Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 06-10-2005 05:54 AM:


Dear all,

I always associated abrash with natural dyes. This is, I gather, the general opinion - see a couple of excerpts from the Web:

“The Virtues (of) Vegetable Dyes” by Dr. Harald Bohmer

What the synthetic dyes lack is called "abrash"— various shades of color in one field of color, or even in a single knot of wool. Abrash is not necessarily the result of dyeing with various dyestuffs. Abrash can also be produced with a single dyestuff, such as indigo. An indigo-blue knot alone, owing to the particular character of the vat dyeing, may contain shades that range from light to dark blue. Varying thicknesses and irregularities in the twisting of homespun yarn also cause variations in the intensity of the color. In addition, the dyeing process is influenced by differences in the quality, the fibre structure, and the lanolin content of the wool; winter and summer wool, for instance, do not absorb dyestuffs in the same way. One of the outstanding qualities of natural dyes is that they do not run. Wool dyed red with madder, or blue with indigo, will hardly fade; the light fastness of yellow-dyed wool, however, varies considerably.

And from the late Sam Gorden's site, RugLore:

It may happen, while questing for these treasures, that you may chance upon a fine antique specimen which has an abrupt color variation. This is called an "Abrash". It does NOT diminish the desirability or value of the piece unless it is so strident that it offends the eye and reduces its aesthetic appeal. When this variation is acceptable, it just adds to the surface-interest. An abrash is a condition that develops with age. It results because the weaver was unable to have all the pile-yarn dyed at the same time. Usually, in rural rugs, all the dyeing was done by one family where the processing secrets were handed down from father to son. The manufacture and use of dyes was crude with many uncontrollable factors. I have never seen a workshop carpet with an abrash! When a plant dye was used, its characteristics depend on where the plant grew and when it was reaped. The amount of rainfall and its accessibility to sunlight were also potent factors. Under the circumstances, it must be obvious that batches of wool, dyed at different times, would be processed with variants of the same dye. Also, it should be noted that the rural dyer used empirical methods and did not have the advantages of modern quality control. It is no wonder that his productions had great variation! It is certain that when the wool batches were dyed originally, these all looked alike. They looked alike but they were NOT dyed alike!!! As the piece aged, one batch being more sensitive to light than another, fades more and so an abrash was created.

But now I’m not so sure.
This is a detail of a Luri rug I bought as new around ten days ago. It has developed rather quickly the abrash you can see in the photo.

Notice that I took the picture four years ago.
I doubt that these are natural dyes; rather, synthetic ones badly applied.

What do you think?



Posted by Steve Price on 06-10-2005 07:40 AM:

Hi Filiberto

I think Harold Bohmer's comment about synthetic dyes having no abrash is one of those generalities with lots of exceptions. Modern machine spun wool dyed with chrome dyes often lacks variation within a color field, but not always.

Sam Gorden's comment about abrupt color changes in adjacent regions occurring with age seems unlikely to be correct. At least, I can't think of any way this can occur in teh midle of a line of knots and continue throughout the remainder of the weaving. My guess is that the weaver exhausts her supply of wool dyed in one lot and begins working with a different one.


Steve Price

Posted by James Blanchard on 06-10-2005 09:33 AM:

Abrash vs. abrash

Hi all,

It seems like the definition of abrash is a bit too broad, and that has always puzzled me a bit.

I first understood abrash to mean the usually subtle local colour (or tone) variations that occurred over time due to uneven fading or "maturing" of a given colour. An illustration of that is the attached photo of an old Qashqai where the blue field varies in intensity.

To me, this is very attractive since it accentuates the visual impression of "depth", with the smaller field elements seeming to float on top of the field. It also breaks the monotony of colour, when necessary. I have seen rugs where the weaver deliberately varied the field colour tone, sometimes dramatically, presumably to achieve this effect.

Sometimes the term "abrash" seems to be used for those occasions when the field colour tone changes abruptly, but this is due to an obvious change in the colour of wool used. Here is a Baluch for an example, where the colour of the blue field changes abruptly (just at the end of the shorter panels).

Interesting, this colour change is only for the blue, and coincides with a change in the pattern. You'll notice that the end of the rug with the lighter blue also has a less crowded field of design elements and taller panels. I sometimes wonder if the weaver stopped and restarted the weaving at a later date, or if someone else took over. I should mention that the additional colour change at the end of the rug (where it looks a bit "muddy") is due to the presence of brown wool which has corroded on the rest of the rug but not at that end. I much prefer the corroded part of the rug.

I suppose the third type of "abrash" is "micro-abrash", where the colour varies at a micro-level within one thread of wool.

Does the lexicon need to expand regarding abrash?



Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 06-10-2005 12:49 PM:

Steve, James,

I don’t know…
It just occurred to me - because it literally happened under my eyes – that some abrash cannot be “used” voluntarily by the weaver if it takes some years to manifest itself.


Posted by James Blanchard on 06-10-2005 01:26 PM:


I agree that "natural" abrash happens over time and therefore is probably not usually deliberate per se. But just as many of us find it appealing for the various visual effects it creates, I suppose that some weavers who had observed this in older rugs deliberately varied the colour tones in their rugs to achieve that same effect.

That intentional approach to create a particular visual effect is quite different from someone running out of a particular lot of dyed wool (as appears to be the case in the Baluch I showed). It seems to me that these are different enough cases in intent and effect to merit different terminology, n'est ce pas?

When the abrash occurs "naturally" due to "maturing" of colours, that is something altogether different.

So we have...

1. "Micro-abrash" -- minute variations within strands of wool.
2. "Natural" abrash -- unplanned, sporadic colour tone variations that occur with "aging".
3. "Design" abrash -- colour variation that was intentional for effect.
4. "Spurious" abrash -- abrupt colour change due to lack of dyed material.

Granted, it might not be easy to distinguish between 3 and 4 in all cases because one is unable to know the intent, but I think that in many cases this distinction can be made.


Posted by Steve Price on 06-10-2005 01:39 PM:

Hi James

I hope Peter Stone (author, Oriental Rug Lexicon) is reading this thread.

One spelling variant that I've seen on eBay: airbrush. I assume that the folks who post abrash as airbrush use a spell checker and follow its recommendations without question.


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 06-10-2005 01:42 PM:

Hi James,

Yes, right…
Now the point that concerns more this discussion is your #. 2: unplanned, sporadic colour tone variations that occur with "aging".
It occurs with synthetic dyes only (see my picture above) or also with natural ones?
And, in any case, which colors (natural or not) are more likely to suffer from “aging abrash”?



Posted by James Blanchard on 06-10-2005 01:55 PM:

Don't know enough about dyes and wool to comment on whether the "natural abrash" with aging occurs only with natural dyes. I do know that it only happens with natural hair...


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 06-10-2005 02:02 PM:

That’s where synthetic dyes can help. (I’m not speaking by personal experience – yet)


Posted by James Blanchard on 06-10-2005 02:12 PM:

Synthetic dyes.... and even repiling (no personal experience either)...


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 06-10-2005 02:29 PM:

…although there is somebody else on this thread that could benefit from both treatments...


Posted by Steve Price on 06-10-2005 02:38 PM:

Hi Filiberto

Especially the repiling.

This reminds me of one morning a year or two ago, when I was en route to my office. I was in an elevator, standing behind two women. One was complaining to the other that every day she had more gray hair. I guess I laughed, and one of them turned around and gave me the accusing look that mothers master. I apologized, and explained that I used to be bothered by finding more gray hair every day, but now find less gray hair every day and wasn't sure that I liked this any better.


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 06-10-2005 02:44 PM:

Hi Steve,

I didn’t mention any name, didn’t I?



Posted by Vincent Keers on 06-10-2005 09:50 PM:


Before dying, the wool has to be prepared.
The "fixing" bath that prepares the wool takes about one hour. No boiling, because that harms the wool. The bath needs to be stirred constantly. How many grams of wool can a woman, under primitive (cottage) conditions, handle in one lot? How big is the pot?
How many grams of wool does she need to knot a rug sized 180x120cm. About 10.000 grams.
This shows that the fixing of the wool can never be done in one lot. I don't think that cottage production can be done with the use of all different kinds of fixing baths for different colors.
For fixing the wool, 5 pots of 2 kilos wool.
This takes ± 8 hours hot, unpleasant work.
So sometimes a pot gets a bit less stirring.
Sometimes the temperature gets a bit to high.
Sometimes the temperature gets to low.
And sometimes (most) fixing was done with her husbands and sons urine. What did they eat? What did they drink? All this can be seen in your rug.

Abrash means fungoid, like a grey horse.
The fungoid we see in Indigo is because the distribution quality of natural indigo is poor.
In green, the indigo causes the fungoid.
(There are natural greens that don't show the fungoid, so most think those are chemical)
In madder. If the madder, the chopped root pieces, get mingled in the wool at one spot because the stirring wasn't done ok.

etc. etc.
Best regards,

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 06-11-2005 10:03 AM:

Hi Filiberto, et all,

We've all seen the new gabbehs coming out of Iran, done with vegetable dyes. Nice colors, nice abrash, etc. They've been very successful in the marketplace, and this fact has not gone unnoticed by the other major weaving tribes of the region. Some of the Luri, in particular, are now marketing pieces with natural dyes and very nice designs.

