Knots and Dyes

Rug Knots

THE TWO MOST TYPICAL TYPES OF KNOTS used in oriental carpets are the Turkish (or Ghordies) knot and the Persian (or Senneh) knot. These terms generally have nothing to do with a carpet's ethnic or geographic origin; thus, the Persian knot is woven in Turkey and vice versa. However, we can specifically identify what towns use which knot.

Turkish Knot
In the Turkish knot, the yarn passes over the two warp threads, and emerges to form the pile coming between them. The Turkish knot is also sometimes called the Ghordies knot. It has a symmetrical structure and is generally considered appropriate for geometric patterns.

                                    Persian Knot
        In the Persian knot, the yarn passes behind one warp
 thread, and the two ends emerge on either side of a warp thread. 
       The Persian knot is sometimes called the Senneh knot. 
    It has an asymmetrical structure and is generally considered
                       appropriate for floral patterns.

FIELD AND BORDER PATTERNS in all handmade oriental pile carpets rely upon repeated sequences of knots. It is primarily in the choice of colors and in the repetition of selected designs that traditional border patterns and field patterns are achieved. Usually, a single carpet will be woven using only one type of knot. The technique used by a particular village is usually passed down through the generations and, therefore, each weaver in that village will generally use the same type of knot.

OTHER KNOTS USED IN RUG production include the Jufti and the Tibetan knots. The Jufti knot is tied upon only one warp thread and therefore is sometimes referred to as the "Single Warp" knot. The Tibetan knot is similar to the Senneh knot but the pile emerges only after every two warps. The Tibetan knot is used also in Nepal and Northern India.

Rug Dyes

There exists a very widespread belief that "vegetable" or "natural" dyes are superior to "synthetic" dyes, and that a rug woven with "vegetable" dyes is in all ways a better carpet than a rug woven with synthetic colors. In fact, it is usually not possible to separate the dyestuffs used in many rugs into these two neat categories, and even were this possible, some "vegetable" dyes are much more fugitive in color or even damaging to the wool than the "synthetic" dyestuff that yields the equivalent shade.

In general, "vegetable dyes" are taken to be an indication of a more traditional, more rural, more country rug weaving, while synthetic dyes are considered more characteristic of city or commercial production. Even this distinction breaks down, however, when one realizes that synthetic azo dyes (an acid direct dye that yields yellow or orange-red) were introduced to many weaving areas between 1875 and 1890, and by the turn of the century were available to many rural weavers. If a village weaver could obtain a synthetic dye, he or she was very likely to use it right alongside his traditional dyestuffs. Just because a rug is 50 years old does not mean it is "vegetable" dyed. Nor does a "vegetable" dye guarantee a longer life or higher value to the carpet. The "vegetable" black we find in so many old Turkish and Balouch rugs is so corrosive that areas of black nap will be completely worn away while nap of other colors is still thick and fully piled. Had the black been a good chrome synthetic, the rug would be in much better condition.

In the past twenty years there has been a huge increase in the quantity and variety of new vegetable dyed rugs available. The trend began in western Turkey in the late 1960s, but knowledge of vegetable dyeing has now been re-introduced into Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Nepal.

Color in the rugFrom this materialNotes
red to orangeroot of the madder plantRubia tinctoria
salmondepleted madder dyeas dye baths are re-used, the dye gets weaker and colors get lighter
bright red to burgundycochineal (dried insect carapace)often from Dactylopius coccus
blue-red to purple-redlac (resin secreted by insect)often from Coccus laccae
light blue to navyindigo (extracted from the indigo plant)Indigoferra
pale yellow to yellow-brownlarkspur or isparuk (a flowering plant)Delphinium sulpureum
pale yellow to yellow-brownweld (a flowering herb)Reseda luteola
brownoak bark, tree gallsQuercus
blacktannin, oak tree galls, ironthis dye is often damaging to wool
greendouble-dye of larkspur and indigo 


Vegetable Dyeing Techniques

The most commonly used vegetable dyes are indigo (originally obtained by extracting and fermenting indican from the leaves of the indigo plant), madder (produced by boiling the dried, chunked root of the madder plant in the dye pot), and larkspur (produced by boiling the crushed leaves, stems, and flowers of the larkspur plant). These dyes produce, respectively, dark navy blue, dark rusty-red, and muted gold. Long ago dyers realized that as more wool was dyed in a single dyepot, colors became weaker and weaker. Dyers use this notion of depleated dyes to their advantage. The first dyeing produces a deep, strong color. Subsequent dyeings in the same dyepot produce lighter, softer colors (like the three shades of indigo, madder, and yellow illustrated here):


Dyers also quickly learned to combine colors to produce different hues. There is, for instance, no "vegetable" dye material that yields green (an important color if you're interested in weaving a floral design!). First dyeing wool blue, then dyeing it again with yellow, does produce a green color. If you look closely at the green color in a vegetable-dyed rug, you will commonly see that the color is uneven, more blue-green in some areas, and more yellow-green in others. This is because of the double-dyeing technique:

So, by using the notion that depleted dyes produce different hues, and by combining some dyes through overdyeing wool, dyers can produce a surprisingly large palette of colors from a very limited variety of materials. These people are clever!

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