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Prayer rug (kilim)

Before the invention of synthetic dyes in 1856, colour on textile materials came from a wide range of plant, animal and mineral sources. Because of ingenious processes involving heat, fermentation and additives such as mineral salts, urine and dung, many of the colours produced on cloth by these natural dyes were bright and resistant to fading and bleeding. In 1856 William Perkin accidentally discovered synthetic mauve in his laboratory and European companies raced to dominate the lucrative field of synthetic dyes for textiles.

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Prayer rug (kilim)
Europe: Eastern Europe, Balkans, Bulgaria
1890 - 1900
Wool, woven in slit tapestry technique
156 cm x 106 cm
From the Opekar/Webster Collection
T94.2221 Textile Museum of Canada

The centre field of this rug features an arch (mihrab) marking it as a prayer rug. In the Islamic religion, prayer rugs are used at home or outdoors to create a clean place for prayer as required by the Qur'an. Green is the Prophet Mohammed’s colour. Although green is relatively rare in Oriental rugs, it is no surprise to find it on a rug meant for religious use. Because this rug is coloured with natural dyes, we know that indigo (for blue) was over-dyed with a natural yellow (perhaps crocus pollen) to make the green. The result is a rich, deep green characteristic of over-dyed wool.

Bright green, a colour found everywhere in nature, is one of the hardest colours to attain using natural dyes. Yellows and browns are the easiest, and boiling just about any plant will yield an acceptable brown dye for sheep’s wool.

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