Updated: Jul 8
Abrash is a variation in rug color.
The word Abrash means rainbow in Farsi; In the rug world, the term abrash is used to describe the variation of color or a gradation of color from light to dark intended or not in Oriental rugs. Abrash color shifts appear primarily as a striated horizontal band across a rug in some cases; Abrash appears in small sections of weavings, and shapes or type variations are also possible. The picture below is an early 20th-century Persian bidjar rug that shows fairy strong "abrash" in the red field. Abrash can be subtle or bold and in strong color contrast to the rest of an Oriental rug. Abrash is not limited to Oriental rugs and can be seen in Navajo rugs, Hooked rugs, and other weavings. In the past, Abrash was not considered desirable it's now viewed as more desirable adding depth or color tone and movement making rugs more interesting.
What causes abrash?
Abrash results from inconsistencies in the production of handwoven Rugs. Real Abrash, because Abrash is now deliberately added to rugs, both handwoven wool rugs, and machine-made synthetic fiber rugs. Abrash has become a decorative element in rugs. So-called "real abrash" results from inconsistencies and fluctuation of processing materials used in rugs and a few different factors can drive Abrash.
All wools are not equal, not even in the same sheep. After a sheep is sheared, the wool goes through "skirting" and grading; this is where the wool fleece is sorted into different qualities of wool. 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. So 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
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 type of environment and often inconsistently or incompletely cleaned. So Abrash can be the result of poor or incomplete scouring/ cleaning of wool fibers even when wool is sorted well.
This is a large commercial wool scouring operation it use hot water, performance detergents, and a series of wringers and bowels clean impurities out of wool
Richard Arkwright invented the first mechanical spinning machine in 1769. However, machine spinning is expensive equipment 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.
Hand spinning wool results in slight inconsistencies in thickness and tightness of yarn spin. Tighter spun yarn and thicker areas result in variation of dye absorption, making dye absorption. In some countries, Afghanistan, for example, raw wool is distributed to spinners, and spinners both clean and spin wool, resulting in yarns that have much more inconsistencies from both cleaning and hand spinning.
Dyed hand-spun red yarn, so tightly spun the center took much less dye
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 method, 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. Dyes being expensive, some dye suppliers cut dyes with salt and sand to make dyes more economical and affordable, again driving dyeing inconsistencies. In dyeing, Abrash can be the result of poor 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 wools and amplify the Abrash effect.
Are 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 it's another decorative design element to consider in a new area rug purchase.