WHEN doing their best work, Oriental weavers use the softest of permanent dyes. The result obtained is in every case a thing of beauty and utility. The aniline dyes are, of course, not to be compared to the vegetable, although the best of them are not to be utterly condemned. The poorest aniline dye eats into the rug, and the color fades.
Madder ranks high among those plants which yield a permanent dye. It belongs to the genus Rubia ; the root employed is that of the Rubia tinctorum. This is largely cultivated in certain districts of India, but the best comes from near Smyrna, and from other parts of Asiatic Turkey. The plant grows wild throughout a large section of Central Asia and Russia. With both the European and the Indian madders the roots of the plants are the only parts that yield the dye. In the roots three coloring matters are obtained: alizarin and purpurin, which are both red, and xanthin, which is yellow. Cochineal was introduced for dyeing purposes in 1856. It is the product of an insect called Coccus cacti, which lives on a species of cactus. Yellow is often produced from Persian berries, turmeric, saffron, and sumac.
Tyrian purple dye was greatly prized by the Phcunicians. As stated above, it was obtained from a shell-fish ; but the secret was known only to the maritime Canaanites. The art of producing this dye has been lost, although some aver that in recent years it has been rediscovered.
Kermes, red in color, is one of the oldest of all dyes. It was known in Syria, 1200 B. c. It is not so brilliant as cochineal, but it is much more durable. Plutarch is authority for the statement that after one hundred and ninety years stuffs dyed with kermes retained their original color. The dye is the product of the bodies of females of the species of coccus which infest certain trees along the Mediterranean coasts. When the Romans conquered Spain, a part of the tribute demanded was paid with these little bodies.
Greens are obtained from various sources. The Chinese green is a dye obtained from Rhamnus chlorophorus and Rhamnus utilis, a genus of shrubs. The fruit of several buckthorns, or the Persian berries, as they are generally called by dyers, also give greens and brilliant yellows. Most of the greens, however, are produced by the combination of indigo with yellow.
Indigo, mentioned by Pliny as Indicum, yields the deep blue dye so much prized by the Romans. Arrian speaks of indigo, and says that it was exported from Barbarike, on the indus, into Egypt. This plant is grown in India, China, North and South America, Mexico, Central America, Africa, Japan, Madagascar, and Jamaica. When the Indian indigo plant, Indigofera tinctoria, is in flower, it contains the largest quantity of coloring matter. The beautiful vegetable and animal dyes which were compounded with consummate skill are now largely supplanted by the chemical dyes which are easily obtained. But in years to come the commercialism of the present will probably give way to the restoration of the splendid dyeing of the past.
Today, painting a rug is quite a common procedure. Thousands of painted rugs are sold annually in the United States and other countries. The oil paint which is used is put on with an instrument somewhat resembling a fountain pen. After a few washings, however, the rugs become pale and lose their color.
( Originally Published Late 1900’s )