commercial weaving business. They periodically bring their goods to market for cash or barter. And they are the people that create items that contain a personal touch, that extra "something unique" that lets the item transition into the art world (in the eye of the beholder).

And that's where:


comes in. Not in the commercial shops, but at the individual level. These folks know that certain dyes are fast and others aren't. They know what a couple weeks in the sun will do to a new rug. And they know what effect a wash will have. But they often have severe financial constraints and sometimes create some real monsters rather than waiting for better materials.

But I think most of the monsters come from the commercial business where there is no accountability. The one who buys a rug with loose dyes, and discovers this after spilling a beverage, does not have the ability to bring negative consequences to the dyemaster. It is a poorly disciplined business. Caveat Emptor.

You touched on a topic that may, indirectly, bring increased interest to natural dyes: environmentalism. Certainly, chemical companies are always looking for ways to reduce exposure to lawsuits and regulation. But the volumes we're discussing here are incredible. Take another look at those statistics above. Today, there isn't enough natural dye on the PLANET to handle that much material. And natural does NOT always mean non-toxic. Eat enough apple seed and the cyanide will kill you. Certain of the natural dyes have toxic residuals.

In the OLD DAYS (whenever they were) artists were supported by wealthy patrons: look at the Faberge operations in Czarist Russia, or the court artists of France and Italy. Perhaps that's the best way to get high priced high quality materials into the hands of truly creative people. But they are the ones who wake up every day intent on creating "art".

The "tribal artist" creates art as a de facto component of artists lifestyle. And these lifestyles are ebbing quickly, largely due to economic pressures. They can't afford natural dyes.

And so, there will always be a place for the "natural dye" carpet manufacturers, because there will always be a subset of the carpet buying public who appreciate, and can afford, such pieces. But they will be the "Apple Computer" of the handmade carpet business, always there but never dominant. The average carpet buyer isn't going to pay double or triple the price of an ordinary rug made with synthetic dyes. And manufacturers aren't going to ignore the limitless color combinations available with synthetic dyes. And if a manufacturer can't compete with the Chinese and Indian ateliers they will be put out of business.

It's an uphill battle, and I applaud those of you involved in the move back into natural dyes. But art is not defined by the list of materials used to create the work.

Regards, Chuck
Chuck Wagner

Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-19-2002 03:41 AM:

Hallo Chuck Wagner,
it seems so that our opinions converge.

The aesthetique of Oriental weaves developed in ... thousand years on the basis of using the most saturated natural dyes with the purest nuances available. One can combine them as one likes. The result is always harmonious ( if there are no saturation differences). It is not possible in a sudden to change the properties of the dyes without applying other changes what would need quite a long evolution. One cannot simple change from oil on canvas to pastel dyes without major changes in the way painting is done. So weaves with synthetic dyes look "wrong" as do modern pullovers with kilim motifs done in synthetic dyes. Its like a Turkish woman with artificially blond hair. This might have a strong impact, but not of the kind that we discuss here.
In old days when local people sold an own carpet occassionally these were automatically in natural dyes ( not cheap at that time !) and the piece expensive. This is a product of their own textile culture and not cottage industry !
"The "tribal artist" creates art as a de facto component of artists lifestyle. And these lifestyles are ebbing quickly, largely due to economic pressures. They can't afford natural dyes." Yes, that is the point.

