The fourth subject I want to talk about in this lecture is red in
relation to some aspects of color theory. This is an
subject in itself, but will also serve to make part of the framework,
within which I have organized the pieces I have brought, more explicit.
Most treatments of color theory begin with a color wheel of some sort.
Here is one with relatively few colors.
Now I don’t want to seem to pretend that I am a serious
student of color theory. I am not.
A comprehensive treatment of color theory would need to deal with the
behavior of mixtures of
, called additive
as well as with the behavior of pigment mixtures
called subtractive color
If I understand this distinction properly, we will be dealing here only
with subtractive aspects of color theory and even that in a rather
Dealing adequately with red alone, in terms of color theory, would be
far too ambitious for this session, but a few snippets from it may be
of informing interest. I will deal with the following
Red as a dominant
Red as a subordinate
Red and its analogous
Red and its complementary
Red as a contrast
Red as an accent
of the use of red
Let’s start with pieces in which red is used as a dominant
(You will note that my examples are not pure instances of the
particular aspects of this color theory typology. Sometimes
are legitimate examples of several aspects. I have picked
because they seem to me to project at least the aspect under which they
A use of red is characterized as dominant
if it is the color used in the most area of a given rug or textile.
Sometimes the dominant use of red in a rug or textile is easily
Here is an “in your face” Samarkand ikat from the
century. The fact that there are some other colors and strong
graphics does not get in the way of the reds in this piece.
Here is a Igdir chuval with a wonderful clear red that almost but not
quite overwhelms everything else.
This 17th century Ushak has an impactful dominant use of red in its
Some pieces exhibit subtler, dominant uses of red.
Here is a Kazak the field of which is clearly an example of the
dominant use of red.
But notice that this red is also in the outside border and serves to
integrate it into the overall rug.
And this rolakan from southern Sweden about 1800, may be a borderline
instance of the “dominant use of red,” since it has
of yellow, blue and white in it too.
But it may have enough red to qualify.
use of red is one in which there may be considerable red but another
color is dominant.
Here is an Anatolian kilim with a “vulture” design
Caroline Jones collection. Red is used, but there is more
This is a contemporary gabbeh designed by Parviz Tanavoli.
There is a stark use of red but there is a lot more ivory.
A possibly border-line case
subordinate use of red is this 17th century Ottoman velvet
yastik. To me, more area is covered by the tan shades than by
Looking again at our color chart, red has one set of analogous colors
that move toward blue and another that move toward orange.
Here are my analogous examples for red.
Balouch rugs and textiles with their dark reds, oranges and browns are
among the first that come to mind when one looks for colorations
analogous to red. Here is one.
Notice that Balouch pieces frequently use white as an accent color,
something to remember when we look for accent uses of red.
Turkmen pieces are also frequently instances of the use of colors
analogous with red.
Here is an Ersari main carpet the palette of which is enriched by the
use of orange with the dominant red.
This Saryk chuval has two shades of red wool and is lavishly decorated
with pinkish silk.
But the use of analogous colors with red is widespread. Here
is a 19th century Satillo serape with rich red family shades.
This 19th century Anatolian piece, from the Konya area, also employs
red and several close shades effectively.
The Moghuls may have practiced the most sophisticated use of analogous
colors. They often used close colors side by side without any
intervening outlining to produce shading. Here is a large
And a closer view that lets you see this sophisticated use of analogous
When we look for red’s analogous colors, we look on the
either side of red on the color wheel.
But there is also complementary use of color.
For this we look across the color wheel to green and its nearby colors.
One of the really good instances of the use of red’s most
directly complementary color is this rare Moghul
Here is a piece of Central Asian ikat in which the red and green do not
abut directly but still function in a complementary way.
The complementary color does not always need to be the directly
opposing one to be effective. Red and orange are used
with green and yellow in this sedate 18th century Yarkand carpet.
Color theory also talks about red as a “contrast”
color. Basically, this means that red (and any other color
looks different depending on the color of the background on which it is
placed. This, of course, also means that red affects how
colors look when it serves as their background.
Caucasian rugs are often useful examples, since the ground colors of
their fields tend to be different from those of their borders AND the
same color combinations tend to be used in both.
Here is a quite old (1800 or earlier) Daghestan piece with a
white-ground field but red ground borders.
The same colors seem to have been used against both of these grounds
and you can see the different effects that produces.
A closer look.
This is a 19th century Pennsylvania quilt with a “log
cabin” design. Notice that how the red squares are
emphasized by the pale shades of those that are next to them.
