Natural vs Synthetic Dyes

Natural vs Synthetic Dyes. It’s one of the most taboo topics in rugs so let’s get into it. Spoiler Alert; It’s probably synthetic. 100% natural dyed rugs are rare, so statistically speaking, it’s most likely synthetic. Does that mean it’s a bad rug? Absolutely not. Let’s back up and talk about what it means to say a rug has natural or synthetic dyes.

Handmade antique and vintage rugs are made from yarn that is harvested from either a plant (hemp or cotton) or an animal (sheep, alpaca, camel). Once the fiber is twisted into yarn, it is dipped by hand into dye. The topic of this post concerns how that dye was derived. Was it made from earthy, organic materials like plants and crushed up insects? Or was it made from man made materials? Does it matter? Not really. Synthetic dyes have been around since 1860 and by 1920 their use was pretty widespread. It makes sense. Making dye from plant roots, flowers and insects was a time consuming and labor intensive endeavor. With the development of chemical dyes, yarn could be dyed quickly, inexpensively and in a wide range of colors. These dates tell us that rugs made after 1920 most likely have synthetic dyes (full or partial). It also tells us that if a rug has synthetic dyes, it was not made before 1920. 

I’m not saying that synthetic dyes are bad. They’re not! All I'm saying is that there needs to be some standards for what we are calling all natural. And yes Karen, I guess it can be hard to tell the difference but it can also be easy to tell the difference. Neon colors don’t exist in nature 🤷🏻‍♀️.  To be frank, most of the social media posts claiming rugs are vegetable dyed are incorrect. If a rug seller is claiming that a rug is all natural and you want to know more, ask more. It doesn't mean you shouldn't buy it or that its a fake rug. I just would like to reserve the term natural for true antique rugs that actually are. In a later post, I’ll talk about what I look for when I’m buying rugs, how to determine authenticity and the value of more genuine one of a kind pieces versus mass produced rugs. 


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