Archive for July, 2008

Jeff Krauss and John Howe on Blue in Rugs and Other Textiles, Part 1, the Lecture

Posted in Uncategorized on July 1, 2008 by rjohn

On May 31, 2008 Jeff Krauss and John Howe gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program at The Textile Museum here in Washington, DC.

Their program was one of those complementing the exhibition Blue that was up at the TM at the moment. Its title was “Have You Got the Blues? Blue Dyes in Textiles.” They especially accentuated dyeing with indigo.

Linda Powell, The Textile Museum’s Curator of Education,

did the introductions, saying, that Jeff is a physicist, who consults internationally and is interested in Japanese textiles and resist dyeing. He collects Japanese textiles and recently donated most of his collection.

John is a retired instructional designer whose collecting is more eclectic, but includes lots of Anatolian and Turkmen material. (As the masthead on this blog indicates John is the owner and producer of it.)

They began with a PowerPoint-assisted lecture. The section below provides a virtual version of that lecture.

The title of the presentation “Have You Got the Blues? Blue in Dyes and Textiles with a Focus on Indigo” was on the screen, with the image below, as folks came into the Myers Room.

John began by saying that he and Jeff would first deliver a “tag team” lecture, then show some pieces selected to show how blue is used in rugs and other textiles, and last would look at the pieces that members of the audience had brought in.

He said that there were several parts to the lecture.

He would begin by talking about some “assorted introductory aspects of blue” and then about “symbolism attributed to blue.”

Then, he said, Jeff would talk about how blue is put into fabrics. Jeff would talk first about “indigo chemstry,” then would provide an “indigo chronology,” and last would treat “dyeing with indigo.”

John said that the concluding part of the lecture would show a number of examples of “How Blue is Used in Textiles.”

John moved to treat “Assorted Introductory Aspects of Blue.”


One might be tempted to think of color as primarily a matter of certain wavelengths of visible light, but Harald Bohmer writes that color has:

‘physical, chemical, biological, physiological, psychological, genetic and aesthetic aspects’

So we are forewarned that an investigation of the color blue may not be straightforward. And because color is an instance of perception, it is necessarily to a degree individual and personal.”

There is no ‘true blue.’

There are some indications that blue may have been one of the later human color experiences.

For example, there is an interesting pattern in the seeming emergence of the use of color words, among English-speaking children, at least.

Children who are two years old usually have 500 words, but only seldom do these include any color words.

Children of five can usually name correctly red, yellow, green and blue.

This has changed over time, perhaps because of colorful toys. In 1908, this ability was only achieved by eight-year olds. And it may still be changing. A neighbor with a two-year old reports that he can accurately name not only red, yellow, green and blue, but also pink and purple.

So a socialization effect may be continuing.

There are similar patterns bearing on blue in what might be called ‘linguistic archeology’ or ‘linguistic anthropology.’

The Pomo Indians in California, have, excepting for black and white, only one color word: red.

The Ibido in Nigeria have only two color words: red and yellow.

The ancient Greeks had no word for blue.

There is no word for blue in classical Hebrew.

The presence and absence of particular color words in particular languages has been looked at systematically. Two researchers, Berlin and Kay, have found that:

All languages have words for black and white.

If a language has three color words, red will always be one of them.

If a language has four color words, either green or yellow will be one of them, but not both.

Only when a language has five color words, does it have words for both green and yellow.

And only when a language has six color words, does blue appear.

In addition, near the equator, languages of many cultures do not differentiate between blue and green.

This is the end of my “Assorted Introductory Aspects of Blue.”

Now, let’s move to “Symbolic Uses of Blue.”

The image below is of a painting by the German artist, Franz Marc. Marc seems to have claimed that his color use here is not symbolic, that horses really are blue.

That may seem doubtful to many of us.

It is probably tempting to attribute symbolic meanings to blue because important parts of our world do LOOK blue.

The sky often looks blue.

That is recognized in expressions like “sky blue.” But sometimes we go further and say such things as “my blue heaven.” So, blue is sometimes used to symbolize, the sky, the universe, even heaven.

And to retreat a little, seen from space, our planet is sometimes described as a “blue marble.”

The sea, often nearly any body of water, can look blue.

So blues in textiles are often said to refer to water, be that a small stream or pond, or even the ocean itself.

But sometimes the symbolic meanings assigned to blue can be more attentuated. Here we need to be cautious because the symbolic meanings vary by culture and geography.

For example:

Cherokee (on  left)    Navajo (Apache) (on right)

Among the Cherokee Indians “blue” signified “north.”

But for some Navajos it referred to ‘south.”

Still, the various symbolic meanings assigned to blue can be interesting.

In western cultures, at least, blue is sometimes used to signify purity or innocence.

Jesus and the Virgin Mary are often given blue robes in paintings.

Blue as a sign of a certain level of social status is more tenuous. Blue WAS used by Egyptian rulers as one symbol of their royalty,

and this Bokharan emir, in a well-known photo you may have seen before,

clearly felt that blue projected, satisfactorily, his princely status.

Blue is often visible in ethnic dress. Here are some 19th century European examples in color illustrations.

First, below is a Norwegian Lapp,

a German,

a Hungarian bride,

and Italian couple (the man is a shepherd),

and a Russian peasant.

Blue has frequently been a color worn by various working class people. Here is another vertical array of examples.

First, below is a Dutchman

(“enough blue to make a Dutchman’s trousers” is an old European expression),

an indigo worker in Southwest China

(Notice that this all of this worker’s clothing is dyed with indigo and that the cap, jacket and pants are from polished indigo),

a merchant in an bazaar in Afghanistan,

and old man in a boat-yard in Morocco,

and a painting, by Rivera, of auto workers in a known Ford plant.

Blue is often selected for uniforms of various sorts.

“Navy blue” is a reference to one such use.

But many police, firefighters, and a variety of officials are often dressed in blue, perhaps projecting their “official” status and their “authority.” Here, below, is a vertical array of uniform usages of blue.

First is a drawing of an English “bobby.”

A photo and drawing of German police, on the left a domestic policeman, and then, to the right, a 19th century colonial navy officer,

The police below are Canadian.

This is how Northwest Mounted Police dress when they’re not in red coats and on horseback.

