Posted by R. John Howe on 12-14-2005 09:16 AM:

Examples of Less Successful Use of Color

Dear folks -

I wonder whether it might not be useful to collect some examples of pieces in which we think color has been used less successfully and then to talk about why we think so.

Here is a first example.

This is a Kurdish piece from a major collection that looks less good in its book version than it does here.

The light blue, that is very visible here, is a darker gray-blue in the book and a much less attractive shade there in and of itself.

This piece is of a more "tribal" sort and a certain freedom of expression with regard to drawing is to be expected to some extent. The color palette is apparently also typical.

But, for me, the color combinations are not attractive. First, the colors used for the devices placed in the field make them vague rather than impactful. The orange is close to the red ground color and so doesn't contrast, but even the light blue, that does, doesn't seem to have much contrast or accent effect.

Another problem I can specify has to do with the close uses of light blue and orange in some areas. This combination is simply not attractive to me. And the orange seems not the best for this red ground that has a blue-ish cast.

There are clear yellows and purples in this palette, two shades that we are usually glad to find, but again they seem not to have been used very skillfully. The yellow seems largely wasted in its outlining chores.

Anyway, this is a piece in which it seems to me that the use of color is less than successful.

Do you agree?

Do you have an example or two of your own?


R. John Howe

Posted by James Blanchard on 12-14-2005 03:25 PM:

Hi John,

I agree with you. I don't find that the colour palette has been used to create a pleasing visual effect.

As an aside, if we were to apply any of the "rules" of colour harmony, might we find that this rug has "good harmony", even though we don't like it very much?


Posted by Tim Adam on 12-14-2005 11:00 PM:

How do you like the following color scheme?

Even though it is a natural dye, I have not been able to make friends with cochenille. I'd be interested if someone had an example where this dye was used 'successfully.'



Posted by R. John Howe on 12-15-2005 08:47 AM:

Hi Tim -

Here are a few possible more successful uses of cochineal.

First, Eiland and Eiland point out that Kerman rugs are noted not just for their sophisticated designs but for their wide color range and that the dyes used to achieve the latter in part include cochineal. They offer one example which they says has several cochineal shades in it.

Central Asian rugs and textiles often have cochineal dyed silk in them. Here is a suzani that was shown during a recent TM rug morning that Steve Price did.

Notice in the close-up below that there are two shades of red in the blossoms. At least the more blue-ish one is likely cochineal.

Third, I have a Beshiri chuval fragement that has opulent silk decoration.

I don't know how you will rate its color usage, but it is a very sumptious piece. Wonderful wool and lavish use of a cochineal-dyed pick silk in its pile.


R. John Howe

Posted by Tim Adam on 12-15-2005 05:59 PM:

Hello John,

Thanks for posting these images, especially the Persian piece. Although the resolution is too small to really tell, I can imagine the cochineal to work well in that piece. Would you have a higher resolution scan?

Coming back to harmony, I find a warm red and a bluish red (cochineal) most unharmonius. I have not seen a Turkmen piece which used pink silk succesfully. At best, the use of pink silk looked impressive if used extensively, or unobstrusive if used sparingly. But it never looks pleasing, in my opinion.

In the Suzanni, the cochineal works quite well. It is actually the warm red that doesn't fit in.



Posted by R. John Howe on 12-16-2005 08:09 PM:

Hi Tim -

You said in part above:

"...Coming back to harmony, I find a warm red and a bluish red (cochineal) most unharmonius. I have not seen a Turkmen piece which used pink silk succesfully. At best, the use of pink silk looked impressive if used extensively, or unobstrusive if used sparingly. But it never looks pleasing, in my opinion..."

My thought:

Without attempting to tamper at all with your dislike of particular color combinations, let me at least give you another Turkmen example to examine in which cochineal-dyed silk is used extensively.

Such a piece occurs as Plate 14 in the Mackie-Thompson catalog "Turkmen," published in 1980. The piece is a large, rectangular Salor bridal camel trapping. It is 80.7 X 238.7 cm (31 3/4 X 94 in.) It is presented in two full-over-sized pages and is for that reason difficult to scan. But here it is in two parts:

The cochineal-dyed silk is in the center of each of the three medallions and when I had it once in my hands I thought it the most luxurious Turkmen piece I had encountered.

Although the color in this volume is often not accurate I have given you a close-up of one medallion for more detailed inspection.