A so called "Akterai" carpet mentioned by Jacoby and Orendi costed 3000 $/m² in a German retail shop in 1909. These carpets are very sophisticated weaves, like the earliest known gabbehs, much more than the very fine workshop pieces, but no cottage industry products.
Who questions this statement should try to make just one such weave today ! The only person who had tried that was the English yastik collector Keith Holmes beginning of the eighties. It did not work because my Konya counterparts at that time could not refrain from using chemical wash against all given promises.
In our research paper about the economy of carpet making we came to the conclusion that it costs about 600 $/m² FOB Konya to make such a thing today. So in reality the price did not change in 100 years ! One piece of this type has just been offered at auction for 2200 $/m² - but auctions houses are not responsible retail dealers but open, unprotected market places so their prices cannot be a measure.
"And so, there will always be a place for the "natural dye" carpet manufacturers, because there will always be a subset of the carpet buying public who appreciate, and can afford, such pieces. But they will be the "Apple Computer" of the handmade carpet business, always there but never dominant."
Where our opinion differs we have this "do-not-compare-apples-and-potatoes" problem.
What you refer to are not carpets but carpetoids, and these are new and these are cheap. Technically they are industrial decorative home-textiles, hand-made, using wool as a starting material. These are no carpets, that easy. One cannot simply put an old name to an entirely new product only because there are vague similarities. And if one takes into account that even a very finely knotted Pakistan piece with these 1-2 $/kg dyes has a production value of significantly lower than 80 $/m² the retail prices in the west are far higher than 1:5. In reality these carpetoids are the expensive material. Transferring the weaving to places with cheap labour, thus making "uprooted carpets", results in a new product but not in a cheaper weave
with the old qualites.
Not the Apple computers went to be cheaper.
They have been replaced by a new product of much lower quality and performance. Look of what happens to them when used and washed several times. I come around a lot - if you come from antique pieces your eyes are hurt. In the middle of the eighties we made a yellow ground yastik, the first time applying all the details of the best antiquities ( specially selected wool, hand-spun - but not with a spinning wheel, saturated 100% natural dyes, weaving without ready design) , that worked as a spiritus rector for the faking industry. It ended up at my friend Bertram Frauenknecht. The poor guy tries since then to enforce some patina on it
by constant use as a foot mat in his house - in vain.

On the other hand I admit: a high price alone does not make any modern weave good, especially as the details of its production are not guaranteed in a way that is subject to Western laws. The best way of correcting this situation is try to motivate people to study the subject as good as they can - and therefore I am engaged in writing such essays.

Again I remember: in Konya we are able to show what is written here, by comparing old material ( in the museum ) with new examples of any kind.

Posted by Michael on 05-19-2002 11:40 AM:

Hallo all,
I find that the following part of an e-mail correspondence fits good into this discussion:

Hi Michael,

I think everyone reading recognizes that all the antique rugs were done with natural dyes, and that synthetics - especially the earliest ones - destroyed much of what was the tradition in oriental rugs.

From this point, though, opinions begin to diverge.
1. Some believe that EVERYTHING that happens in the rug world these days is simply hype and is designed to sell rugs to people who don't know what they're buying anyway. Many people probably believe this, and I come
close to it - I don't think everything is hype, but an awful lot is. I do agree that not all natural dyes make excellent colors, and that the quality of the dyes and the subsequent handling of the piece (washing, for instance) can have big effects.
2. Some people don't think the traditional look is important. If they really like it, it's great art. If the dyes are synthetic, so what? They think it is silly and perhaps even immoral for collectors to want antiques rather than modern production.

As a collector, I don't have much interest in modern textiles, but I certainly understand this point. Tradition and old cultures are very important to me. I'm convinced that the aesthetic of a piece is destroyed by the colors being different than those the weaver used, but sometimes a new aesthetic emerges and sometimes there's enough left of the old one to still be pretty wonderful.

A Salon on fragments some time ago dealt with similar issues. Some people find fragments simply wonderful. The following question arose: If fragments are wonderful, why did weavers create whole pieces to begin with? The fragments were obviously not their artistic intent at all. There is no good answer to this riddle. Some fragments are wonderful to a lot of people, and I think we have to respect that. Some synthetically dyed or color-ruined pieces are wonderful to some people. Sometimes the weaver's artistry can be improved upon, even if it's accidental.


Steve Price

Hi Steve,

the example that you gave with the fragment is great, but polemic, though it makes laugh. - Without laugh: it hits the point
because at this place it becomes clear that all people who still prefer the fragment over the "real" untamed piece are those who place their own phantasies-imaginations higher then the (undoubtedly ) real weave. But then one should pray to collect all intellectual power that one can command and say: I am not interested in art, I insist that what I need is not the piece of art but a kind of "starter" substrate for entering my own ideas, not about something, but starting with something.

At that specific point textile art and collectorship are divorced. They may send friendly letters to each other, but from a distance big enough to be safe.

I can respect both attitudes but I like true labels. - Your opinion
about that ?


Posted by Sophia_Gates on 05-21-2002 01:06 PM:

Amendment to my Navajo Post
A certain highly knowledgeable rug and textile scholar has reminded me that the Navajo written about by Gladys Reichart were not the same as the people who wove the "great indigenous blankets" - i.e., the classical striped chief's blankets, etc., from earlier in the 19th century before the Bosc Redondo fiasco that nearly finished the tribe, and their eventual settlement on the reservation in New Mexico and Arizona. Unfortunately he is not allowed on this board to argue the point, so I will leave it here and not comment further. But I thought it raised an interesting question, in that Reichart was working in the twenties & thirties and people may well have been doing things differently, half a century or more after the settlement on the reservation, and therefore she should not be taken as a final authority on Navajo weaving and dyeing techniques.

