COLOR is the Orient's secret and its glory. These dark-skinned peoples, lagging so far backward along the pathway of civilization, mastered long ago the chromatic mysteries lurking in the shrubs of their deserts, the vines, leaves and blossoms which make these lands radiant, and they have guarded this subtle knowledge from foreign participation with greater care and jealousy than they seem to have exercised for their bodily welfare, or their place among races. The royal purple of Tyre, which the Phoenicians by some magic won from the mollusks of their seas, is virtually obsolete now. Science has found, in the refuse of factories, gaudy hues to serve the purpose; but the old dyes of the East still boast a splendor and lastingness which chemistry cannot counterfeit - a permanence emblematic of the countries where alone the marvel of their compounding has been understood.
This preeminence in dye working carries with it, in Oriental countries, a dignity almost akin to that of priesthood. As a tree is known by its fruits, the dyer has place among his fellows by his hues. In proportion as the color he excels in is valued in popular judgment, the dye-master is honored in his town; and even if there were a lotion which could obliterate from dress and cuticle the traces of his trade, he would scorn to use it. His color is the badge of his ancient and honorable calling, dear to him as the insignia of rank to the soldier, or churchly black to the ecclesiastic. He glories in being bedaubed, and the shades of his particular color, upon hands, feet and raiment, are earnest of his skill. He is a walking sampler of his dyes; the proofs of his proficiency are upon him.
Traversing a village street in the East, you are aware of the dyer from afar off. Red, or green, or purple from head to heels, he challenges sight when he is yet half a mile distant. There is the pride of a sultan in his carriage, and in his soul, it is plain, a chromatic joy which religion cannot give. He is a fine bit of color against the tame background of the town. In baggy knee-nethers and white camisole, his head all swaddled in a mighty turban, and his fat leathern pouch for pipe, tobacco, knife, money and trinkets, belted about his middle, he is a type. But add to all these his dye, which in many values of the same color illumines him, from the crown of his turbaned head to the tips of his bare toes, and he is a radiant being such as Occidental civilization has not known, save upon circus days.
The mind of this worthy is pervaded by a profound and, in a way, justifiable belief that he is the saving clause of the whole rug industry. The mainspring of his life is the conviction that he really lends to the fabrics of his bailiwick, and of his native land, for that matter, all they possess of high aesthetic value. In his own view, he is the uplifter of an otherwise slavish and mechanical craft. Through him weaving becomes an art, and all the processes, from first to last, are merely incidental to the main affair - his coloring of the yarns. So he dips and struts his complacent life away, and to be an al boyaji - a dyer of reds - is to be one beloved of the Prophet.
In great rug-weaving towns the dyers are many, but there is work for them all. In Oushak, the rug center of Asia Minor, there are probably one hundred and fifty, each with his specialty. If a place be blessed with a stream possessed of the magic solvent property upon which the excellence of Eastern colors so largely depends, the dye-houses are ranged close beside its banks, for the quality of water is even more vital in the mixing of dyes than it has been shown to be in the washing and scouring of the wool. The superiority of one water over another has been established by empirical processes continued over many generations; and tests of other waters, for the solution of the Oriental dyes, in European cities, for instance, have resulted in an utter loss of spirit in the color.
But this must not be construed as detracting from the marvelous skill of the dyers. The profession is hereditary in the East, and the tricks of it are handed down as almost sacred legacies from father to son. Each dyer, or, better, each family of dyers, has some peculiar and secret method of producing different shades, and there was sharp rivalry until the European came upon the scene, with his coal tar and his chemical formulae. Since that time the native dyers have been a brotherhood, of which the pride of every member, and his more than reverence for his colors are the bond and the creed. Each knows that the aniline dyes of the West are no match and no substitute for his; that many of the glaring hues of the coal tar have no durability, that in a rug thoroughly wetted they will run and ruin the fabric, while his own handiwork will pass through a lifetime of exposure to sun and snow and rain, and grow in beauty as it nears the end of its usefulness. He believes, too, that the European is thoroughly awake to this difference. The great fear of his life is that by craft or subsidy the intruder will learn the secret. It amounts to a mania with him, and in all likelihood has some ground. This dread has a parallel in the anxiety felt by the managers of foreign rug establishments, who lie awake at night in fear that the native weavers have stolen or are planning to steal the newly imported European designs. It is a perfectly reasonable fear, like that of the Oriental on behalf of his colors, for the Western patterns have great vogue among the natives, and the floors of the best houses in many towns, in Persia as well as Turkey, are covered with nightmares of Western color and device, to the exclusion of home-made fabrics.
