Dyeing - The Lois Rug - How To Make Rugs

Dyeing - The Lois Rug - How To Make Rugs


In the early years of the past century a dye-tub was as much a necessity in every house as a spinning wheel, and the re-establishment of it in houses where weaving is practised is almost a necessity; in fact, it would be of far greater use at present than in the days when it was only used to dye the wool needed for the family knitting and weaving. All shades of blue, from sky-blue to blue-black, can be dyed in the indigo-tub; and it has the merit of being a cheap as well as an almost perfectly fast dye. It could be used for dyeing warps as well as fillings, and I have before spoken of the difficulty, indeed almost impossibility, of procuring indigo-dyed carpet yarn.

Blue is perhaps more universally useful than any other colour in rag rug making, since it is safe for both cotton and wool, and covers a range from the white rug with blue warp, the blue rug with white warp, through all varieties of shade to the dark blue, or clouded blue, or green rug, upon white warp. It can also be used in connection with yellow or orange, or with copperas or walnut dye, in different shades of green; and, in short, unless one has exceptional advantages in buying rags from woolen mills, I can hardly imagine a profitable industry of rag-weaving established in any farmhouse without the existence of an indigo dyeing-tub.


The next important color is red. Red warps can be bought, but the lighter shades are not even reasonably fast; and indeed, the only sure way of securing absolutely fast colour in cotton warp is to dye it. Prepared dyes are somewhat expensive on account of the quantity required, but there are two colours, Turkey red and cardinal red, which are extremely good for the purpose. These can be brought at wholesale from dealers in chemicals and dye-stuffs at much cheaper rates than by the small paper from the druggist.


The ordinary copperas, which can be bought at any country store, gives a fast nankeen-coloured dye, and this is very useful in making a dull green by an after-dip in the indigo-tub.


There are some valuable domestic dyes which are within the reach of every country dweller, the best and cheapest of which is walnut or butternut stain. This is made by steeping the bark of the tree or the shell of the nut until the water is dark with colour. It will give various shades of yellow, brown, dark brown and green brown, according to the strength of the decoction or the state of the bark or nut when used.

If the bark of the nut is used when green, the result will be a yellow brown; and this stain is also valuable in making a green tint when an after-dip of blue is added. Leaves and tree-bark will give a brown with a very green tint, and these different shades used in different rags woven together give a very agreeably clouded effect. Walnut stain will itself set or fasten some others; for instance, pokeberry stain, which is a lovely crimson, can be made reasonably fast by setting it with walnut juice.


Iron rust is the most indelible of all stains besides being a most agreeable yellow, and it is not hard to obtain, as bits of old iron left standing in water will soon manufacture it. It would be a good use for old tin saucepans and various other house utensils which have come to a state of mischievousness instead of usefulness.


Ink gives various shades of gray according to its strength, but it would be cheaper to purchase it in the form of logwood than as ink.


Logwood chips boiled in water give a good yellow brown—deep in proportion to the strength of the decoction.


Yellow from fustic requires to be set with alum, and this is more effectively done if the material to be dyed is soaked in alum water and dried previous to dyeing.

Seven ounces of alum to two quarts of water is the proper proportion. The fustic chips should be well soaked, and afterward boiled for a half-hour to extract the dye, which will be a strong and fast yellow.


Orange is generally the product of annato, which must be dissolved with water to which a lump of washing soda has been added. The material must be soaked in a solution of tin crystals before dipping, if a pure orange is desired, as without this the color will be a pink buff—or “nankeen” color.

What I have written on the subject of home dyeing is intended more in the way of suggestion than direction, as it is simply giving some results of my own experiments, based upon early familiarity with natural growths rather than scientific knowledge. I have found the experiments most interesting, and more than fairly successful, and I can imagine nothing more fascinating than a persistent search for natural and permanent dyes.

The Irish homespun friezes, which are so dependable in colour for out-of-door wear, are invariably dyed with natural stains, procured from heather roots, mosses, and bog plants of like nature. It must be remembered that any permanent or indelible stain is a dye, and if boys and girls who live in the country were set to look for plants possessing the colour-quality, many new ones might be discovered.

I am told by a Kentucky mountain woman, used to the production of reliable colour in her excellent weaving, that the ordinary roadside smartweed gives one of the best of yellows. Indeed, she showed me a blanket with a yellow border which had been in use for twenty years, and still held a beautiful lemon yellow. In preparing this, the plant is steeped in water, and the tint set with alum. Combining this with indigo, or by an after-dip in indigo-water, one could procure various shades of fast blue-green, a colour which is hard to get, because most yellows, which should be one of its preparatory tints, are buff instead of lemon yellow.

An unlimited supply and large variety of cheap and reliable colour in rag filling, and a few strong and brilliant colours in warps, are conditions for success in rag rug weaving, but these colours must be studiously and carefully combined to produce the best results.

I have said that, as a rule, light warps must go with dark filling and dark warps with light, and I will add a few general rules which I have found advantageous in my weaving.

In the first place, in rugs which are largely of one colour, as blue, or green, or red, or yellow, no effort should be made to secure even dyeing; in fact, the more uneven the colour is the better will be the rug. Dark and light and spotted colour work into a shaded effect which is very attractive. The most successful of the simple rugs I possess is of a cardinal red woven upon a white warp.

It was chiefly made of white rags treated with cardinal red Diamond dye, and was purposely made as uneven as possible. The border consists of two four-inch strips of “hit or miss” green, white and red mixed rags, placed four inches from either end, with an inch stripe of red between, and the whole finished with a white knotted fringe.

A safe and general rule is that the border stripes should be of the same colour as the warp—as, for instance, with a red warp a red striped border—while the centre and ends of the rug might be mixed rags of all descriptions.

It is also safe to say that in using pure white or pure black in mixed rags, these two colours, and particularly the white, should appear in short pieces, as otherwise they give a striped instead of a mottled effect, and this is objectionable. White is valuable for strong effects or lines in design; indeed, it is hard to make design prominent or effective except in white or red.


These few general rules as to colour, together with the particular ones given in other chapters, produce agreeable combinations in very simple and easy fashion. I have not, perhaps, laid as much stress upon warp grouping and treatment as is desirable, since quite distinct effects are produced by these things.

Throwing the warp into groups of three or four threads, leaving small spaces between, produces a sort of basket-work style; while simply doubling the warp and holding it with firm tension gives the honeycomb effect of which I have previously spoken. If the filling is wide and soft, and well pushed back between each throw of the shuttle, it will bunch up between the warp threads like a string of beads, and in a dark warp and light filling a rim of coloured shadow seems to show around each little prominence.

Such rugs are more elastic to the tread than an even-threaded one, and on the whole may be considered a very desirable variation.

It is well for the weaver to remember that every successful experiment puts the manufacture on a higher plane of development and makes it more valuable as a family industry.

Excerpt From How To Make Rugs By Candace Wheeler