Dyeing of antique rugs

With flowers of thought we have twined the second column of the chart, and now must practically apply our deductions to objects at hand.

Rugs might have been made without colour and would have served utilitarian purposes as well, but they would hardly have found their way out of the Orient had not their flower- and gem-like qualities given them the transcending characteristics that bespeak the consideration of art-lovers everywhere.

Self-coloured materials have been used in the manufacture of certain rugs, the wool or hair having been taken from animals that are strongly marked by dark lines and masses down the back and along the tail, so that from a single animal several different shades are obtainable.

The black thus secured is almost the only black known that is durable, as sooner or later all others corrode and eat the wool, so that in old carpets close examination will reveal the absence of pile where once black knots had been tied. In passing the hand over some rugs a slight difference in the surface is sometimes apparent, caused by the action of corrosive dye or strong mordant upon the wool. Many modern mordants consist of strong chemical preparations that take from the elasticity and wearing qualities of the wool.

Experts will tell the age of a rug by noticing the effect of long exposure to the light. Certain colours will change into others much more beautiful, which will remain permanent when the limit of fading is reached. In the preparation of dyes long exposure in the sunlight is often required, and many of the most ancient secrets are being discovered by modern craftsmen, who by personal investigation are finding out what has revealed itself in turn to each person who has manipulated natural materials.

There are certain chemical dyes that do not fade, and some vegetable dyes that do fade, so that an absolute line cannot be drawn between them. One of the best methods of detecting the use of aniline dyes is to separate the pile, noting whether the wool is of the same colour, but of a deeper shade, near the knot, from what it is on the surface ; or if it is of an entirely different colour.

It may not always hold true, but often enough to prove the rule, that vegetable dyes fade to lighter shades of their original colour, while anilines fade to different colours, one or another of the dyes used in combination entirely disappearing at times, and the other remaining. As, for example, where two colours are mixed to form a third,—like blue and yellow to form a green,—the yellow may almost disappear, leaving a dull blue, which proves to be permanent and sometimes very beautiful, though produced accidentally.

In modern Turkish carpets we often find under a greyish yellow surface a deep crimson, or beneath a pile of light blue, a dark brown colour. When blue dyed with vegetable colours fades it keeps a bluish tint throughout, and crimson shows traces of pink, even when it yields somewhat to the power of the sun.

We must learn to handle our rugs as a botanist does flowers, and look to them for self-revelation, which we may confidently trust when we have trained ourselves in intelligent comprehension. In preparation for a careful study of colour in Oriental rugs, it is essential that we banish all preconceived notions, and that we adopt a very simple plan of procedure, elaborating it only as our knowledge increases.

We all possess a somewhat definite idea of the three primary colours, red, blue, and yellow. Accepting- these as standards, in the examination of each new object we ask, if the rug is red, how red is it ? How near the primary colour ? A clear, absolute primary red has not a preponderance of yellow, nor does it hold too much blue. However interesting it may be for us to learn about the dyes used by rug-makers to produce the effects we see, it is not necessary for our. purposes of study. What we must do is to analyse what we see, and define slight variations in tint, comparing one antique specimen with another until we hold absolute conviction in regard to a few of the salient features that manifest themselves to us.

For example, in the field of this old Kulah rug, is the red primary or secondary ? Does it suggest yellow ingredients or blue ? Is this red, by comparison with the clear primary adopted as standard, carmine, rose-madder, or crimson?

This Khiva rug, how different the red from that of the Kulah! how heavy it is, with blue and brown properties ! Comparison follows ; the red of the Khiva is not a clear primary red, nor is the Kulah any more_ so, but the red in the Khiva would never be called by either of the names, crimson or rose, which we unhesitatingly apply to the Kulah colouring.

A third specimen confronts us, and, with our standard and the variants in our minds, we assert that the red in this old Bokhara is of the same nature as that in the Khiva, while the light pink in which part of its pattern is worked suggests the crimson of the antique Kulah.

Again, by comparison we note that modern Kulah rugs show a decadence of colour scheme, and a purplish tint takes from the beauty of the crimson used in antiques. Looking still further for an example of primary red used by rug-weavers, we find in old Asia Minor rugs, made before the popularity of rose shades, a so-called ” Turkey red ” which is absolute. It is neither vermilion nor carmine, nor is it exactly like European cardinal, but is shown to its fullest perfection in the hearth-rugs that, under the name of “Smyrna rugs,” were sent to Europe early in the last century.

In old Iran rugs a beautiful blue is found which is as near a full primary blue as can be reached in textiles. By comparison with it the blue of certain Ghiordes rugs is light, and though indigo yields as true a blue as can be named, the old Persian blue resembles more the cobalt blue of fine old porcelain, as it has more of a metallic than a vegetable quality, which often, in old Shiraz rugs, seems iridescent.

To Turkish red and Persian blue we add the imperial yellow of China as third primary, and, without consideration of the secondary colours at present, we may try to form some objective way of determining where we find the strictest adherence to primary shades among rug-weavers. All further discoveries will then fall into line, and through analytical processes we may feel our way among the woven flowers of the Orient.

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