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A passion for color
1.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 03 Aug 2008 Sun 12:59 am

In 35 wind-scoured villages of north-western Turkey, long-forgotten secrets of the dyer´s art have been rediscovered. Natural dyes made from local plants are being used to create colors not seen for more than a century. And the resurrection of this ancient art has inspired rug-weavers to reach back to the finer craftsmanship - and the different way of seeing - of their grandmothers, in the days before chemical dyes. The results are not only new carpets that recall the rich color harmonies of the treasured nomad and peasant rugs of the past, but also changes in the patterns of village life.

The weavers, organized into a cooperative under Turkish law, have refused to accept for marketing rugs colored with chemical dyes - even though insisting on natural colors only makes their work more difficult, since the plant products are less easy to control than industrially-produced chemical dyes. At the same time, the special qualities of naturally dyed wool are not apparent to everyone, for color exists -quite literally - in the eye of the beholder. Where natural-dye enthusiasts see "mellow" hues that sparkle and glow, others see nothing special - at least, nothing worth the effort of looking at a carpet long enough to be drawn into it. To do this one needs, perhaps, a passion for color.

Ironically, over 100 years ago, it was a passion for color - specifically, the bright colors and seductive patterns of so-called "Turkey carpets" - that contributed to the disappearance in Anatolia of the natural dyes being revived today. Inspired by a series of international expositions between 1851 and 1876, Europe´s new industrial middle class lined its sitting-rooms with hand-knotted Turkish carpets. The increased demand outstripped supply, and rug prices increased. But higher prices could neither speed up the laborious hand-work needed to collect raw materials for natural dyes, nor increase the supply of those dyeplants that were not cultivated crops.


An 18-year-old English chemistry student came to the rescue. William Perkins, working over his Easter holiday from the Royal College of Chemistry in 1856, was completing an assignment from his German professor, Wilhelm von Hoffmann, to attempt to synthesize quinine. Accidentally, he produced a purple substance that, he noted, dyed silk as well as cotton with a color that was both bright and lightfast. Perkins instantly abandoned quinine and applied for a patent for his synthetic dye, which he called mauveine after the purple flower of the mallow, Malva sylvestris. Von Hoffmann, later returning to his own country, triggered a virtual gold rush in German universities to analyze natural dyes and synthesize them, and Germany´s synthetic-dye industry soon outstripped the English one that Perkins had founded.

More than 2000 synthetic dyes were patented in Germany alone in the next half-century. Because these so-called aniline dyes were cheaper than traditional natural dyes, could be produced in any quantity, and were easier and less time-consuming to use than traditional dyes, they soon invaded Turkey´s carpet-weaving cottage industry.

Aramco World


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