But there are some amongst their weavers who apparently don't really "get it" yet. The manner in which the abrash is installed is very unsophisicated, as if someone read about abrash but never actually saw it. In addition to macro-obvious-contrived-abrash, there is micro-obvious-contrived-abrash : the knot colors vary individually and lead to an irritating polka-dot appearance up close.
Here is a picture of such a piece:

This brings up an interesting question, which is:

How much of the high regard which so many collectors assign to the presence of abrash is founded on a fundamental error in perception: that the abrash is the result of processes not under the control of the weaver and thus is largely is a random result ?

If the Zollanvari weavers can make the abrash look right, and the Luri weavers can't, then it must be the manner in which the abrash is installed that makes the difference.

And certainly, everyone will agree that the weavers of two centuries ago probably had old pieces to look at, and were aware of the phenomenon now called abrash. And to some degree, many of them may have been aware of the conditions that cause it. According to many authors, indigo dyeing was generally not done in a rustic setting, but rather, by a professional indigo dyemaster in a local trading center. The other colors, requiring less sophisticated techniques, were done within the nomadic environs. Certainly, information about color control must have flowed between the professional dyers and the weaving community, and between the nomadic dyers (at least, on those occasions when tribal gatherings occured).

So when we look at abrash, we must wonder a little about how "natural" it really is, and whether natural dyes play as big a part in abrash as we are often told that it does. And we must wonder why the reasons assigned to the development of abrash with natural dyes cannot also apply to synthetic dyes.

Here are a few interesting (to me, anyway) examples of not-so-old rugs showing distinct abrash that does not appear to be contrived by the weaver (keeping in mind that the modern gabbeh abrash is contrived...). A couple have been seen before in other discussions.

The first is a village or workshop piece, a Bahktiari carpet. Are these natural dyes ? It is documented in the literature that at least some of the Bahktiaris used natural dyes well into the 1930s. I haven't had any of these pieces tested, and when they were acquired it was assumed that they were all made using synthetic dyes. But I wonder about this one. The front:

The back:

Natural or synthetic ? Does the abrash tell us anything?

The next is an Afghan nomadic piece, age unknown but probably about 60 years old, maybe older (the dimensions are more typical of older pieces). A closeup reveals the presence of significant tip fading, generally considered a danger sign for those hunting natural dyes (I wonder, though, if poorly applied vegetable dyes can do the same thing..):

Viewed as a whole, this piece has a very rustic and unsophisticated look, in short, I doubt that the abrash is contrived. I think it is a nomadic product, and synthetics or not, it appeals to me:

Here's another piece with similar characteristics. In this case I think the dyes are synthetic as well, although there is very little tip fading. I think it's a Baluchi piece, early 20th century, although the design is more typical of Khirgiz work. It has a striking abrash:

And again, as a whole, has a very rustic appearance:

The last piece is a Yomud chuval, early 20th century I suppose, with synthetic dyes and an abrash nevertheless:

Interestingly, several of the older chuvals and tribal trappings made with natural dyes, particularly Salor pieces, have no abrash whatsoever. Nor do most of the DOBAG pieces.

So Filliberto, natural dyes clearly do not necessitate the presence of abrash. And the development of (or better said, the presence of) abrash may "mean" a lot less than some folks might like it to.

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 06-11-2005 02:47 PM:

Hi Chuck,

To put it in another way, abrash doesn’t help in distinguishing between natural and synthetic dyes…


Posted by Vincent Keers on 06-11-2005 08:26 PM:

Itchy itch.

Dear all,

Chuck ringed an alarm bell:

"We've all seen the new gabbehs coming out of Iran, done with vegetable dyes. Nice colors, nice abrash, etc. ............... Some of the Luri, in particular, are now marketing pieces with natural dyes and very nice designs."

Most Gabehs have natural colors. But natural dyes is a different story. I'ld love to know who makes all those vegetable dyes. Let's google.

Best regards,

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 06-11-2005 08:53 PM:

Hi Vincent,

Probeer om te beginnen met Abbas Sayahi


Chuck Wagner

Posted by Vincent Keers on 06-12-2005 09:32 PM:

Hi Chuck,

It linked me to a site that studies oriental rugs and ...........the Bible!
That's to much for me.
So this is where all those dyes for all those gabeh's came from? Great.
Think it is time I make a nice natural fast green.
Nettles are all in bloom, think that should do the job. And unionskin with Iron gives a great natural fast green.
Not the darkgreen that is shown on the biblical site. But that's done with synthetic indigo and weld. My dictionary doesn't tell me what weld is in Dutch.
And is it vegetale or vegtable?

Where did you pick up the Dutch?

Best regards,