Posted on: March 26, 2019

The Artistry of Vegetable Dye

The application of vegetable dye is older than the craft of carpet-making itself. Here at Orley Shabahang, we stick to the roots of this ancient technique to achieve the beautiful depth of color seen in our carpets.

vegetable dyed blue and green skeins of handspun wool yarn on a cement floor

We take pride in our age-old practices when it comes to carpet-making at Orley Shabahang, and there is no exception when it comes to dyeing our handspun wool. While many dyes used in today’s handmade carpets are synthetic to reduce costs and production times, we use vegetable-based dyes from nature: flowers, roots, fruit, bark, and other natural ingredients found in the Persian countryside. The process begins with selecting the proper raw materials to achieve the desired color. For example, our blues are often created with indigo whereas our reds are often derived from red madder root.

Orley Shabahang dye masters dipping skeins of handspun wool yarn into clay vats of red madder root dye

Before commissioning each carpet, Orley Shabahang directs the dyemaster to test and retest every color, setting a standard worthy of the fine tradition of artistic carpet weaving. The first step in naturally dyeing yarn involves cooking the wool in large clay pots of heated water containing zaj, a mineral salt. The resulting natural chemical reaction cleans the wool and activates the molecules to accept future dyes without destroying its lanolin content. Next, the wool is again dipped in a clay pot, but this time with the vegetable dye of choice. The time that the wool sits in the vat depends on the nature of the vegetable dye as well as the depth of color that is desired. Dyes like indigo, for example, are quickly absorbed by the wool and as such the shade can changed drastically within a matter of minutes. The use of dyes derived from organic substances allows richer color variations and conveys an earthy honesty in beautiful lustrous tones. Batch after batch of purples, blues, reds, magentas, greens, and golds are infused until they arrive at suitable formulations. The methods employed ensure that the wool is dyed completely down to the molecular level, rather than only through the surface of the wool—the dye literally becomes one with the wool.

Orley Shabahang dye masters rinsing the skeins of dyed yarn in the river.

After dying, the wool is rinsed in a river current and then laid in the sun for further natural curing. This process is very time consuming and delicate, and differs greatly from those processes used to create commercial rugs. The slow river rinsing and sun baking lend additional sheen to the wool and ensure that the wool has preserved its highly valued lanolin. Unlike yarn rinsed in city water, river-washed yarn has a vivid, but not harsh, brightness to its colors and a recognizable depth. This part of the process also prevents the wool from bleeding color once it is woven into a carpet.

Skeins of dyed yarn baking in the sun.

After the sun has set the color of the yarn, it is sorted and ready to be handwoven into a one-of-a-kind Orley Shabahang masterpiece. To learn more about what sets our process and products apart, visit our website or one of our retail locations.