Abrash in Oriental Rugs
What Is Abrash In Oreintal Rugs ?
Abrash is a term used to describe a color variation in an oriental rug; abrash in oriental rugs is a shift in color value or color saturating in rugs. It occurs when the dyes used to color the wool yarns used to make the rug are not completely consistent. This can result in a "salt and pepper" effect, where some areas of the rug appear slightly lighter or darker than others.
Abrashes are not considered defects in oriental rugs and are often seen as a sign of authenticity. In fact, many collectors consider abrash to be a desirable characteristic in antique rugs, as they are a sign that the rug was made using natural dyes.
If you have an oriental rug with an abrash, there is no need to be concerned. Simply enjoy the unique character and beauty of your rug.
What Causes Abrash In Oriental Rugs
An abrash, or color variation, in an oriental rug, can be caused by a number of factors.
One cause of abrash is the use of natural dyes in the wool yarns used to make the rug. Natural dyes can be extracted from a variety of sources, including plants, insects, and minerals. These dyes can be more or less concentrated and sometimes produce inconsistent results, resulting in an abrash.
Wool Use In Oriental Rug Making
All wools are not equal, not even from the same sheep. After a sheep is sheared, the wool goes through "skirting" and grading; the wool fleece is sorted by its different qualities. The poor quality, called Breach/ Britch wool, is weathered, coarse wool exposed to the elements, moisture, and soils. Breach/britch wool takes dye poorly and inconsistently. If britch wool isn't adequately sorted out, it will affect the quality and consistency of dyeing. So, improperly sorted wool can drive inconsistent color by uneven dye absorption resulting in Abrash.
Wool processing and Scouring
Wool contains lots of impurities, and cleaning or scouring, as it's called, reduces the weight of wool by up to 30% by removing lanolin, salts, minerals, soils, and plant material. If not properly cleaned/ scoured, these soils and impurities can substantially affect dye absorption and stability.
Wool is often sheared, spun, and washed locally in small villages and tribal weaving. Wool is cleaned in small batches in this environment and is often inconsistently or incompletely cleaned. So Abrash can result from poor or incomplete scouring/ cleaning of wool fibers even when wool is sorted well.
Richard Arkwright invented the first mechanical spinning machine in 1769. However, machine spinning equipment is expensive and, in many rugs-producing areas, slowly adopted. Modern commercial machine wool spinning produces even wool yarn with consistent spin and twist. These consistencies lend themselves to even dying and less Abrash.
In Afghanistan, for example, most wool is still hand spun for carpet weaving, and hand spinning has small fluctuations in thickness and tightness of spin, affecting dye absorption rate during dying. So how wool is spun and the consistency of spinning is a driver that helps create abrash in rugs.
Modern steam injection dyeing systems are capable of very consistent even dyeing. However, in most rug-weaving countries, traditional vat dyeing is the standard. Vat dyeing can produce fairly consistent dye results with low cost low-tech dying methods, provided the dyer understands dye chemistry and has appropriately scored wool and dyes of good quality.
In some countries, dyers lack an understanding of dye chemistry. Dye suppliers import dyes and repackage them in used containers and plastic bags with no labels or instructions included.
Dyers are left to "figure things out" independently, not knowing the manufacturer's specifications, such as pH and temperature for optimal dyeing and dye leveling chemicals, even to dye strike. In dyeing, Abrash can also result from poor or inconsistent dyeing practices, pH issues, and poor-quality dyes.
The final step in making a new rug is a wash. Every rug maker has their own version of a finish wash. Rugs are given a strong wash that is capable of taking color out of a rug, adding luster and sheen.
The "finish wash," as we call it, often amplifies the other factors that can drive Abrash. Improperly cleaned and dyed wool in the wash results in poorly bonded or unstable dye being washed out of the rug. These washes can also amplify the difference between Britch wool and finer wool and amplify the Abrash effect.
Are oriental rugs with Abrash poorly made rugs?
The short answer is no, while the rise of industrialization in the late 19th century drove uniformity and consistency in wool processing and dyeing. Prior to this point, Abrash was considered normal, although not always desirable. Abrash has no effect on the quality of weaving or wearability of a rug.
In fact, Abrash is more common in primitive breeds of sheep with coarser fiber, and these coarser breeds are better for carpets and floor use. It's a stretch to say a carpet with Abrash wears better, but it's also fair to say it's not too big of a stretch.
A return to Abrash
Can something be too perfect? Maybe, the antique rug trade began to see a demand for rugs that weren't perfect, rugs with Abrash, perfect imperfections, the hallmarks of things made by hand, by real people. Today, handmade and machine-made rugs are made with deliberately added Abrash. It's ironic today's advanced textile science and industry-making working hard to make rugs with Abrash deliberately add imperfections in rugs.
Abrash is neither good nor bad in today's rug market rug abrash is another decorative design element to consider in a new area rug purchase.