(Posted on 11/02/16)
Everyone who admires Oriental carpets and has thought about the relationship between design and colour will wish to have a better understanding of how colours are obtained; i.e., about natural and synthetic dyes, dye recipes, the general characteristics of colours and Oriental attitudes towards them. The more one learns about Oriental carpets the greater becomes one’s interest in the subject, and one realises that the world of colour is a science in itself and one that is important to the understanding of the carpet as a work of art. The colours of a carpet are important criterion for assessing its value. The invention of the aniline dyes (1826) provided a new technology in the production of Oriental carpets, although a long time was to elapse before the dyes works in the Orients, and particularly the nomads who dyed their own yarn, learned how to use the new synthetic dyes; this is shown for example by the numerous over-dyed old pieces produced at the turn of the 20th century. While some carpet specialists regard aniline dyes as industrially synthesised natural dyes they will still give preference to the older dyes obtained from nature.
Some examples of natural dyes
Plant Dyes: saffron, isparuk, oak apples etc. for yellow colours; indigo for blue; madder roots for various red tones, as well as henna leaves and flowers, etc.
Animal Dyes: the most important of these is cochineal and, in earlier times, Indian lac, both obtained from insects. A purple dye obtained from snails was important in ancient time.
Mineral Dyes: Karaboja for black – also iron oxide; iron sulphate for brown; copper sulphate for green, etc.
These few examples of natural dyes are sufficient to show the rich palette of colours available to the early carpet weavers. In addition, however, colours will vary with the wool quality.
Carpets colour symbolism
Green is the holy colour of the Prophet – particularly for orthodox Mohammedans – and is used only in places which are unlikely to be trodden on. As with us, green is regarded as the colour of hope, renewal, life and spring.
Red is a colour of fire, enthusiasm, courage, luck, joy, virility and faith. However red also carried the association of sorrow and calamity.
Blue stands for a sense of strength and power or force.
Orange has the meaning of humility and piety; it is the colour of the Dervishes.
Yellow is the colour of the sun, radiating the joy of life.
White associated with innocence, cleanliness, purity of heart and selflessness.
Black is rarely found in carpet except for design outlines and it’s the colour of mourning.
More important than the possible symbolic meaning of carpet colour is the total visual effect and associated moods. These are indicated in the caption by such attributes as joyous, elegant, solemn, etc.