The colonization of the dyers just referred to is solely to secure water facilities, and not for the purpose of defense against intrusion. Where the town water supply is not of a sort suitable for dyeing, systems of earthern pipe bring water from some more or less remote stream in the hills, and discharge it into a giant basin in the middle of a square set apart by the municipality for the purpose. On the four sides of this square - boya khaneh - the dyers have their shops, with the all - important water in plenty just outside their doors. Dirty, ill-scented establishments they are, too long, low buildings, with front rooms, which do duty as offices and sometimes as bazaars for the vending of small articles. In the rear rooms, in long rows, stand twenty-five or thirty huge earthern jars, for the dying solutions, and a few deep copper kettles, in which the boiling is done.
Passing from jar to jar, the dyer and his helpers, if his trade be extensive enough to require more than one pair of hands, dip the great skeins into one after another of the solutions, hanging each on a hook above the dye-jar to drain, before it is passed on to further immersion. It is an axiom that to secure the best results dye should never be wrung from the skein, as this causes uneven distribution. This system of successive dippings in several colors is one of the dye master's secrets - the overlaying of color upon color, a blending, accomplished in the wool.
The great display of skill, after the actual decocting and mixing of the fluids, lies in accurate estimation of the length of time that a yarn should be subjected to each solution. It is upon precisely the same principle, and altogether as delicate and important a task, as the timing of a photographic plate. Away at the back of each shop is a ladder leading from the dye-room to the roof, where the yarns are hung to dry. How long a dyed skein should hang in the sun is another question of moment. Passing through the square, on a bright day, you may see the dyers, sitting on the roofs of their establishments, staring at the suspended skeins. As long as the yarn hangs there, the master stands sentinel. There is a particular instant when the sun's work is done, and done properly. When it comes, it finds the dyer on guard, and he hurries the skein to cover in a twinkling. A minute too soon, or a minute too late, and the rest of his professional existence would be "fast gray."
All these complexities of his craft this accomplished artisan carries in his head. He keeps no tell-tale book of recipes. In a frame in the outer room are displayed the different tints of which he is master. The number of them is bewildering. It is not unusual for an al boyaji to be skilled in some hundreds of shades of red, any one of which he can set about compounding at a moment's notice, without thought of reference to any "aids" or "authorities."
The price he sets upon his work is small enough. The country people pay the dyer's charges in wool, but where money is the medium, the cost of dyeing in the most expensive red is only about twelve cents to the pound, for blues seven or eight, and other colors as low as five. The dyer of blacks is at the foot of the craft. The prices are stationary, and competition never takes the demoralizing form of "cut rates." When employed upon salary, a competent dyer receives about ten dollars a month and boards himself. An assistant - not by any means a tyro at the work - can be had for half that sum. Women seldom take any part in the dyeing.
It is apparent from the condition of the pile in old rugs, that some dyes corrode and rot the yarn, and others preserve it. An Eastern dyer, if blindfolded, can "read" the pattern of an antique rug by the touch, as accurately as a blind man reads his raised-letter Bible. Blacks seem to be most corrosive, and red, of all the other dyes, most preservative.