And, in the cases of blankets dyed with cochineal and madder, often obtained from unraveled commercial cloth, for example unraveled baise, dye runs would not have been from improper washing but from improper mordanting. True! And also true: the Navajo would not generally have had access to red dyes before the availability of synthetics. Hence, the "bayeta" blankets - using the aforementioned baise, which was dyed & woven by white people in the east. So, the running spoken of by Reichart & mentioned by me, which was the result of poor water supply, would not have occurred for the same reasons on their older, naturally dyed blankets using yarn unraveled from commercial cloth. I assumed everybody was aware of this but should have made it clear.

And I thank the gentleman who contacted me, and I respect and appreciate his knowledge!


Posted by Wendel Swan on 05-21-2002 01:39 PM:

Natural dyes and bleeding

Dear all,

Please forgive this long post, but I wanted to share some information that ought to be meaningful to parts of this salon.

The issue of the capacity of natural dyes to bleed continues to be discussed, with conclusions seemingly being drawn from anecdotal testimony. If we had before us an actual example of a rug with bleeding, simple dye testing could tell us whether the running was from natural or synthetic dyes.

While I can provide no personal expertise myself, in an earlier salon I cited an experienced local weaver and dyer to the effect that natural dyes in wool essentially do not bleed. I once may have perpetuated a possibly incorrect belief by quoting Elena Tsareva as saying that she had "heard" that the excessive use of cochineal in the dye vat can result in bleeding, even though she was merely repeating something she had been told but had no personal experience with this effect.

Because of the continuing controversy, more than a year ago I asked Paul Mushak, a North Carolina physician and toxicologist as well as a recognized authority on the subject of dyes, for his comment. Here is his reply, without my further comment:

"Dear Wendel:

I have a few comments and conclusions in response to your e-mail query about the problem of whether natural dyes would ever bleed into adjacent areas of oriental rugs, trappings, etc. You may pass along these comments to whomever or in whatever venue where they may be useful. I have been occasionally tempted to write on the topic but I am always pushed for time with my regular professional work. I have not considered any formal write-up paper or the on-line version of ORR.

Context and Historical Comments

There has been considerable confusion about the matter of whether natural dyes will or will not "bleed" into adjacent areas, bleeding being most discernible and most objectionable as to aesthetic appearance of a piece when bleeding is to ivory or other light color areas. Bleeding has also been claimed as a crude visual criterion for sorting out natural from synthetic dyes. To be more technically precise, however, this sorting out would have to include both natural AND FAST CHROME DYES as non-bleeders and potential bleeders as synthetics which are not chrome-mordanted. That is, natural and chrome-mordanted dyes on wool in rugs would not bleed, while synthetics other than chromes would bleed. However, absence of bleeding is, obviously, not evidence of natural dyes being present. Pieces may simply contain dyes that would run if given the chance but were never washed or otherwise made damp, i.e., not given the chance. I have seen numerous cases of easy-to-bleed red synthetics in the more recent Turkmen rugs, specifically the Afghan "Mauri" or "Sarooq" pieces from the late 1960s and 1970s, but where the whites and creams are crisp and no bleeding has occurred simply because the rugs were never washed or ever became damp. These pieces therefore seem O.K. Taking a damp cloth to any red area in these pieces, sad to say, gives immediate running with even gentle rubbing.

This confusion over whether natural dyes will run onto adjacent areas traces, at least in part, to the appearance of an off-color in the cream/ivory portions of Turkmen pieces otherwise assumed to be of considerable age. In some cases, the off-color appearance approaches a discernible tan-pink. This was the focus of Steven Price's letter in HALI. Also, certain very fine and presumably early dozars from the Fereghan (Zili-Sultans) and Malayer Hamadan (Mishan Malayer) areas carry an apparent early synthetic red that has typically bled. Similarly, there's a type of Senneh kilim with a garish red and grey-olive palette with this run problem. Here, too, the red appears to the eye as early synthetic since the pieces seem to be from the early 1900s.