(There are some indications that police dressed in blue project a more calming presence when they do such punishing tasks as writing traffic citations or, even, making physical arrests.)

Our last uniforms example is the one below.

These are Russian Kremlin guards.

Blue is thought by some to project self-cultivation and intelligence, so it may not be surprising that blue is often selected for school uniforms and for academic robes.

Here is a vertical array of such uses. The British students who dressed like the figure below were called “blue-coat boys.”

Some other uniformed English schoolboys.

The image below is from Eton. The cap looks similar.

And here is a schoolgirl in Turkey in 2007.

One sees both girls and boys everywhere in Turkey in uniforms of this blue.

Last, here is an academic event at which the recent French president, Mitterrand, is being presented an honorary degree.

For a long time the “blue serge” suit was seen to project a respectable business man. A blue business suit was taken to signal importance, stability and a calm, confident, competence.

IBM was thought to require its male employees to wear blue suits. Although they deny that this was ever an official company policy, their own archives show that this is what a typical, male, IBM employee wore in 1982.

Although blue remains popular for business dress, the original “blue serge” suit is now seen to be stodgy and old-fashioned.

The notion that blue is a masculine color and that pink is for girls, seems to have quite recent roots. In Christian tradition, the color-sex reference seems reversed, with red shades reserved for men (for example, the costumes of Roman Catholic cardinals), and blue shades most frequently associated with women (as in the painting of the Virgin Mary we saw earlier).

And here is the cover of a 1928 fashion magazine on which

the boy is dressed in red and the girl is in blue.

The reversal seems to have come sometime after World War I when lots of blue military uniforms were adopted. It was solidified in the 1940s when marketing slogans encouraged women to emphasize their femininity by “thinking pink.”

The usage “blue ribbon” suggests that blue is asssociated by some with high quality.

The source of this expression is debated.

Those looking for an exalted origin sometimes suggest that the British “Order of the Garter” is implicated.

Others think our more humble county fair usages are sufficient.

Dark indigo blue clothing is sometimes used to symbolize, and to effect, extreme female modesty, as in the masked Arabian lady in the image below,

and two of the three Afghan women in this public dress image.

On the other hand, the Japanese fashion designer, Junya Watanabe, who works a lot with indigo blues, has full-faced draping in his 2008 collection, without any concern, I think, for modesty.

Blue is also used in the Middle East to signal male pride.

The smiling gentleman from Yemen, below, wears a shiny indigo turban projecting a male vanity of appearance.

The more sober man below is one of the proud, nomadic “blue men” of the Sahara, so-called because their blue clothing rubbed off on their skin.

In many cultures, dark blue and other dark shades are used to express sorrow and mourning. Black is more frequent in most western societies as is the case in the 1913 photo below of a family in mourning clothes.

Blue is said to be symbolic of death in Central Asia and Iran (although a knowledgeable Persian friend recently cast doubt on the latter).

There does seem to be some blue dress in the image below of a Kurdish funeral (oddly, of a Zoroastrian religious sect, reputed never to wear blue).

But the Shah’s widow, perhaps projecting her westernization, (or the truth of my Persian friend’s indication) wears black at her husband’s funeral in 1980.

We might smile, occasionally, at some of the symbolism assigned to blue in other societies. For example, the partly blue devices meant to distract the “evil eye”

that are ubiquitous, in a variety of forms, in Turkey.

But our own society still treats as noteworthy the symbolism that color can invoke.

It may be largely fortuitous, but Pantone, a major figure in the commercial color business, has declared a shade of blue to be its “color of the year” for 2008.

It has also suggested some of the symbolic meanings it feels this shade of blue projects. They include:

“…dependable, soul-searching, emotionally anchoring, meditative and suggestive of a touch of magic.”

These are not far from many of the symbolic meanings assigned to blue in other cultures.

That is the end of our treatment of blue symbolism.

Now Jeff is going to talk about indigo and some of the other dyes that produce blue.

Jeff began with “Indigo Chemistry.”

Indigo has a close relative called Indirubin, which is known as the “red Indigo.” It is actually a red dye. Natural Indigo dye contains various proportions of Indirubin, which is an isomer of Indigo. That means it contains the same numbers of each atom, but they are arranged differently, as the diagram below shows. Synthetic Indigo may also contain some Indirubin. Indirubin was recently identified as an active ingredient in a traditional Chinese medicine that is effective against chronic myelocytic leukemia.

Here are images of the chemical structure of Indigo and Indirubin. In these diagrams, the hexagons are called “benzene rings” and if you were a chemist you would know that they have a carbon atom and a hydrogen atom at each corner.


C16 H10 N2 O2


C16 H10 N2 O2

It has been discovered that the chemical structure of “Tyrian purple” or “Royal” or “Imperial” purple, a dye that comes from snails, also has a chemical structure very close to that of Indigo and Indirubin. Jeff provided an image of that structure as well.


He also provided some addition models of the structures of Indigo and Dibromoindigo that mark with color the location in the structure of the various element components. In these diagrams, the carbons and hydrogens are shown explicitly.

In the Dibromoindigo, two white (hydrogen) atoms, that occur at the edges in Indigo, are replaced by two red (bromine) ones. But excepting for that, the chemical structures of Indigo and Dibromoindigo are identical.

Jeff next listed some Indigo sources.

First and foremost is Indigofera tinctoria (true indigo; India and China). It is in the pea family . It contains indican which is converted through a process of enzymatic hydolysis (fermenting) and oxidation to indigotin

Here, below, are several pictures of indigo tinctoria plants.

Picture 1 of Indigofera tinctoria

Picture 2 of Indigofera tinctoria

Picture 3 of Indigofera tinctoria

Picture 4 of Indigofera tinctoria

Indigofera Tinctorian does not thrive in more temporate climates and the traditional source in indigo in Europe before Asian indigo was known and available was woad. Instatis tinctoria (woad; Europe) is in the cabbage family. Woad contains Isatan B which is converted through fermenting and oxidation to indigotin.

Here are some images of woad plants:

Pictures 1 and 2 of Instatis tinctoria (woad)

Picture 3 of Instatis Tinctoria

Since the traditional primary European source of indigo was from woad, when the eastern variety of indigo first became available, comparison of indigo from woad plants versus that from the eastern indigo plant was inevitable. Jeff spoke to that distinction and set of questions next.