What do you think about the color usage here? Is this still an unattractive brick red and pink silk usage or is this an attractive use of cochineal silk in a Turkmen piece?


R. John Howe

Posted by Tim Adam on 12-16-2005 09:40 PM:

Hi John,

This is undoubtably a great piece, but I'd still maintain that the red and the pink clash (are not harmonius). This is not meant to be a statement about my own color preferences. Some color combinations are harmonius, while others are not, in my opinion, and there is probably some scientific explanation behind this, just like there is for music. And while our preferences for color harmonies may change over time, color harmonies themselves are static.

Four of the red hues of the Salor trapping

What the Salor trapping shows is that color harmony is not necessary for a piece to be outstanding. It depends very much on how it is used. I have a Tekke main carpet, in which the purple-brown ground clashes with the red of the guls. This creates an interesting tension between the two colors, and makes the red seem to glow from within.

Color harmony is also just one of the criteria by which to judge a rug. Drawing, craftsmanship, quality of wool, dyes, etc. are other important aspects.

Best regards,


Posted by R. John Howe on 12-16-2005 10:50 PM:

Hi Tim -

This time you seem to go a little further. You say in part:

"...I'd still maintain that the red and the pink clash (are not harmonius). This is not meant to be a statement about my own color preferences. Some color combinations are harmonius, while others are not, in my opinion, and there is probably some scientific explanation behind this, just like there is for music. And while our preferences for color harmonies may change over time, color harmonies themselves are static..."


This seems tantamount to claiming that not only is there such a thing as absolute color harmony, but that you can identify it on sight. This seems to include the claim that others who might have alternative experiences with particular sets of colors are simply mistaken in their beliefs about what colors they see as harmonizing.

Such a claim would seem to require evidence, else it would need to be treated as a mere personal assertion, something we do encounter frequently in the world of rugs.


R. John Howe

Posted by Tim Adam on 12-16-2005 11:41 PM:

Hi John,

From what I have read about color theory it seems to me that one can think of color harmony as something absolute. However, I would not claim to be able to indentify it in all cases. Sometimes it is pretty obvious if colors clash. But the spectrum of colors is infinite. So, it can become difficult to tell. No wonder then that there is disagreement among people about what is harmonious and what isn't. Another reason why people might disagree on color harmony is because sometimes it is difficult to disentangle color harmony from color preference, but I see these two as very different concepts.


Posted by Amir_Aharon on 12-17-2005 04:26 AM:

Hi John, Tim.......

It seems to me that in the suzani with the big roundels and bottehs, the embroiderer tried her best to combine the worst possible colors. We all agree that this isn't exactly a successful choice of colors. But then, maybe, at that period (19th century) In the town of Karschi, Uzbekistan, that woman believed the colors were pleasing.

In a perverse way I am beginning to enjoy the unconventional and crazy use of color in this suzani, despite the obvious fact that the "color harmony" theory may not have been part of the embroiderer's school syllabus.

The second (lattice) Bokhara suzani is probably much more successful in the use of colors. I deliberately picked up some flowers to show how you can combine seemingly disharmonious colors (wave-length wise) such as magenta, grey, olive, madder and out of the blue, blue to produce an attractive flower.

Tim... notice the magenta (cochineal?) silk so delicately matching the rest of the colors. Please correct me if you don't agree. This is MY opinion, anyway.

Amir Aharon

Posted by R. John Howe on 12-17-2005 06:16 AM:

Hi Amir -

You say in part above:

"...It seems to me that in the suzani with the big roundels and bottehs, the embroiderer tried her best to combine the worst possible colors. We all agree that this isn't exactly a successful choice of colors..."


I think you are referring to this piece:

I hope I won't seem perverse if I admit that I picked this piece as a possible candidate for having a possibly attractive use of cochineal in it. More, while it's color palette is not nearly as wide as one nice piece you offer,

(I like the other one too.)

I don't find its colors to be "the worst possible choice."

And when it comes to the actual side by side use of close colors (including the cochineal-dyed areas) I think I prefer the usage in the one you don't like.

Here is the close-up of the suzani I offered:

And here is the close-up of the piece you prefer:

To me, I think the piece you don't like is more successful in its "harmonious" use of the cochineal close to another red because the other red is closer to the blue-red side of the spectrum and your (admittedly better piece overall) is lacking in its color usage in this area precisely because it puts the cochineal shade next to a real orange (precisely the sort of thing that Tim finds less than harmonious. and I join him in this instance).