The basic elements of the dyers' "materia" are known to almost every Oriental, for they grow in the home fields, and great work is made of their cultivation, gathering and sale, though the new generation is being educated to use the dyes of Vienna and Berlin. The shepherds and other inhabitants of remote districts make for themselves the few simple colors needed in their rough rugs, but of the methods of compounding for more delicate and fanciful shades, the every-day Oriental knows nothing, and there are hundreds of materials, growths of their own localities, which the dyers gather and convert into coloring agents, the precise value and use of which are, to the common herd, among the mysteries.
The distinctive feature of the old Eastern dyeing system was that nearly every tingent was of vegetable or animal origin, and that similar ingredients were employed for mordants or fixatives. The treatment of the yarn with borax, saltpeter, tartar, copperas and the like had not been known. The native dyers held to the merits of the old-fashioned mordants-valonia, pomegranate-rind, sumac, divi-divi, and the barks of different trees, from which they had for so long obtained such renowned results.
In some newly made fabrics, notably those from out-of-the-way parts of the East, the dyes are found to be thoroughly up to the old standard, but in most quarters they have been sadly debauched. The introduction of the chemical mordants was the first fruit of increased foreign demand, and first step in the decline of quality. The Eastern governments warred energetically against it. In one part of Persia it was ordered long ago that a dyer convicted of using aniline preparations should have his right hand cut off by way of punishment. The mandate seems, however, not to have made a very deep impression. The loud, flaring, unnatural colors continued to appear in plenty in rug consignments, and passed in this country for vegetable with all save the few who could detect their falsity. In spite of this, mendacious salesmen have all along declared, in guarantee of good faith, that the law was enforced to the letter.
Here is what may, I think, be considered good authority for declaring that it was not obeyed at all. It is an excerpt from the edict issued by the Shah of Persia, on January 1st, 1900. The necessity for wide distribution of the law throughout the realm and for its enforcement upon the notice of foreigners as well as natives, resulted in its being printed in French as well as in the Persian dialect. It prohibits several things. I have translated and transcribed, from the copy given me in Tabriz, only such portions as bear upon the matter of rugs.
In the name of the Merciful God!
Let thanks be given to that Supreme Being, and praise to His Sacred Prophet, to the Holy Family and to their Companions.
We, Mozaffer ed Din, King of Kings, Absolute Sovereign of the Empire of Persia,
Whereas upon different occasions Our Glorious Father, Nasser ed Din Shah, whose memory is illustrious and revered, desiring to maintain the fine quality of Persian rugs, the fame of which is universal, forbade the importation of aniline dyes, which certain persons use to give a meretricious coloring to rugs
And whereas it has come to our knowledge that these prohibitions, as well as some others, are frequently disobeyed by Persian subjects as well as strangers, and since it is necessary therefore to restate them, and at the same time give power to punish whoever shall violate them hereafter. For all these reasons we utter the present law:
It is forbidden to bring into the kingdom:
Aniline dyes, whether in dry or liquid form, as well as all coloring materials, whether dry or liquid, into which aniline enters as a component.
Any importation, likewise any exportation or attempt at exportation, made either in violation of Article I of this law, shall be followed by seizure and confiscation of the goods.
Furthermore, if the goods prohibited from entrance or exit have not been declared or regularly presented at the office of customs, or if the said goods have been hidden among other goods, or concealed in any manner, the persons transporting them shall incur jointly and without any reference to their claims upon one another, a fine equal to the value of the goods, independently of the seizure and confiscation of the prohibited articles, as well as of those which have served to conceal them.
In case of importation or exportation by routes not running to a custom house, or at a point upon the coast where no office of customs exists, the fine shall be double the value of the merchandise, and the means of transportation, ships, boats, beasts of burden or vehicles, also the other goods imported or exported at the same time, shall be confiscated. Furthermore, the persons, whether authors or accomplices, sharing in the offense, shall be punished by a year's imprisonment.
The means of transport, ships, boats or beasts of burden, which have been used in the importation or exportation of prohibited goods, are specially liable and subject to seizure as security for fines incurred by virtue of the preceding article, and in default of payment of the said fines within thirty-one days after the discovery of the offense, they shall be sold for the purpose of obtaining the sum due.