Indigo vs Woad

Traditionally, Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) has a thrty-fold higher pigment precursor content than does woad. Thus, Indigo is a superior source of indigotin. However, some claim that the difference may be due to inefficient processing of woad. Scientists only recently learned that to most efficiently extract the dyestuff, woad leaves must be steeped for just ten minutes at 80 degrees C and the liquid must cool down rapidly.

But Rowland Ricketts, an American who apprenticed himself for several years in northern Japan to learn traditional Japanese modes of indigo growing, processing and dyeing in a temporate climate, reports that the northern Japanese indigo processes he learned are identical to those used for processing woad. So there seems some debate about whether the noted difference is because of different processing.

There are a surprising variety of plants from which indigo can be obtained and Jeff listed a few more of them. They include:

  • Polygonum tinctoria (dyer’s knotweed; Japan) in the buckwheat family
  • Baptisia tinctoria (East Indies)
  • Baptisia australis (blue wild indigo; North America)
  • Indigofera anil (South and Central America)
  • Lonchocarpus cyanescens (West Africa)

Here is an image of Polygonum Tinctoria

This variety of sources is a reason why Indigofera tinctoria is not necessarily the source of indigo in many parts of the world.

There are also animal sources of indigo. The famous purples produced in the Mediterranean are from a variety of shellfish. The image below is of Mollusk Murex trunchulus or Murex brandaris.

This creature produces the dibromoindigo that Jeff treated in his discussion of chemical structure above.

In at least one species of shellfish, the dye varies with sex, the male producing primarily indigotin and the female producing dibromoindigo.

An additional curious fact about dibromoindigo is that it changes to indigo in sunlight.

Indigo has an extensive chronology and Jeff provided some of it.

2500 BC: Date of the earliest woad-dyed linen garment from the Old Kingdom (Egypt), found during excavations at Thebes.

1,000-600 BC: Phoenicians from Tyre and Sidon (Lebanon) use purple dye derived from a gland of the mollusk Murex trunchulus.

5th Century BC: Date of grave containing woad-dyed textiles in Luxembourg

3-4th Century BC: Date of Pazyryk indigo-dyed pile rug

44-45 AD: Roman legions reputedly encountered blue-dyed Celts (dyed with woad) in the British Isles (some aspects of this report are questioned)

100-1500: Woad produced in Europe; Indigo imported from India by caravan

1498: Discovery of the sea route to India around the Cape of Good Hope—increased importing of indigo into Europe

1595-1597: First expedition of Dutch East India Company in India and China

1590s: French, British and German laws enacted forbidding use of indigo in order to protect woad growers.

17th Century: European trade with India and China increases; ban on indigo imports lifted

1742: First indigo crop in South Carolina

1775: 1.1 million pounds of indigo exported from South Carolina to Europe

1780s: Because of wars, Europe turns to India for indigo

1780: Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin

1800: Commercial indigo production in U.S. replaced by cotton, tobacco, rice and corn

1834: First isolation of synthetic dye-stuff from coal tar

1856: William Perkin produces alizarin, the dye substance in madder

1880 Indigo first artificially synthesized by the German chemist Adolf von Baeyer

1895-96: India exports 18,700 tons of indigo

1897: BASF begins commercial production of synthetic indigo; within two decades synthetic indigo dominates the world market

1900: German chemist Paul Friedlander discovers that Tyrian purple is chemically identical to indigo except that it has two atoms of bromine where indigo has hydrogen

1913-1914: India indigo exports drop to 1,000 tons

Jeff’s third section treated “Dyeing with Indigo.”

He began with indigo processing. Here are the basic steps:

1. Plants are collected during the flowering season.

2. The plants are immersed in water in soaking vats to ferment.

3. Fermentation lasts 12 to 15 hours

4. The liquid in the vats becomes a yellowish-green color (indican is transformed into indoxyl).

5. The liquid is stirred briskly for about 3 hours to increase oxygen contact.

6. The liquid turns deep blue (indoxyl is oxidized into indigotin).

7. The insoluable indigo falls to the botton of the soaking vat.

8. Thick indigo sediment is strained, pressed, cut into blocks and dried.

To summarize: During the processing steps listed above, indigo leaves are fermented in order to convert indican naturally present in the plant to the blue dye indigotin (indigo-blue).

Jeff now moved to “Dyeing with Indigo”:

Indigo is a solid or powder, insoluble in water.

Indigo does not react with, and will not bind chemically to, fabric fibers (no mordants are used when dyeing with indigo).

Indigo dye (indigotin, also called “indigo-blue”) reacts with reducing agents such as sodium hydrosulfite (sodium dithionite), sulfurous acid, hydrogen sulfide or urine, in an alkaline solution.

Water soluble yellow-colored leuco-indigo, also called “indigo-white” is produced.

Fibers (or woven cloth) are dyed with indigo by immersing them in this yellowish solution and then taking them out.

But, you may be wondering, “how and why does the fabric turn blue?”

What happens when you take fabric out of an indigo dye pot is visually dramatic.

Jeff gave the sequence:

1. The indigo dye vat works to keep the dye in solution.

2. The fiber or fabric is dipped.

3. Dye penetrates and adheres to the fabric fibers.

4. When the fiber/fabric is removed from the vat it comes in contact with the air. The oxygen in the air “oxidizes” the indigo-white turning it into indigo blue.

5. The color of the fiber/fabric can be seen to change from yellow to blue.

6. Insoluble indigo molecules are trapped inside the fibers of the fabric.

Here is a microscopic illustration of this penentration and trapping process, from an old book.

Jeff contrasted indigo dyeing with mordant dyeing using a step-by-step, dyeing cotton with madder, example.

1. Alizarin, the chemical dye in madder, is a mordant dye.
2. A mordant dye requires that the fibers of the fabric to be dyed be treated with a metal salt solution (such as an aluminum, chromium or copper salt) before the dye can bind to the fabric.
3. Metal ions bond to the hydroxyl groups on the cotton (cellulose)
4. When alizarin is added, it binds to the metal. This binding is the dyeing of the cotton fabric.
Jeff then summarized the differences he sees between “indigo vat dye” and “mordant dyes”.

I have been listening to Jeff’s careful examination of the more scientific aspects of coloring textiles blue. Two things seem to me to distinguish what happens in indigo dyeing from what happens in mordant dyeing.