Interesting stuff our varied experiences with color.


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 12-17-2005 08:31 AM:

Yes, interesting.

Actually I like the two Suzanis. That reminds me something I said in Vincent Keers’ mini-salon 6, “The natural colors itch”: the criterion used by rugs collectors seems to change when we go to textiles like Turkmen chyrpys or Uzbek Embroideries.
I’m going to re-elaborate my point.

Some years ago John posted on Show and Tell a thread called “Western and central Asian embroideries” on a Rug Morning presentation by Steve at the Textile Museum.
The thread showed photos of Tajik, Uzbek and Caucasian embroideries. The first Suzani here is the same shown at the time, I think.

See again a few pieces:

An Uzbek bag

a Lakai piece

a Turkmen Koran cover

and a Kaitag embroidery.

There were many more but these four are enough for my needs.

I thought that these colors were harsh and dangerously close to what we perceive as synthetic dyes but no mention was made about that and I assumed they are all natural. I also assumed that natural dyes on silk can give a different palette than on wool.
In the following postings on the Show and Tell, nobody commented about the colors.

Now I ask you:
Do you like these colors and their juxtaposition?
Would you TOLERATE them on a knotted rug?
Would you wear a tie with the same colors and motifs?


P.S. On a second thought, Americans are dispensed from last answer.

Posted by Amir Aharon on 12-17-2005 08:36 AM:

Adjacent colors in harmony

Hi John,

It's not that I "don't like" my suzani with the bottehs; if so, I
would not have bought it, would I?

I only think she had an odd way of choosing the palette. Perhaps it's because I'm not used to see these colors often enough on
suzanis. Having said this, I totally agree with you that there is
an appeal to suzani guls with adjacent complementary colors.

I have seen that done (as in your suzani) many times, specially
with different hues of red. When I first noticed this combination
on my yellow silk ground Lakai (I think I posted it in some other
thread once) I thought it was a BRILLIANT IDEA.

As for the flowers of the lattice piece. despite your saying that
the colors are not so harmonious (placed one by the other), I'm
still very pleased when I look at the flowers (individually) as a whole. We wouldn't be enjoying this discussion if we had to
agree on everything.


Posted by Tim Adam on 12-17-2005 11:30 AM:

Hi Amir,

Your first Suzanni has an interesting array of colors, indeed. Actually, the different purple shades, which work extremely well with the yellow, look great. Too bad the weaver wasn't able to choose different shades of blue and red, which I think don't fit well.

Your second Suzanni is nice too, but I think John's piece is better, in terms of use of color and drawing. I am surprised he sees it the other way around.

Filiberto: The Kaitag embroidery is the most acceptable in terms of color, but I would not wear a tie with any of those colors of the four pieces. Not really my cup of tea. The Lakai piece is the worst. Someone must have been color blind.



Posted by Steve Price on 12-17-2005 12:01 PM:

Hi Tim

The color rendition on those four embroideries is pretty awful. I think the problem is that silk is so reflective that photographing it with flash results in glare that washes out the colors. At least, I've never been able to use flash to photograph them successfully.

The Lakai does have a palette of synthetics, but isn't nearly as ugly as it looks on my monitor.

I think all of this illustrates the extreme case of one of the big difficulties of dealing with color via images viewed on monitors. With silk floss, in addition to the usual problems of color accuracy, we have the problem of glare if they are photographed by flash lighting.


Steve Price

Posted by Amir_Aharon on 12-17-2005 03:28 PM:

Hi Filiberto,

My answers to your questions on Uzbek embroideries:

Q. Do you like these colors and their juxtaposition?

A. I don't fancy the choice of colors; they are too flashy. I'm not sureif changing the position of the colors will do any good either.

Q. Would you tolerate them on a knotted rug?

A. I wouldn't. But it seems that a Kermani weaver from 1910 would:

462X310 cm. Carpet, sold at Christies NY Dec. 14, 2005 for the highest price among all the rest of the lots (the runner up rug sold for only 1/5 of this Kerman carpet!!!) There was a period in Iran at the end of the 19th century when it was fashionable to commission European designed carpets ("FARANGI"). The drawing of this one has been attributed to Raphael. I wonder what HE would have thought of the choice of the colors in this carpet were he alive!?