Persons against whom it shall be proven, in any way whatsoever, that they have participated in the importation or exportation of prohibited goods, whether in ordering, buying or selling such goods, or arranging for their transportation, or in any other way, shall be subject to the same penalty as those who have directly violated the provisions of this law.
The value of the confiscations and the amount of the fines thus incurred may be levied upon the movable or immovable property of the offenders.
Proceedings taken under this act must be officially brought to the notice of the defendants within two years, at latest, from the commission of the offense.
Articles of merchandise seized or confiscated by virtue of this law shall be sold for the benefit of the Imperial Treasury, with the exception:
I. - Of aniline colors ... Such articles shall always be burned or destroyed publicly no later than the day following the seizure, in the presence of the chief of customs, of the governor or his representative, and of such other persons as it shall be possible to gather together. A certification of the destruction shall be made immediately and signed by all the persons present. A copy thereof shall be sent to the person upon whose complaint the seizure was made, and another sent immediately to the chief of the customs service at Teheran.
Any agent or employee of the government, any collector of customs or employee thereof, who shall be convicted of having permitted, tolerated or favored in any manner whatsoever the importation or exportation of prohibited articles, shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not less than one and not more than three years, according to the gravity of the offense; and, moreover, he shall be liable, by his goods and chattels, movable and immovable, for the payment of a sum equal to or double the amount of the fines and confiscation provided in the preceding articles against the authors of frauds of this sort.
Rewards in money, to be deducted from the amount of fines and confiscations, may be given by the Central Administration of Customs to agents and employees who shall have discovered or furnished proof of violation of this law, and also to any person who shall have given to the administration information leading to the discovery of such violation.
All violations of this law must be established by an authentic certificate drawn up with all possible promptness, by at least two employees, and this proof shall be forwarded with all possible haste to the office of the customs bureau, which shall have power to collect the fines, the amount of confiscations, and to exact the corporeal penalties incurred. One of the copies of the proces verbal shall be sent to the chief offender, who must sign it or acknowledge its receipt, and the other copy shall be sent as soon as possible to the officer of customs, who alone shall have power to grant a reduction of penalties, if there be circumstances which warrant measures of clemency.
This law shall take effect three months after the day of it's signing by us.
We order that it be printed in all the newspapers of the Empire and that copies be sent to the Ambassadors, Ministers or Charges d'Affaires accredited by Us, and further order Our Sadr Azame to take the measures necessary to assure its execution.
Given at the Palace of Teheran, the 15th day of the month Ramazan, in the year 1317 of the Hegira, Jan'y 1, 1900.
By the Shah, The Sadr Azame, AMINE SULTAN.
How great a supply of Persian rugs of recent manufacture, dyed with anilines, remains to be disposed of, it is impossible to say, but the Persian government, through its Belgian custom-house officials, at whose suggestion the edict is said to have been issued, is enforcing the prohibition to the letter. Since the law took effect, several large consignments of anilines have been seized and destroyed. Unless there be a pitiful backsliding, it is not too much to prophesy that within two or three years the Persian rugs will be found to have improved greatly in point of coloring, and it will no longer be dangerous, as it is now, to wash them, even in clear water, for fear some of the dyes will run.
The government's step was a radical one. That it was deemed necessary is made plain by the fact that this law is the first promulgated by the present Shah since his accession.
The best expression of the dyer's skill is undoubtedly found, as has been said, in reds. In what apparently contradictory colors the yarns are dipped, to lay a foundation for the ultimate shades of red is past finding out. Madder, the root of rubia tinctorum, ground and boiled, is a basis for a multitude of the reds of the Eastern rugs . Its flowers, too, are steeped, and the liquid made from them fermented, to secure some extraordinary shades of this color. The red most common in Persian fabrics is made by combining alum-water, grape-juice and a decoction of madder, and drying the yarn in a particularly moderate sun. Many degrees of redness, from pale pink to intense and glowing scarlet, can be made from madder alone, by different treatments, and in combination with other materials it plays a part in half the hues which appear in Eastern rugs. One of the oldest of Oriental dyes is sheep's-blood, from which, by secret method, a rich and enduring vermilion is obtained.