And you might argue about this southern Caucasian flatweave but for me
red areas abutting dark colors look more subdued than those abutting
My last contrast example is this older Caucasian Bordjalou
Here you can see the effect of various ground colors on red.
It may be simplistic, but
saying, that contrast seems heightened when lighter and darker shades
are used close to one another and is damped when either lighter or
darker shades are used side-by-side. This is true regardless
whether the lighter or darker colors are analogous or
The use of different background colors to change contrast is one source
of some optical illusions. If you are tempted to explore the
color theory sites listed in the handout, you will see some examples.
Sometimes one encounters what might be seen as a contrast or
subordinate use of red, but which is more restricted and
purposeful. This is sometimes described as an
“accent” use of red.
Here is a 19th century Perepedil on which red is used throughout in
very deliberate ways to produce particular effects.
This is a 19th century Agra rug in which red is also used in nearly
every part in visibly purposeful ways.
I think, though, that the best example of an accent use of red that I
encountered in my preparations was in this French hanging.
The nature and placement of red in this piece is very deliberate and
seems to me to influence heavily the way one’s eye moves
Here, at the end, are a couple of uses of red that seem mixed or more
complex to me.
First, is this small Uzbek rug.
Its red-dominant field has a nearly chaotic feel. But closer
examination shows that this piece is quite regularly draw and this
chaotic effect is produced by failing to use yellow in the upper
right full gul and again in the partial gul on the top left.
This example shows how even a small change in color can have a dramatic
effect on how a rug looks.
And last, this old Moroccan embroidery seems initially to have a red
ground. Or does it? Yellow might also be a
Ambiguous uses of red are likely worth a talk of their own.
That is the end of my four-part lecture. We have looked
Red in everyday life
Historical uses of red in rugs and other textiles
Dyeing with red
Red and some aspects of color theory
Now we are going to look at some actual rugs and other
I have tried to organize the pieces I have brought in terms of dye use
and some of these color theory distinctions.
Here, below, is an abbreviated version of the handout provided in this
Red in Rugs and Other Textiles:
A Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning
March 10, 2007
R. John Howe
Recipes for Dyeing with
Madder, Cochineal and Lac
Here is just one older concrete set of directions for producing a
To Dye Madder Red
Take 3 lb of Allom,, two
and half of white Tartar, a quarter of a pound of Fenugreek, two quarts
of Wheat bran, boil all in the copper, then put in the stuff and let it
boil 2 hours and half, after which take it out, cool it very well and
hang it out for one Night; then to dye it, take 7 pound of Madder, an
ounce and a half of Aqua Fortis, a Pint of Wheat Bran, put them into
the copper, stir them very well about, and when the stuff have been
very well rinced in the dye, then wind it very swift upon a Roller and
tumble it about the Copper for an Hour at least, taking care that the
Fire keep it boiling hot; after which take it out and rince it.
Here is a summary of Greenfield’s experience
dyeing with cochineal
(She dyed silk rather than wool because she is allergic to the latter
and dyed already woven, but uncolored scarves.)
- Put the scarves in distilled water so they will take up dye
- Put some distilled water in the dye pot and heat it to just
- Weigh the cochineal and ground it to fine powder with a
pestle and mortar.
- Measure out tin
and cream of tartar, a weak acid.
- Put the cochineal, tin and cream of tartar into the heated
of the dye pot. Let it “simmer” for about
- Put in first silk scarf. Let it in about 20
minutes stirring it frequently.
- Remove scarf from dye pot, rinse in distilled water and lay
on a towel to dry.
Notice that in this example Greenfield is using a tin
Jurg Rageth, in his analysis of the source of the brilliant reds in
some Turkmen pieces, credits the use of cochineal and/or lac with tin
mordants as a primary source of these colors.
Here is a medieval Persian lac dyeing recipe for something called
the lac colour, and if you choose a little cochineal for richness and
soak from four to six days; strain it in two cloths and add alum and a
little tumeric; let it stand for three hours. Put wool in and
steep for twenty-four hours, then boil for two hours. Take
the wool and add mineral acid; re-enter wool and boil an hour
more. Wash fifteen minutes when cold, and dry in the
Books referred to in the lecture.
(paper) Princeton University Press, 1992
The Mummies of Urumchi
(paper) W.W. Norton & Company, 1999
Madder Red: a history of
luxury and trade
Curzon Press, 2000
Amy Butler Greenfield
A Perfect Red: Empire,
Espionage and the Color of Desire
Harper Collins, 2005
Internet Sites on Color Theory
(on the “additive” and
“subtractive” color theory distinction)