Dyes Used in Kilims

Dyes Used in Kilims

There are three main classifications of wools used in kilim production: chemically dyed, vegetal-dyed, and natural (or no-dye) wools. No question about it, natural or vegetal-dyed wools are preferred over wools dyed with chemical substances. The reasons for this are myriad, but the biggest one is this: vegetally-dyed wools are simply more aesthetically pleasing (and therefore more valuable) than their chemical counterparts.

However, less than 5% of the kilims made in the world today actually use vegetal dyes. Why? Plant-based dyes are much more difficult to work with and require a skill level that takes many years to acquire. Thus, vegetal-dye pieces are far more costly than their chemically dyed counterparts. Some kilim dealers will try to tell you that every rug and kilim they sell is vegetal dyed. Please tread with extreme caution if you hear these words, as this is, in virtually every instance, a misstatement of the facts. Some folks will say this to justify very high prices, but the reality is, very few rugs and kilims are actually vegetal dyes. This is especially true if the dealer is selling older pieces, as the art of vegetal dying was nearly lost in the last hundred years or so, and has only recently made a “comeback.”

One important thing to watch for when viewing kilims is colorfastness. Check for this by dampening a paper towel and gently blotting the towel over the back of the Kilim. If you see dye on the cloth, this indicates the dyes are less than totally colorfast, and due caution should be used in cleaning. Obviously, a rug or kilim that is not colorfast is not a “fancy” piece, and while this doesn’t mean the rug or kilim must be avoided, it does mean the piece should be relatively inexpensive.

Natural dye materials number in the hundreds, but a few of the more common include:

  • Eucalyptus

  • Cochineal

  • Madder Root

  • Onion

  • Pomegranate

  • Saffron

  • Acorns

  • Sumac

  • Walnut

  • Indigo

  • Broom

  • Coneflower

  • Foxglove

  • Nettle

  • Sorrel

  • Yarrow

  • Chamomile

  • Tumeric


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