Indigo is NOT a mordant dye

Mordant dye molecules are chemically bound to fabric molecules

Indigo dye molecules are mechanically bound (physically trapped) on and within fabric fibers

As Jeff clearly says, with indigo dyeing, the bonding is mechanical (a kind of “stickiness”), not chemical. And (this is me thinking now) perhaps because there is no chemical reaction, the penetration in indigo dyeing is often not as extensive as it is in mordant dyeing.

Rowland Ricketts, the indigo dyer mentioned above, said that one test of the limited extensiveness of penetration in indigo dyeing is to dye a white fabric in indigo, then cut it and examine the edge. He said that there will almost always be a core of white visible showing the extent to which the indigo dye penetrated the fabric. He said this would not be the case for the same fabric dyed in a mordant dye like madder. With mordant dyeing no core of white would show.

This difference is likely why the literature on indigo often describes indigo as “laying on the surface” of a fabric dyed with it. Not quite accurate, as Jeff has shown, but because indigo’s adherence is mechanical, its penetration seems often not to be complete.

Fading of an indigo-dyed fabric is the result of the small indigo molecules dropping out of the cellulose or protein bundles of the fabric. So while indigo-dyed fabric is water-fast, it is not rub fast.

Here at the end of his sections, Jeff treated two specialized points.

First, he said, there is one more indigo dye that should be mentioned. It is Indigo Sulphonic Acid, but also called “Saxon Blue” and “Indigo Carmine.” Some rug folks say “sulphonic blue.”

This is a dye that Bohmer calls the “first half-synthetic dyestuff.” It was synthesized in 1740 from indigo and concentrated sulfuric acid.

It is water soluble, but not fast (it runs or fades).

It was widely used in Persian and Turkish carpets from about 1850 to about 1910 and is for that reason sometimes seen as an approximate age marker.

The strong acid in it can damage fibers.

Jeff provided an image of its chemical structure, which is similar to indigo and indirubin.

Jeff ended with some comments on “Printing/Painting Textiles with Indigo.”

Indigo, as we have seen, oxidizes quickly when exposed to air, so unlike water soluble mordant dyes, it can’t be used in a printing or silk screening process.

But there is (or was) a dye called “pencil blue” that was made by heating finely ground indigo with orpiment and potash

“Orpiment” is arsenic sulfide As2S3 (which is highly toxic).

But with this concoction, oxidation is slowed.

“Pencil blue” can be painted into small areas of textiles.

It was used during the 18th century.

Jeff didn’t include them but there are also some rather unsavory aspects of natural dyeing with most indigo and woad.

First, the harvesting and processing was heavily dependent on cheap labor and so nearly or actual slave labor was often a part of this industry.

Second, one of the frequent ways to produce the alkaline solutions needed for fermenting was to resort to the uses of human and animal urine and feces. (The urine of young males after alcohol drinking was reputed to be especially effective.)

Third, much traditional indigo and woad processing created unpleasant smells. Queen Elizabeth I is said to have decreed that no woad plant could be located within five miles of any of her residences.

An odd fact associated with this last one one is that apparently not all processing and dyeing with indigo and woad entails such smells, or else those working with indigo and woad get used to them. Neither Jenny Balfour-Paul or Rowland Ricketts felt that the indigo they work with smells unpleasantly and the German manufacturer of synthetic indigo had to put some of the smell of the natural processing back into their product to get some dyers to use it. The dyers had become used to it and “missed” the traditional odors.

John came back, in the final part of their lecture,

to provide some examples of ” Some Uses of Blue in Rugs and Other Textiles.”

He said that the Blue exhibition, currently gracing the downstairs galleries, presents 30 carefully selected and display examples.

“But we are not constrained in some of the ways that museum curators are, and have collected our own array of such use.”

John’s first two examples were displayed in the three images below.

Textiles 1 and 2

These mummies, found in remote western China, have clothing that includes blue. The small swaddled figure is the mummy of a baby with a blue/green cap/hat and a partly blue plied tying cord. There is also blue in the adult’s leg wrappings. These mummies date from about 1,000 BC. Elizabeth Barber says that testing for the dye sources has, so far, not been permitted.

Textile 3 was a border detail from the Pazaryk pile rug, dated as early as 500 BC.

Textile 3

The Pazaryk rug has a predominant red ground, but there is use of what is known to be indigo-dyed blue in it borders. (Jenny Balfour-Paul, author of the book “Indigo,” and one of the speakers in the Blue lecture series, joked that this may be the oldest pair of indigo-dyed trousers known.)

And the potentially even more visually impressive Pazaryk felts, show definite use of blue.

Textile 4

Textile 4 is a felt horse cover in which blue is used positively in the animal figure designs.

I am going to refer frequently in my descriptions of these pieces to “positive” and “negative” uses of blue. A “positive” use of blue is one where blue is used to color particular design elements, in this case, the animal figure. A “negative” use of blue is one where blue is used in a background mode and where other colors do the figuring.

The ground color of the detail below, from a pre-Columbian burial blanket, looks a little brownish, but is actually “night-blue” cotton.

Textile 5

The use of blue as a background field color is a clear “negative” use.

This Paracus piece is estimated to have been woven 200 BC to 200 AD. It is embroidered in alpaca wool. The designs are “puma-demons,” and include the positive use of a turquoise blue and one other.

Rowland Ricketts, one of the artists who contributed to the Blue exhibition, and who dyes with indigo, said in his lecture here that brownish tendencies can result from insufficient washing after dyeing. About 40% of natural indigo, at point of dyeing, is composed of other impurities. These impurities can be washed out, but need to be. Color, Ricketts said, “blooms” with repeated washings. So this brownish cast may be the result of inadquate washing.

Textile 6, below, is a spectacular Huari tunic from Peru.

Textile 6

The piece is part of The Textile Museum collection and was featured recently on the TM web site as a “Textile of the Month.”

Here is most of the TM’s detailed description of it there:

“This tunic is made of 120 separate small pieces of cloth. The pieces were probably woven in strips over a set of scaffold yarns. Each strip was tie-dyed in one of six color combinations and two patterns: either three rows of small circles or two of larger circles. The scaffold yarns were then removed to separate the individual pieces of cloth, which were reorganized and reassembled into a tunic by sewing the pieces back together again.” The result is the pattern-breaking design that you see. “Such pattern-breaking is a hallmark of Huari textile design.”