A seemingly well-known example of the problem in Turkmen work is a rare example of white-ground asmalyks, i.e., the allover flower heads in a field of ivory and a simple border, sold by Sotheby's in the early 1980s for 44K (a record at the time for Turkmens), and mentioned again in print more recently. It had a pink cast in the ivory. That led one Turkmen "expert" to reputedly postulate that the pink was (presumably natural) field yarn ivory but dyed pale pink to symbolize the bleeding attending loss of virginity during the honeymoon by the bride. This would serve as proof of a bona-fide virginal status to the newly-minted husband. Sheesh! It's hard to envision any likely situation where this explanation would apply. In theory, the virginal bride in the wedding camel cupola and on the way to her wedding would not use a camel festooned with flanking asmalyks already showing symbolic evidence of activity before the honeymoon. This howler shows what people will say to defend forking over big bucks for a rare asmalyk with what probably is an early synthetic dye.

I can offer a number of conclusions on the topic, based on available scientific evidence and historical information.

Conclusion 1. Naturally dyed wool yarns in any rug-producing tradition and area would simply not bleed as a general rule. Nor would modest or moderate bleeding occur into undyed or lightly-dyed adjacent areas.

Dyeing of yarns with natural dyes for rugs and trappings in the Middle and Near East entailed natural dyes being applied to wool (or in some cases silk) yarns which had first been heavily mordanted by any one of a small group of metal mordants (sometimes with minor use of additional fixatives but never without metals as main mordant). The metal mordant worked by binding first with the wool during mordanting, and then connecting the wool surface with the dye through further binding when placed in the dye bath.

A metal atom functioning as a mordant forms a binding "bridge" between the dye molecule and binding sites on the wool surface. That is, we have a metal mordant atom in the middle, between a fiber-mordant binding surface on one side and dye-mordant binding sites on the other. Each mordant atom has multiple binding sites, some of which hook into the fiber surface, the rest hooking onto the dye. The dye can't release from this binding bridge because it's held tight by binding with the mordant metal atom. Normal washing and use of rugs and trappings would not release the dye molecule from its binding with, say, aluminum ion in the case of alum mordanting. In fact, dye release from testing fibers in the lab requires use of strong lab chemicals such as acids to liberate the dye for subsequent analysis.

Conclusion 2. Overdying with more dye than mordant to accept the dye would not occur. It is rarely the case that one can overwhelm or saturate the metal binding surfaces with too much dye. Despite talk of too much dye in proportion to mordant being possible, giving free dye to bleed to adjacent areas, this rarely if ever technically happens. This is for several simple technical reasons. First, because the amounts of metal mordant used were huge. Any American craft dyer working, say, with alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) as mordant and natural dye baths can tell you this. Specialized dyers in rug areas would mordant the yarn, wash the mordanted yarn and then add the yarn to the dye bath. No free mordant existed at this point. Dyed yarns were typically then washed. Mordants were not typically applied in rug areas in the same bath for yarn as the dyes. Secondly, any excess dye in a bath would simply not stick to yarn at all, never mind hanging around to then bleed later, or would be rinsed off in the yarn rinse step. It would logically bleed off into the original water dye bath or the rinse water. This simple bit of logic has usually been lost on the scientifically naive.

Conclusion 3. Dyeing of yarns during the pre-synthetic period was a highly-specialized craft practiced by specialists. It was also a highly-developed craft in rug-producing tribal and village areas. Dyeing was never practiced by just anyone who tried their hand at it while also making rugs or trappings. Villagers and nomads typically bought or bartered for the yarn from the skilled dyers. One cannot argue that natural dyes would bleed if the process was done by unskilled or amateurish dyers.

Conclusion 4. Once a rug was made, it is unlikely dyes might bleed if the rugs or dyed areas got wet and stayed damp for a while. That occurrence would require migration of dye and mordant complex from one area of yarn surface binding to another. It would be highly unlikely. Secondly, the types of pieces showing dye running are usually those from arid areas, e.g., Turkmen, Central Asian pieces, not those from damp ones.

Conclusion 5. People here in the States who are proficient craft dyers and quite familiar with traditional dyeing in the major rug-producing areas should be able to readily show the above experimentally for one and all. For example, if yarn skeins are unmordanted, does any dye uptake at all occur when these are immersed in, say, a madder bath? If unmordanted yarn skeins can be discolored without mordants present, does the discoloration readily wash off with rinsing, as might occur with typical dyed yarn processing back in early times in Central Asia and elsewhere?

Hope the above is helpful.

