The materials in an Oriental rug are chiefly wool or silk knotted onto a cotton foundation. Wool is a critical element in the quality of an Oriental rug.
Wool for rugs is classified into three categories:
Live wool is wool sheared from living sheep. Dead wool is removed from sheep's hides chemically. Used wool is recycled from old cloth, redyed and used in low grade rugs.
Good, live wool is durable, and soft; it retains its lanolin and essential oils giving the rug resilience. Good wool captures the light and diffuses it among its fibers.
Dead wool is taken from slaughtered animals by chemicals and is dry, brittle and abrasive. The colors are cloudy; light is reflected off the surface of the wool. Such rugs do not wear well and have no resilience.
Intensive use of a good wool carpet over the course of time gradually polishes the wool and the natural oils come to the surface lending a wonderful sheen. In fact, an older rug sometimes looks as though it is made of silk instead of wool.
There are three basic categories of dye:
Natural dyes are made from flowers, roots, berries, bark, insects and occasionally from minerals or metals such as iron. The dyer is highly respected for his skill and deserves credit for the beauty, clarity and depth of colors in an Oriental rug.
Aniline dyes are acid-based synthetics. Such dyes are harsh; they strip essential oils from the wool making it stiff, hard and brittle. Aniline dyes are used with poorer grades of wool and lower quality rugs.
Chromium dyes have been developed over the last 40 years. In quality they are now almost equal to vegetable dyes. They are colorfast in washing, they do not harm the wool and they offer the rug designer a much wider variety of shades and colors than natural dyes. Most rugs today combine the use of natural and chromium dyes.
Oriental tradition attributes a specific meaning to each color. These meanings are an integral part of the Easterner's beliefs about life and order in the universe. Tonality, shading, placement and arrangement of color are other important factors.
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