Roman textiles are rare and most of those surviving are from Eygpt.

Textile 7

Textile 7, above, is a late 3rd century, wool, tapestry, cushion cover, probably from Alexandria. It was actually offered for sale in Hali in 1988.

Textile 8, below, is another detail of a pre-Columbian textile with highly stylized figures of gods done partly in blue.

Textile 8

It is estimated to have been woven 500-700 AD.

Textile 9, below, is a detail of a dramatic border of a 13th century Anatolian rug.

Textile 9

This is a graphically powerful use of two shades of blue.

Textile 10 is another spectacular pre-Columbian piece.

Textile 10

This is a 13-15th century Chimu feathered mantle from southern Peru, and another that is part of The Textile Museum’s collection. The feathers, are, of course, not dyed, but are the natural colors of those of the birds from which they were taken. The feathers are attached to a cotton ground. Blue is used positively, in the bird figures, and for two stripes.

Textile 11, below, is a piece of Spanish, Islamic silk, possibly 14th-15th centuries.

Textile 11

Two shades of blue are used positively as the predominant figuring colors.

Textile 12 is a 16th-17th century Chinese K’ossu tapestry.

Textile 12

“K’ossu” (also sometimes “kesi” or “cut silk”) is a very old and traditional Chinese species of silk, slit tapestry. Designs are made with weft threads. Different colored wefts are independent of one another. Ends of wefts at color changes are sewn into the fabric and the designs are the same on both sides.

In this piece, blue is used at the top in a background mode to create a “sky.” But there is positive use of two shades of blue in lower parts of the design.

Textile 12 is a particularly sumptious piece, since some of the areas in it are of silk wrapped with gold.

The piece below is a 16th century Anatolian rug with a plain, bright blue field.

Textile 13

Blue was also used in its mostly missing borders.

Textile 14 is a 16th century Ottaman silk robe

Textile 14

with blue used positively in a graphically strong lattice design.

Textile 15 is a 16th century woven linen towel from Italy.

Textile 15

Notice that there is positive use of blue in the lower section, but negative use of blue in the ones above.

Textile 16, is a 17th century Spanish carpet.

Textile 16

Blue is used negatively in the field but positively in the borders. If you look closely you may see “house” designs in the central rectangular medallion of Textile 16.

Textile 17 in an unusually colored, 17th century “garden” carpet from Kerman.

Textile 17

Blue is used positively and negatively throughout. Narrow vertical and horizontal cross-panels may suggest water.

The next textile is an 18th century, linen, resist-dyed print from France.

Textile 18

Blue is used entirely as a negative color.

Textile 19 is an 18th century Sarkhoy kilim.

Textile 19

Two shades of blue are used, both as ground colors.

Textile 20 is an 18th century, flatwoven, cushion cover from southern Sweden featuring strong graphics of a larger scale than is usual.

Textile 20

Two blues are used, effectively, especially, for punctuating purposes.

Next we encounter an elegant, 19th century Balouch main carpet.

Textile 21

At least two shades of blue are used negatively and positively.

Textile 22 below is a 19th century, cotton dhurrie from India.

Textile 22

At least two blues are used positively and negatively. The field has a “Noah’s ark” design.

The next textile is unusual. It is a 19th century Japanese “Kyogan” robe with a pictorial design and two shades of blue used negatively.

Textile 22

Kyogan is a comic variety of Japanese theater. Better known forms of Japanese theater are No and Kabuki.

Textile 23 is an Ottoman embroidered “prayer cloth,” with blue used positively in crisp design devices.

Textile 23

Here is a closer look at this embroidery.

Textile 23a

Next, is a detail of a colorful 19th century Shirvan saf.

Textile 24

Again, a little closer look.

Textile 24a

If the darkest color here is a blue, then, three blue shades are used, both positively and negatively, and with good graphic effect.

Textile 25 is an early 19th century Thracian kilim.

Textile 25

The wide, dark blue ground borders nearly overwhelm the small field area. Despite this two blues are at work in the latter, coloring small design devices.

Textile 26 is a 19th century Uzbek suzani.

Textile 26

Note: I have, since publication, received a message from Mr. Christian Erber, in Germany, saying: “Textile 26 is not a 19th century Uzbek embroidery. It’s real Ottoman, maybe from the 17th, at most from the 18th century.”  My thanks to Mr. Erber for this further indication.

Blue is used positively to color prominent design elements.

Textile 27 is a detail of a 20th century, Javanese, cotton batik.

Textile 27

At least two, but perhaps three blues are used to give this design presence and depth.

Textile 28 is another item of cotton batik from Java.

Textile 28

This lovely piece displays a delicate elephant design in which two blues are used positively.

The next piece has a little more punch.

Textile 29

This is an ikat poncho from southern Chile. Blue is used both for ground and for strong graphic elements.

Textile 30 is an item that is in the current TM Blue exhibtion.

Textile 30

It is thought to be the oldest pair of Levis known. 1890. Nobody predicted that “blue jeans,” and their offspring in a variety of colors, would be adopted worldwide or by the numbers of folks who wear them. It is said that their popularity “saved” the synthetic indigo industry.

There is something further to notice about this particular pair of Levis. During the 1950s, men’s slacks, for awhile, sported decorative “belts in the back.” I thought, then, that this was a design innovation of that time, but here it is on the oldest pair of Levis known.

Textile 31 was a striking Palestian dress.

Textile 31

This dress is silk embroidery on resist-dyed linen with applique. It was made in 1920 and is attributed to Yatta, Palestine. There is an embroidered Palestinian dress in the Blue exhibition.

Textile 32 is an attractive Anatolian felt made in the Konya area in the workshop of Mehmet Girgic in 1998.

Textile 32

I am not sure how Mr. Girgic would describe his use of blue in this graphically impactful design, but it seems to me to invite a negative reading. The lighter blue might be seen to be in a plane above that of the darker shade.

Mr. Girgic spoke to the local rug club here in the DC area (the IHBS) recently.

(You can see him and more of his felts on the IHBS web site: )

The next piece, Textile 33, was an “attus”-type, Ainu robe from northern Japan.

Textile 33

Both “Ainu’ and “attus” are likely terms that need explaining.