Best regards,

Paul Mushak"

Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-21-2002 04:29 PM:

Hallo Wendel Swan,

again: in order to find synthetic dyes in Turcoman pieces the most easy thing to do is an analysis of the dyes rather than speculating under which special conditions reds could bleed.
In case one moves to the details things get to be more complex than the initial question was.

Any experienced dyer, professional or not, always works with a slight surplus of dye stuff towards the mordant amount. Only then the dyes get sufficient fastness. If the wool has absorbed acids or alkaline material, with or without mordant metals, it can absorb dye stuff as well and it my look similar to the bleeding of synthetic dyes.

One case of pseudo-bleeding I saw with a late 19th century "Karapinar" white -ground saf kilim. A well known antique dealer claimed bleeding, therefore synthetic dyes, and as a consequence that the piece must be returned. On the other hand the bleached dye looked
like the real red in the piece, a middle-class madder red. So we washed a small portion of the white wool with a bit of distilled water: pH 10.5 ! That means that somebody in London, where the piece had been washed, had most likely used a strongly alkaline fluid for washing the whites to appear really white. Most probably calcium hydroxide was used. Later they "forgot" to wash out the excess alkali ( a very, very long job !). What happened: at very high pH the dye lake is split into soluble dye-stuff and soluble mordant metal. Both wander in the wool and later, after drying or washing with neutral water, combine again to form a dye lake
at the new place.
Keep in mind that during the chemical wash process the weave is washed with a diluted hypochlorite solution. The stock solution has a pH hight above 12 ! And now imagine that in the Orient, done by unedacted cheap people that have no measuring devices and not any
experience with strong chemicals, an antique is been washed ! - We got from a client a Turcoman piece that had been claimed to have been washed in Istanbul but by the most decent washer in town. Only soap, nothing else, and water ! We put the piece into a flat tank, added neutral de-ionized water and after 5' started to circulate the fluid. Within 2' the fluid in the tank was covered by a 5 cm thick foam stratum. The pH of the formerly neutral water
was 8.4. The reason: they had let "drink" the wool with a lot of synthetic detergent and some alkaline solution. If then just dried these substancs act as a kind of softening and lustre-improving auxilliary - but at what expense for the integrity of the wool ? - We had documented this event well and reported it to some collectors in the West of the USA as well.
Therefore, again: one of the reason for the proposed A-, B- and C-schedule is the fact that if the "file history" of the piece is not known this is a heavy argument against any high price -because one must be aware of any consequences that can cost a lot of additional money if one wants to limit the results of bad treatmens or calculate the damage one has got. A chemically
washed piece is killed, to stress that again, but might look better in the very moment when it is offered. Each forthcoming wash will let it detoriate furtehr ...

Most likely bleeding in late Turcomans is caused by early Azo dyes that were used to top
the late madder reds, which are in most cases unsufficient "splendid". So one finishes it with a small amount of these easy to apply dyes. It results in a much more splendid appearance when it it fresh. In this late period methods of "fixing" the azo dyes were not yet "ripe".
But in this case my advice, to be repeated, would be to have a look to the other dyes. Early Turcomans have unusually saturated dyes, especially madder dyes ( black, brown, brown violet, all shades of red ), late Turcomans not. In about 25 years I have never seen any bleeding azo-dyes in a piece where these other colours were saturated.
Cochenille, as apposite to Lac Dye, has indeed an excellent water-solubility. It can stain
white wool on the long run only if this wool is acidic or alkaline (or has mordant metals).

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-21-2002 07:49 PM:

Hi Michael -

Thanks for the interesting salon.

I have watched it from time to time but have not posted in part because I have no direct experience working with dyes but also because I often have not understood what is being said.

For example, I still have no clear understanding of what a "dye lake" is, and that's just a single instance.

But I am posting here because it seems to me that we need a clear agreement or disagreement with regard to the thrust of Wendel's post in which he conveyed Paul Mushak's indications about some distinctions between natural dyes and those that we call "synthetic."

Chief among these for me seems to be Mr. Mushak's contention as a chemist that natural dyes simply do not run. That they are held in a chemical bond that makes that impossible. (There may be some "tan-pink" varieties of natural colored wool in some Turkmen rugs but generally if there is color transfer in a rug this is a sign of the presence of synthetic dyes. The lack of transfer cannot be the basis for concluding that the dyes are natural since some species of synthetic dye are fast.)

