One of the most exciting developments in the rug world in the last 20 years has been the re-introduction of handspun wool and natural dyes, made from materials like madder root, indigo, cochineal. There are many rugs available which are being called "vegetable-dyed," both in the geometric designs as well as the more formal, curvilinear designs. The best are pieces of glowing beauty. A good vegetable-dyed rug lights up a room and brings it alive. In addition, the natural dyes are believed to be more durable and light-fast (resistant to fading from ultraviolet light) than any of the chemical or aniline dyes.
Our customers often comment that the natural-dyed rugs have "character." This is in part because the handspun yarns take up the dyes in an uneven way that creates wonderful variation in the colors, or "abrash." Vegetable dyes are often not consistent from one batch of yarn to another -- depending on such things as where the plant materials grew and the composition of the soils -- so that there can be tonal and hue differences between different batches of yarn, which can create subtly different areas of color in a rug. These changes in color are called "abrash."
This characteristic of "inconsistency" also makes it difficult to program, or duplicate, rugs in different sizes, because every rug, even though the designs and colors are intended to be the same, is really a one-of-a-kind piece. This is why we point out to customers that if they order a natural dye rug in a different size, it will not arrive exactly the same as the one they first saw. This unique aspect of each rug ---expecially with the vegetal-dyed rugs -- is a large part of what makes handknotted rugs so interesting and collectible.
In general, the natural-dyed rugs tend to be more expensive than the chemically-dyed rugs. However, we have some remarkably well-priced examples to show you.
Advantages of Natural Dyed Rugs
The synthetic dyes used today are excellent and far superior to the earlier aniline dyes. Nevertheless, natural dyes have many advantages over their synthetic counterparts. Natural dyes are more beautiful. The colors they produce tend to have a more organic and natural hue. Wool dyed from plant sources has a more variegated palate (known as Abrash) that shifts in intensity and saturation creating a pleasing hand-made look. In addition, natural dyes tend to be more color-fast. They fade very little when exposed to sunlight. And, when they do fade, they develop a warm patina of age. They do not bleed when washed with water. And finally, natural dyes are not toxic. They do not pose a risk to the dyers or to the environment.