The “Ainu” are an indigenous people of Japan, who live today in the northernmost island of Hokkaido. Ainu culture is different from Japanese culture, and the traditional clothing is different as well.

The “attus” is a coat of this style. Attus that were worn for everyday wear did not have much decoration, but those made for ceremonial wear were decorated on the back and around the sleeves.

The basic fabric is made of woven bast fibers (from a Japanese elm tree). The decorations are applique pieces embroidered in navy and black. The design on this robe is intended to ward off evil spirits.

Textile 34 is a contemporary decorative pile rug woven with handspun wools that have been dyed with natural dyes.

Textile 34

The design is a traditional one, in which two blues are employed. Notice how the effective use of the light blue in both the field and the minor borders brings light and life to this piece.

Textile 35 is another piece similar to one in the Blue exhibtion.

Textile 35

I could not resist sharing it with you here because of its dramatic presentation. Here is a closer look at about half of it.

Textile 35a

This is a resist-dyed and embroidered child’s skirt from the Miao group in southwest China. It was collected in 1995.

The next to the last piece presented in our lecture was Textile 36 below.

Textile 36

This is a cotton robe from Liberia, composed of woven blocks of blue and white with some red decoration.

The final textile image in our lecture was a rare Japanese futon cover from the Edo period. The Edo period began with the start of the 17th century and continued just past the middle of the 18th.

Textile 37

Such futon covers were patched over and over. Today, there is a small but dedicated group of collectors who seek out these rare, old pieces, regardless of cost, and others who treat them as modern abstract art.

This is the end of our lecture.

Now let’s look at some examples of the use of blue “in the fabric.”

For that you need to go on to Part 2.

Jeff Krauss and John Howe On Blue in Rugs and Other Textiles, Part 2, Pieces You Could Get Your Hands On

Posted in Uncategorized on July 1, 2008 by rjohn

This is Part 2 of our virtual treatment of a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning on “Blue” given by Jeff Krauss and John Howe on May 31, 2008.

Part 1, replicates the longish initial lecture part of this program and is treated in a separate post here

We have separated them because of the large number of images both entail.

Part 2 was devoted to selected “in the fabric, in the room,” examples of the use of blue.

The screen was taken down and the first level of textiles on the front-of-the-room board appeared.

John began with a selection of pile and flatwoven pieces.

The first piece was a complete, flatwoven Turkmen tentband, an end of which was draped over the board.

Textile A

Although the dominant color of this piece is red, in fact, it has a good range of color with a white, a brown, a yellow, a green and two blues.

Textile A1

The lighter blue seems clearly to be read positively, but how the darker blue in the body of the band is intended is ambiguous. Probably positive as well, but it could be read negatively.

This band is quite fine and its design is unusual in my experiece. Most would, I think, call it Yomut, but Pinner and Eiland have cautioned that we may not yet know enough about Turkmen flatweaves to make confident attributions. It appears never to have been used.

Textile B is a fragment of Central Asian ikat.

Textile B

A little closer look.

Textile B1

This fragment seems likely to be from a very delicate garment of some sort. The fabric is so thin that the colors and designs “wash out” when mounted on black. So the red mounting is a necessity.

Both the vertical striped area and that with diagonal striping are of ikat. The vertical area seems to have two close blues and the diagonal striped edge has a blue-gray. Most Central Asian ikats have red wefts. This fragment is unusual because it has blue wefting. Jim Blackmon notes that blue weft marks a distinctive group of Central Asian ikats and may be an indicator of age. Elena Tsareva, with it in her hands, said that this is the oldest piece of Central Asian ikat she has seen.

Textile C was the contemporary Anatolian yastik below.

Textile C

This yastik is included because all of the colors in it are natural and are said to be from woad. Here is a close look at them.

Textile C1

Jeff’s researches seem to indicate that, although woad is a clear source of indigo, it can also contain components that can be used with mordants to produce quite a range of other colors. This piece exhibits, in addition to a bright blue, a strong yellow, a brighter red, a rust red, a dark green, a brown, white, and a purple.

This yastik came from a Michael Bischof project. It was woven by Susan Yalcin about seven years ago in the Karaman area near Konya. Ms. Yalcin is, I believe, from a nearby Yomut Turkmen village whose ancestors came from Khorasan 200-300 years ago. We also know the name of the dyer.

The field design in this piece is a frequent one but without, I think, noticeable pedigree. The wool used in this piece is of exceptional quality and the saturation of its colors is outstanding.

I had asked Wendel Swan and Bob Emry to assist in this RTAM program and to bring and speak to some pieces with interesting uses of blue. Wendel spoke now to those he had brought.

He began with Textile D below.

Textile D

A closer look at a vertical strip of the left side.

Textile D1

Textile D is one side panel of a Shahsavan bedding bag from the Moghan-Savalan area of northwest Azarbayjan. At least four, but perhaps five, uses of blue are employed skillfully in the impactful graphics of this piece.

The designs and palette on this panel are nearly identical to those on a complete bedding bag published by John Wertime as Plate 69 in his book on “Sumak Bags.”

Wendel moved next to a small Shahsavan chanteh, or single bag woven in slit tapestry with a sumak border. The ground of this single bag is blue, a relatively rare feature.

Textile E

And here is a closer look at part of it.

Textile E1

Wendel called particular attention to the way that a shade of blue, slightly different from that employed as ground, has been used in some areas for outlining.

Not many collectors pay much attention to “city” rugs nowadays, but Wendel is one who thinks that there is sometimes worthy material in this arena. He next moved to a city rug that he thinks has merit.

Here is a full image of Textile F,

Textile F

which is a Jozan. Although sometimes called “Jozan Saruks” in the West, the Persians refer to them as “Jozan Malayer” because they come from a village between Arak and Malayer and are symmetrically knotted (like a Malayer) but have fully depressed warps.

It would be difficult, even if one is not especially attracted to “city rugs,” not to acknowledge that this is a beautifully composed, colored, and executed rug (noted resolved corner turns).

Here is a closer look at detail that permits you to better assess the use of blue in this mat.

Textile F1

You can see the myriad ways (e.g., just starting with different ground shades in field and borders) in which various blues are skillfully used in this piece.