A related point, that Mr. Mushak doesn't say explicitly but is one that a craft weaver whom Wendel has worked with, has indicated, is that there is no chance that color runs can occur with natural dyes as the result of unsuccessful mordanting. Unsuccessful mordanting when one is dyeing with natural dyes simply results in the dye not "taking" to the textile at all, not an incomplete take that is open to subsequent bleeding. This claim is important in part because it is counter-intuitive.

My purpose in making this post is to ask your unequivical views on these two claims. Does unsuccessful mordanting when working with natural dyes ever produce a natural color in the dyed textile which, later, runs? Do natural dyes, in your experience, ever run? It seems to me that you have suggested that they sometimes do.

Thank your for your patience with my continuing ignorance in the face of all these words.


R. John Howe

Posted by Michael Bischof on 05-22-2002 02:11 PM:

Hi R. John Howe,

"Thank your for your patience with my continuing ignorance in the face of all these words."
Classical Oriental artificially playing to be devote, yes ?
A dye lake is a water-insoluble compound that is formed between 2- or polyvalent metal kations and organic anions ( "dye stuff molecules") either as a fine powder/sludge or on mordanted wool ( wool that is loaded with these metal ions ).
Paul Mushak is right in the sense that under normal circumstances natural dyes do not run.
In exceptional cases they can, though. What are those cases ?
- if white wool gets wet for quite some time and can absorb acidic or alkaline substances
and/or such metal kations. In 99% of all cases this is unlikely to have happened with early
carpets. In these cases bleeding means, most likely , synthetic dyes, down to about 1880
the fashion of topping low quality madder reds with some azo dyes might have occured.
To be sure just make an analysis ! Viewing cannot be enough in important cases !
- till about 1990 we lived in a happy period. But then the fashion of advanced finishing in
order to prepare a better look for the sale room started to be applied on antique pieces.
Most likely ( but this is hearsay) some suzanis which were quite old but in very good
conditions were chemically washed in Istanbul and later in Europe some dyes started to
run during the next washing enterprise. This can happen, of course, on silk more easily
than on wool. Keep in mind that the hypochlorite solutions in the chemical washing
process are extreme alkaline and that they are applied by cheap, uneducated personnel who never measure the parameters.

To repeat it again: therefore we think that our A-, B- and C-scheme is quite important for the period after 1990. To have documented in details what exactly has been done with a particularr piece after it was found is essential.

Some easy but impressive experiments:

Natural dye lakes are safe, but within a certain limit of pH. That means: below that or above that the dye lake is split, its single components are water-soluble, can move therefore and combine anew at another point - in other terms the natural dye lake can bleed.
Add some drops of freshly pressed lemon juice to 100 ml distilled water.
Add 2-3 spoonful of dry madder powder to the water. Stir it well for about 10'. Filter it through a coffee filter paper. - Dissolve a small amount of alum, , about a 1/8 of a tea spoon, or even less, in distilled water completely.
Mix both solution. The colour will me a brownish orange solution.
Then add , but slowly, drop by drop, some dissolved caustic soda and stir well. Wait a moment.
At a certain point the orange solution turn red. Add 2 drops of caustic, stir it and wait
half an hour. At the bottom of the glass you will see an extreme fine deposit, a kind of red sludge. This is a dye lake in form of a water-insoluble pigment. The supernatant liquid you can carefully put away.
Now add drop by drop more caustic soda solution. At a certain point you will see that the
red colour is vanishing and you get a clear dark violet-blue solution.
Now add, drop by drop, lemon juice. There will be a moment when the clear blue-violet solution turns again to form a red sludge. The dye lake has formed again. Now take some madder red yarn and twist it together with a white yarn. Put both in a small amount of distilled water and then add 1 drop of some synthetic detergent and then some drops of caustic soda. Shake it a bit, from time to time, at wait about 30'. - Then add lemon juice till the colours turns reddish-orange. Wait 5', wash both yarns with tap water. The red yarn is less red, the formerly white one is orange-reddish - both colours do not run !

To which amount similar things might have happened in a weaker form to a certain antique textile depend on the conditions of its former storage. Wetness and sulphur dioxide from heating with an oven or with open fire are important. Therefore, again: collect all intelligence about the fate of a piece !

( Unsufficient mordanting is no reason for bleeding problems at all. In the dye plants practise the fact that mordant metals are released from the fiber during the dye operation
costs a lot of money: then the madder root gets deep red but not that much the yarns !
But this is not bleeding )



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