Another material for deep red is kermes, a variety of coccus insect found upon oak trees about the Mediterranean. The normal color produced from it is a rich carmine. It is one of the oldest of Oriental dyes, but it has been supplanted, in a measure, by the Mexican cochineal, which, after the conquest of Mexico, and the importation of its product into Spain and thence into the Orient, took its place as an Eastern dye. This is used for the most flaming reds, as well as in combination with other materials to give quality to tamer shades. It is more brilliant than the native kermes, but the Eastern dyers say, not so permanent. With the old vegetable mordants, it produces a comparatively fast dye. In dilution with madder it provides scarlet, cherry and various degrees of pink. There is a mineral kermes, an artificial sulphite of mercury, which borrowed its name to fit its brilliant color, and is not to be confounded with the insect dye. In recent years, many reds have had for basis the dyewoods - Campeche wood, Brazil wood, and others - which have been engrafted upon the Oriental system. Rich pink shades are often had from the rochella or orchil, a lichen, which grows on the rocks around the Eastern seas. Singular reds are also obtained from onion skins, ivy berries, beets and a multitude of other plants, of which only the dyer knows the secrets.
The great majority of Eastern blues have for a basis indigo, which for the hundreds of shades used is compounded with almost every other dyeing material known in the Orient. In Persia, dyeing with indigo is accounted as high an art as is the science of reds in Turkey and Bokhara.
The principal yellows are obtained from Persian berries, which although they are indigenous to Asia Minor, attain a greater size and a more pronounced yellow color in Persia; from turmeric, the extract of the East Indian root curcuma, and from saffron and sumac roots. The turmeric yellow is not of itself a thoroughly fast color, but imparts a life to other shades when used in combination. It serves as a mordant for certain dyes, and owing to its instant change to brown, when brought into contact with any alkaline substance, is used in chemistry as a test for alkalis. Some yellow shades are produced also by combination of the wood dyes and saffron roots and flowers and a variety of ochra plant.
Indigo, in combination with the yellows, furnishes most of the greens used by the old native dyers. With the buckthorn, or rhamnus, it produces the Chinese green, and with turmeric and the Persian berries, a wide range of intermediate greens, both bright and dull.
The deepest shades of brown are obtained by dyeing with madder over indigo, as the deep Persian blue is secured from applying indigo over pure madder. Wood brown and camel's-hair brown result from the use of madder with the yellows. In Anatolia, this has been accomplished lately by use of the orange aniline colors. Gallnuts also enter largely into the making of the browns.
The densest blacks, which are little used except for outlining patterns, and defining border stripes, are made chiefly from iron filings, with vinegar and rind of pomegranate and sometimes with the addition of Campeche wood. Gray shades are secured by the use of Smyrna gallnuts.
The schedule of purples is one of the richest in the whole realm of Eastern dyes. The different red ingredients mentioned above are used in combination with indigo, and the dye woods and the rochella tincturus play a large part. The thoroughness with which the Oriental dyers have canvassed the whole field of substances to discover a new material for establishing or modifying colors is shown in the combination for a popular shade of violet. It starts with a mixture of milk and water, in exact proportions, then madder is added in certain dilution, and lastly, the whole is converted by sour grape juice. A great many shades of purple, heliotrope, lavender and the like are secured from the bodies of marine insects and molluscs.
This outline will serve to indicate the honesty, which dominates the old Oriental coloring. It can only suggest the great variety of materials employed, and the consummate skill required in the blending. Vine leaves, mulberry leaves, myrobalans, laurel and angelica berries, artichokes, thistles, capers, ivy and myrtle - all things that grow within the ken of the dyer - have been tried to their utmost as possible color-makers and color-changers. Many of the growths are cultivated by the dyers upon their small acreage, in the intervals of their momentous labor in the shops.