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What Does Abrash Mean In Rugs?

Abrash in a Afghan rug
Kilim with Abrash

What is Abrash In Rugs? 

Abrash is a Farsi word for spotted or dappled; it's a common boy's name in Urdu and is used to describe a color variation in oriental rugs; abrash in oriental rugs is a shift in color value or color saturation in rugs. Synonymous with antique rugs, Abrash occurs when the dyes used to color the wool yarns used to make the rug are uneven or inconsistent. This can result in a salt and pepper or light and dark color values effect, where some areas of the rug appear slightly lighter or darker value.

Abrash is considered a sign of authenticity and not a defect in antique rugs. It is often considered a sign that a rug is an authentic antique rug that is handmade. In fact, many collectors think abrash coloration to be a desirable characteristic in antique rugs, as they are a sign that the rug was made using natural dyes and hand-spun wools. Naturally occurring abrash happens with undyed, and unprocessed wool, this natural abrash is the result of natural pigments in raw wool 

It's important not that not all authentic oriental rugs have abrash. 

If you have an oriental rug with an abrash coloration, there is no need to be concerned. Enjoy the unique character and beauty of your oriental rug. Abrash variation makes it easier to decorate since the color value shows different shades of color, and unique characteristics make matching with furniture much more forgiving than a single mono-chromatic color tone. 

Kilim being woven

 Abrash rug color variations are caused by a few variations, Sun fading can cause it but often a variety of factors combine such as hand-spun wool processing and rug production.

One reason for abrash rugs is the use of natural dyes in the wool yarns used to make the rug. Natural dyes can be extracted from various sources, including plants, insects, and minerals. These dyes can be more or less concentrated and sometimes produce inconsistent dye lots, these inconsistent dyes resulting in abrash. So, color variations are common in vintage and antique rugs with inconsistent and varied materials and fibers.

What Causes Abrash

Wool Use In 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 Breech/ Britch wool, is weathered, coarse wool exposed to the elements, moisture, and soils. Breech/britch wool takes dye poorly and inconsistently. If wool used in rug making contains britch wool and 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 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.  If the wool processing and scouring are inconsistent and in small batches inconsistently or incompletely cleaned. The absorption of dye during dyeing will be inconsistent 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 wool yarn with even more consistent spin and twists than hand-spun wool. The inconsistencies of hand-spun wool spun a little tighter, thicker, looser, and thinner, resulting in uneven dy absorption and 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.

 
 
Wool Dyeing

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 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. Abrash can also result from poor or inconsistent dyeing practices, pH issues, and poor-quality dyes.

 Rug Washing

The final step in making a new rug is rug washing. 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 partially removed or washed out of the rug. These washes can also amplify the difference between breech and finer wool and 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. It's important to state that abrash does not affect the quality of weaving or wearability of an Oriental rug.

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 in that the "rug wool" breed of sheep are coarser wools that can be harder to dye consistently. Many variables result in abrash and the unique beauty of abrash.

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 as the ideal imperfections, the hallmarks of things made by real people. Today, handmade and machine-made rugs are made with deliberately added Abrash. Producers deliberately vary the dye lots to drive color variations in rugs. 

 

It's ironic that today's advanced textile science and industry-making working hard to make rugs with abrash deliberately add imperfections in rugs, even new synthetic machine-made area 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. Abrash has the added value of allowing for color flexibility when designing with colors. 

Afghan woman spinning wool for rug making

Wool processing and Scouring

Wool Spinning
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