Persian plants producing dye-stuffs:
Ruyan or boyak, a species of madder, excellent in quality. It was exported in great quantities to
Russia. Eight hundred thousand English pounds of this were exported to Russia in the year
1860, according to the account of Arminius Vambery.
Isbarak or barak. This has small yellow flowers, which when dried and powdered produce a fine
Gortchuk, a plant resembling clover with small red flowers. The leaves are boiled and give a fine
Buzgundjh, a plant with fruit like gall-nuts, which produces the finest of red hues. It grows only in southern Maymene, and in the Badkhiz mountains north of Herat.
Source: Vambery, Sketches of Central Asia, 1868.
Pomegranate skins yield a brown dye.
The wild larkspur yields yellow.
In Spain, a particularly beautiful saffron dye was made in the old manner, by taking a plant called
torvisco (Daphne gnidium) and boiling this with pomegranate rind and barley straw.
In Tibet, colors to dye wool came "from bark from Bhutan, green nutshells and vegetable juices."
Source: Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet
Exported from Russia through the port of Astrakhan were cochineal and superior indigo.
Eastern method for dying madder red, for many years a secret art. This was the method used by
cloth-manufacturers of Astrakhan.
Upon a Saturday, prepare a quantity of cotton yarn for dying: first, soak in the fat of fish,
previously saturated with a solution of salt of soda called Kalakar; in this state, leave the yarn in a
heap till the succeeding Monday, by which time it grows remarkably hot.
On Monday, the yarn is rinsed, dried and again immersed in the fat solution.
On Tuesday, the process is again repeated. Then the yarn is hung up to dry.
For the next four days of the week, the yarn is repeatedly steeped in a new lixivia of simple
This done, the yarn receives its first olive tint from the leaves of the Belge, or the Cotinus of
Linnaeus. Thus for each ten poods of yarn to be dipped: boil in large kettles, forty to forty-three
Russian vedros or eimers of water plus three pood thirty pounds of leaves (that is, fifteen pounds
of leaves per pood of yarn). Strain the liquid through sieves, add a pood of alum. This makes
the dye. Dip yarn by skeins, hang to dry, then wash and dry again.
The yarn is now prepared for dying in madder.
To make the madder dye: for each pood of yarn, measure into the kettles about a pood of ground
madder, which has previously been mixed with half a Russian vedro (or about thirteen pints
English measure) of blood. Boil. Immerse yarn in this mixture, then let to boil.
When dyed to satisfaction, dry yarn and placed in pots of alkaline water. Immerse completely
and simmer; the liquor, which boils over and runs off by a small gutter affixed to the edge of the
vessel, is continually topped up with a fresh solution of the soda. Wash and dry again. This
whole process generally takes about three weeks.
It was said that the Turks concluded the process by soaking the dyed yarn in oil, which gives it a
more beautiful color and luster, as well as increasing its weight; after soaking it is pressed while
wet, then allowed to dry. They also used oil of olives rather than fish oil, but any oil which
makes a soapy matter when mixed with soda will do for the work of dying. Yarn which was not
first prepared with belge leaves turned out a pale rather than a strong red. The madder was
shipped from Persia and the environs of the Terek, the small roots being preferred; after purchase
the roots were reduced to powder. Belge leaves and good soda were shipped from Kislar. For
each pood of yarn, the dyer used four pounds of alum, fifteen pounds belge leaves, fifty-eight
pounds of fish fat, one pood of soda, and one pound of madder. Two boilers for the decoction of
the dyes, plus four large pans to make the soda solution, were sufficient to dye five hundred pood
of yarn in one year. (The work was carried on out-of-doors, and could not be done in winter, or
in rainy weather.)
Source: P. S. Pallas, The Southern Provinces of the Russian Empire, 2 vols. originally published
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Posted on February 17th, 2002 by Sylvia