And to digress, a bit, Wendel’s attribution of “Jozan” is interesting in, and of, itself. As indicated above, “Jozan” is often taken to be a reference to a species of Saruk. Willborg included Jozan as a Hamadan type (with bows to two-wefts and deeply depressed alternate warps, that seem more like Saruk usages). Edwards and others refer to the production of the town of Jozan.

Nevertheless, the use of blue in this piece is varied and sophisticated. We go on.

Wendel had also brought a piece with blue that he thought few could identify. Here is it:

Textile G

What is it? Where was it woven? How old is it?

Good questions. This is not a textile that even active collectors would encounter every day. It is a flatwoven cushion cover from southern Sweden.

Textiles of this sort are most usually done in a variety of “interlocking” or “dovetailed” tapestry. If they are, they are called “rollakan,” an instance, like the term “kilim,” in which a structure name has become the most used name for the general type. But such flatweaves are also sometimes made using “slit” tapestry. If so, the Swedes call such a piece “flamskvav.” This piece is rollakan.

Most such Swedish flatweaves have rectilinear designs, but surprisingly curvilear examples also occur.

Although Swedish pieces using these techniques are still being made, antique rollakans and flamskvavs are fairly rare and can bring high prices at auction. I think most who follow these Swedish textiles would estimate Wendel’s piece as first quarter of the 19th century, as does Wendel. A remarkable number of these pieces are estimated to the 18th century.

Wendel’s small piece is particularly well-composed and its blue is glad to play its part in what seems to me to be a very successful graphic coloring based on a quite restricted palette.

I had also asked Bob Emry to bring some pieces with interesting uses of blue and he had brought two. He talked about them next.

He said that he had brought two Baluch (or Timori) pieces because “…Baluch rugs are often considered the “other red rugs”–the poor cousins to Turkmen. But it is clear that Baluch–Timuri especially–knew how to use blue effectively.”

Bob’s first piece was a small rug with a striking “mina khani” design.

Textile H

Bob said that this “small rug…has several shades of blue along with a very good red, and enough white to make it interesting.” Here are two closer details of it.

Textile H1

Textile H2

Bob’s second piece was a khorjin type bag.

Textile I

Baluch-Timuri pile weavings can be notoriously difficult to photograph and Bob has supplied the images used here so that you have a chance to see their qualities.

Here are two more closer details.

Textile I1

Textile I2

Bob said that this “…(half khorjin) has at least two shades of blue, plus dark blue-green, and an aubergine hexagonal lattice– all so dark and so subtly different, that it is difficult to see the design without good light. Which leads me to suppose that the weaver must have worked in good light–probably bright sunlight.”

It would be difficult to call the next rug, one I admit to having pursued all the way to The Netherlands via the internet, a serious rug (among other things its warps seem to be neither of cotton or wool, a potentially alarming indicator of its possible youth). But it is a fun rug, with a nice graphic use of blue.

Textile J

This pictorial pile rug is Persian and is attributed to Firdowz in Khurasan. Tanavoi devoted a book to such rugs and includes several similar examples. They are nearly always white ground with this same spacious border. There are lots of Baluch and Arabs in Firdowz who weave, but Tanavoli says that these pictorial pieces are likely woven by other Persian weavers there.

Now the fun part. This rug is what Pat Weiler, a collector in Seattle, has called a “soap opera” rug. It portrays one instance in the lives of two star-crossed lovers, Khushraw and Shirin, from Persian folk literature. The horse is hers. If you get the girl, you get the horse. There are numerous episodes and all the characters in such rugs are identifiable. If you ask a Persian about these stories, he/she will tell you one and it will be different from the last one you have heard.

I do not like most pictorial rugs, but find these blocky figures appealing, and had a geographically misplaced hope that they might come down from some ancient Luri sculptures. It turns out that they are based on Russian icons and I know of two “Mary and Jesus” rugs with these same type figures.

The next piece was an Antolian grain bag that I bought in Bergama last year.

Textile K

The front of this complete bag has alternating bands of plain weave and more complex designs in brocade. Carrying straps are sewn firmly on the side. And the back

Textile K1

is almost entirely of stripes of plain weave with only small triangular devices done in brocade.

The use of blue in the brocaded cross-panels on the front is amibiguous.

Textile K2

It takes a little looking to decide that, nearly all, if not all, of the uses of blue in the brocade sections is negative.

These Anatolian grain bags can be beautiful and are still reasonably priced, and under-collected.

The last of the piece I brought was a lovely old, Chinese rug that I do not own.

Textile L

This rug shows how effectively the Chinese could use blue in their pile rugs (although Wendel suggested that this one may have originally had some red as well).

Here are two closer details.

Textile L1

Textile L2

(The “gray” area to the right of the medallion is the shadow of my hand, not something on the rug.)

For me the use of blue, white and tan in this piece exudes a peaceful calm.

The owner of this piece indicates that it has handspun cotton wefts, an indicator that would place it before 1850. The owner believes that it may be 18th century.

Now Jeff began to treat the African and Japanese pieces.

Textile M

He started with the modeling of four Japanese garments, one of which he is wearing in the photo above. The other three, Textiles N, O, and P Were worn (left to right) by Linda Powell, John and Marissa Huttinger (a TM volunteer who helped us, ably, in this session) in the photo below.

Textiles N, O and P

Textile M, the coat Jeff wears above is dark and needs close-up details to permit you to see its subtle designs.

Here closer look from the side.

Textile M1

A closer look from the back.

Textile M2

This is a patchwork Japanese jacket, made up of a number of different patterns of kasuri (ikat), a resist dyeing technique that involves resisting and dyeing the threads before the fabric is woven. The patchwork is perfectly left-right symmetric, so clearly someone put a lot of effort into making this from remnants that had seen others uses before they became part of the jacket. Cotton.

Textile M3

Linda is wearing an unusual piece: a cotton yukata robe resist dyed with indigo using a shibori technique, but mostly white.

Textile N

A closer look at a detail of Textile N. This design is achieved by pleating the cloth and wrapping it tightly around a core of heavy rope, and then wrapping twine around to secure the cloth, and then dyeing it. Most of the cloth is not exposed to the dye because of the way it is pleated and wrapped.

Textile N1

John is wearing a kind of fisherman’s coat.