Q. Would you wear a tie with the same colors and motifs?

A. I woudn't. But here is someone who could afford a VELVET IKAT tie from Hali issue 99 (Parting Shots-ACOR 4 Denver).

I have also posted 4 ties belonging to my brother, the back of all
four has a tag saying "MADE IN ITALY". So we will have to exempt the Italians not only the Americans from the last question.

Tim.....Thank you for expressing your appreciation for my two suzanis. I believe that John actually said that the juxtaposed similar hues in his suzani are more pleasing than those of my lattice flowers, and not vice-versa. I agree with him. But it's not fair to compare my old stained suzani with a pretty young one.
(modern with natural dyes--correct me if I am wrong!)

Amir Aharon

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 12-18-2005 01:57 AM:

Hi Steve,

The color rendition on those four embroideries is pretty awful

You are right. I searched the Net for other examples and I found these, from a very professional website. All Lakai pieces, all said to be 19th century.

The rendition of these colors should be much better than in the previous photos I posted.
It’s also quite obvious that these are highly collectable Oriental textiles.
Personally, I find the colors pleasant in their contest of Lakai embroideries but I wouldn’t definitely accept them on a Caucasian rug.

So, does anybody agree with me on the point that our taste on colors may vary in relation to the nature and provenance of textiles?

These three pieces are for sale, so, please don’t comment directly on them. They are presented here only for the sake of discussion on colors in Oriental rugs.

Amir, I find the quality of colors in the Kermani rug perfectly acceptable!

I don’t see the image with the four ties “Made in Italy” and if you want to send it to me I will be glad to post it. (I have to warn that if the ties have ugly colors, they were probably made for the American market… )



Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 12-18-2005 02:59 AM:

Here are the photos of the Italian ties:

Definitely for exportation…

Thanks Amir,


Posted by Chris Countryman on 01-24-2006 09:14 PM:

Oh those wacky 60's

It looks like many of you are channeling the spirit of Peter Maxx! Those poor peasant weavers may have been stuck with some odd colors given the dying technology of the day. But really, do you need to show off your affection for the 60's pallet?

Thanks for the show.

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 01-25-2006 08:50 PM:

Hi John, et all,

I wouldn't be too hard on the Uzbeks and their choice of colors (we'll conveniently ignore the fact that I collect their stuff...).

After all, if you lived in a place that looked like this:

Photo: Becca Bassingthwaighte might want to brighten the place up a bit yourself.


Chuck Wagner

Posted by R. John Howe on 01-26-2006 06:12 AM:

Hi Chuck -

You are right.

An associated discouraging thought is that there is some evidence that not nearly all Central Asians who might have had weaving skills coiuld decorate their yurts/huts with the sorts of textiles we collect.

Although many of the Uzbeks were urban folks, I suspect that the phenomenon reported by some 19th century travelers who visited the Turkmen might be true for Uzbeks as well. I've read more that one description of a visit to a Turkmen yurt in which it was clear that the occupants did not display any rugs or textiles other than the felts of the yurt.

This suggests that we are likely collecting items owned and used primarily by more prosperous folks in Central Asia.

I read somewhere else that many weavers of Caucasian rugs could also not afford to own the rugs they wove.


R. John Howe

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 01-26-2006 09:39 PM:

Hi John,

Yes, I fear that if we actually knew more about Central Asian life in the pre-1830ish period, we'd all be "disturbed" by the information. Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss.

Given the long, long history of intensive trade across that region, I have to believe that a meaningful percentage of the older piled work that is collected today may well have been made for the purpose of barter or sale rather than for personal use, and that the pieces were frequently kept aside for special occasions by their owners.

One need only observe the condition of the many late-1800s/early 1900s Tekke & Yomut pieces in the market today to see that pile weavings can get pretty beat up. Clearly, there are some that have actually been on the floor of some collectors house, but most show the kind of wear one would expect from being lashed to flexible wood frames and ornery pack animals.

Felt is still in heavy use by the nomadic folks, and it wears out relatively quickly with regular use; there are plenty of photos showing people making new felt to replace the ratty looking stuff on the yurt behind them. That is not a new phenomenon, and it shows that an organized family can generate a very large surface area of felt in far less time than that required to build a piled weaving.

It's interesting that the designs found on the yurt felts are quite similar (at least, they seem so to me) across ethnic boundaries. They are probaby very archaic motifs. That is somewhat at odds with the theories regarding tribes and designs on piled weavings. I'm not that well read on the topic, but that might be an interesting conversation to have with a Central Asian ethnographer.


Chuck Wagner