Dyeing Wool

3 May 2018

Dyeing Wool

Wool was dyed only with natural colors until the second half of XIX century in Tusheti, and then synthetic and artificial dyes spread throughout the Caucasus and even in Tusheti, where shepherds or merchants, who were traveling to the mountains, took dyes with them.

Dyeing was the most common activity in Tusheti. The process was contributed by the diversity of plants used and the raw materials available on the site -  Tushetian sheep wool that can take the color easily  and intensely. The ethnographic materials and ‘Flas’ (old rugs), as well as the samples of cloth (wool), indicate the durability of colors.

Nowadays the knowledge about dyeing is quite vague but it may still be possible to create some idea how items were dyed in ancient time. There are few elderly people who practice the old ways of dyeing. There are a few enthusiastic young people who are trying to apply their knowledge. Several plants, which have been used so far, are - the onion skins and the walnut hulls.

The fertile subalpine and alpine vegetation in Tusheti has greatly contributed to the development of cattle breeding. Sheep-breeding - in turn - gives raw materials for weaving. Tushetian sheep is considered to be the best in wool production in the Caucasus – it has soft, gentle and luminous wool. It is technologically superior - has great stiffness towards the spinning and stretching and is characterized by dyeing consistency.

In his work S.Makalatia mentioned three natural dyes: dark brown, black, and yellow. To get dark brown, the yarn was boiled in wild marjoram oregano grass, while taking it out ash was sprinkled over, washed and dried. To get black color – the juice of wild marjoram oregano was mixed with lichen. The yellow color was obtained from the pine moss - writes the researcher.
G. Botchoridze writes in his work - wool is selected according to a color they want to get. For white, grey, black-grey cloth - reddish and black wool is selected, for the rest – they use dyed wool. The natural color of wool is red, white, grey, mottled, black mottled, red mottled, etc. After dyeing, they take different colors. The old colors are: black, white, red, whitish-red, blackish-red, liver-colored-red, grey -watercolor, etc.
Like other main activities of wool processing, dyeing was considered women’s occupation. Women passed the relevant knowledge to each other.
In Tusheti there is a great variety of natural dyes and dyeing could be performed all year round. Tushetians divided dyes into two groups: Tushetian dyes –the ones that were only obtained and used in Tusheti and Kakhurai – the ones that were delivered from Kakheti. Tushetian dyes were obtained from Rhododendron caucasicum, wild marjoram oregano, Xanthoparmelia digitiformis, Hypericum perforatum, the roots of Berberis vulgaris, moss of pine and birch trees, roots of Rumex, Artemisia Vulgaris, Polygonum alpinum, leaves of poplar and birch trees, soot.
Kakhetian dyes are Cotinus, Pterocarya leaves, oak bark, walnut bark, walnut hull, walnut husk, mulberry bark, mulberry leaves, peach flower, fig leaves, Cotinus bark, trim bark, onion skins, chacha, Rubia, etc.
The dyeing pot is chosen thoroughly. In the past a cast iron pot, as well as copper pot, was used for this purpose, though a preference was given to iron cast pots.
The dyeing yarn is coiled in a hank and then it is hung from the ceiling. A hank of yarn is wrapped by a cross-legged woman. Sometimes they are coiled on special equipment – ‘Tarakua’. Wool, packthread and yarn, as well as homemade wool cloth, are dyed. The most common color is black and therefore they have known how to dye it the best for years.
Natural/ vegetable dyes have one peculiarity - the color accuracy cannot be obtained while dyeing, since a dyer does not accurately follow the dosage and measures by eye. Plants are not always the same. The color spectrum is enriched by the combination of dyes from different plants. In order to keep the color consistent, or to maintain the color consistency, one of the ways is to cool the dyed yarn on steam.  Another way is to sprinkle ashes of the bark of the birch on dyed yarn, mix and keep warm on a steamer, or rinse the yarn in the water mixed with ash. Ash should be used carefully as it may burn fibers. Drying in the sun promotes color fixation. For the same purpose, packthread is boiled in cliff salt or alum, and also rust is added or is boiled in a rusty pot that promotes the color intensity and durability.
In the past while dyeing, magic-religious ceremonies took place. People knew prayers to protect from evil eye and they avoided a person with an evil eye. If they were not satisfied with the result they would blame an evil eye for that. They took care of dyeing pots, never leaving them open without lid so that star light could not reach, since they believed that yarn or wool would be dyed unevenly with shade variation.