Textile O

The back of this coat. This is resist dyed using a technique called tsutsugaki, which involves a paste made from rice that is squeezed out of a pastry bag. The craftsman lays down the paste on the areas to be resisted, and then the fabric is dipped into the indigo. After the indigo dyeing is done, the paste is removed and then other dye colors are applied. Cotton.

Textile O1

Marissa Huttinger, a TM voluteer who was very helpful, wears another cotton yukata robe.

Textile P

The back of Textile P. This is another shibori resist dyeing technique. In this case, the craftsman makes a running stitch through the fabric along the swirling lines, and then the thread is pulled tight, creating tiny pleats along the stitch.

Textile P1

A closer detail of this back.

Textile P2

Now Jeff moved to the pieces on the board.

Textile Q, below, was a Japanese indigo square cotton furoshiki (wrapping cloth) so dark that it looked almost black. It was resist dyed using the same paste resist technique as the fisherman’s jacket.

Textile Q

Jeff asked Ann Marie Moeller, an expert on Japanese symbolism who was in the audience to explain the symbolism in Textile Q. The symbols include the cloak of invisibility, a bottomless treasure bag and magic jewels.

The next piece on the board was Textile R below. This is another cotton furoshiki, quite old, whose design is achieved by a stitching technique called sashiko.

Textile R

The next two textiles had bright blues and more impactful designs.

The first was Textile S below with small irregular blue forms in an overall pattern. This is another type of shibori resist dyeing, achieved by looping a thread around small bunched up areas of the cotton fabric.

Textile S

It was followed by Textile T that features explosive-seeming designs. It’s another example of shibori, in this case made by folding the cloth and then clamping it between boards. This textile is actually a cotton baby diaper, and this was a common dyeing technique for baby diapers.

Textile T

Textile U, below, is darker again but with a design that includes clear fish devices. This was made using a stencil and “painting” a rice paste through the stencil. The white areas are where the paste resisted the indigo dye. Cotton.

Textile U

The following cotton Textile V, below, was also dark but with a readable design that included a version of the cloak of invisibility, one of the symbolic devices Ann Marie Moeller had explained earlier. The dyeing technique here is kasuri (ikat), whereby the threads are resist dyed before the fabric is woven.

Textile V

Textile W, below was a long dark cotton strip with another kasuri-dyed design.

Textile W

Jeff folded it back perhaps to show that the design is the same on both sides.

Textile W1

The designs in Textile W are subtle enough and complex enough to deserve a closer look at a detail. A crane is clearly visible.

Textile W2

Jeff continued with the next layer on the board now of African pieces.

The first African piece, Textile X was the very colorful one below.

Textile X

A closer look at a detail of this piece. This is a traditional kente cloth from the Ashanti tribe of Ghana, although it has more blue than most kente cloth. Woven in long narrow strips, then sewn together. Possibly silk, but more likely rayon.

Textile X1

The second African textile, below was lighter but still very colorful. This is cotton, from the Ewe tribe of Ghana. Also woven in long strips.

Textile Y

A closer look at some of these small panels.

Textile Y1

Textile Z moved back to predominantly blue shades.

Textile Z

A close-up of a small detail lets you see how these squares are composed internally. The design is made up mostly of floating wefts. This is probably from the Ewe tribe.

Textile Z1

Textile AA, below, was another of predominant blues.

Textile AA

A closer detail. The dyeing technique is warp ikat. Cotton, woven in long narrow strips.

Textile AA1

Textile BB featured circular designs.

Textile BB

Another closer detail. The dyeing technique is basically the same as Japanese shibori, using thread wrapped around the fabric.

Texile BB1

The last textile we had brought was from Tunisia.

Textile CC

This piece is a headcover of shawl.

Linda Powell, the TM Education Curator, spoke up from the audience to say that

there is a similar piece in the TM collection and that they were often given as dowry pieces and dyed after the owner was married.

In subsequent conversation Linda added that the TM description of its Tunisian shawl indicates in part that:

These shawls/headcovers are woven by Berber women in Tunisia. When the shawl comes off the loom it has a design of white on white. Unmarried women wore these undyed shawls.

On the occasion of marriage the undyed shawl is dyed either red or dark blue (the shawl in the TM collection is dyed red).

The TM notes on this piece also indicate that “deep red shawls with prominent decoration are thought to be appropriate for the festive occasion of a wedding and may allude to a wish for a long and fertile life.” The TM shawl is estimated to be mid 20th century.

The owner notes, on this piece, say, additionally, that it is from the Matmata region in Tunisia and was woven by a Berber weaver, but could have been woven in a number of locations in that region (they cite Toujaine as one possible candidate).  Because Matmata is the largest town in the area, it is used as a catch-all designation when a more specific provenance is not available.

They indicate that these pieces are woven in wool and cotton. They have plain colored grounds and narrow borders, the latter decorated with fine geometric designs that seem to be brocade.

Textile CC1

The TM notes and the literature say that such “head shawls” are woven “in a combination of white wool, black-tinted wool and cotton, working from the back of the textile.

The designs are given names by the weavers, but often the same design is given different names in different villages. The meanings the design names convey are not reliably known, but they “suggest physical comfort, protection and security.” These same designs are found in Tunisian pottery and tattoos.

It seems agreed in the literature that such shawls are often dowry pieces and are initially undyed and so mostly white. After a time (the accounts seem to vary as to when and for what reasons) the shawl is dyed, sometimes with indigo. [The seeming most frequent account indicates that traditionally white is for unmarried girls (as Linda and the TM notes suggested), red is for young married women and blue or black is for older women.]
Because the white, black-tinted wool and cotton take indigo dye differentially (this is especially the case for areas done in cotton) the patterns are readily visible only after dyeing. These shawls are excellent examples of this differential dyeing effect.
Our session on Blue came to an end, we took questions, looked at some pieces using blue that had been brought in, and adjourned. As usual, the looking was now supplemented with touching and the conversation multiplied.

Thanks to Carly Ofsthun, the TM’s Education Coordinator, for her assistance as we prepared, and whose idea this RTAM may have been. To Marissa Huttinger, for her assistance in helping put up, model and move the textiles during the session. Also to Jeff’s wife, Fern and to my wife, Jo Ann for the useful photos they took from the audience.

Jeff Krauss and I hope you’ve enjoyed our virtual RTAM session on Blue.


R. John Howe