Madder Cochineal Indigo
Euphorbia Pomegranate Skins Walnut Husks


Onion Skins  

Natural colourants fall into three categories, according to the techniques for using them - mordant dyes, vat dyes and direct dyes.


Mordant Dyes
This is the largest category. Without a mordant these dyes can not, or can do so on slightly, and the fixing action of a mordant is essential if the dye is to take. Mordants may be used before, during or subsequent to dyeing. When they are used both before and after the dyeing process, the resultant colour will be stronger. The mordant alum (potassium aluminum sulphate) is most commonly used as it gives the brightest colours.


Vat Dyes

The most important of these is indigo. Vat dyes are not soluble in water, but can be brewed in an alkaline liquid in a sealed container, or vat, to produce a liquor in which the dye is present as a colourless salt. Urine is often used to make the indigo brew, so the liquor is yellow. It is diluted for dyeing and no blue colour appears until the yarn is removed from the dyebath. Contact with air reverses the original brewing reaction, precipitating indigo onto the fibres.


Direct Dyes

As the name suggests, direct dyes colour the fibre without a mordant or vatting. Walnut husks and leaves provide direct dyes that produce various shades of brown. Madder can also be used without a mordant.

Natural dye colours are derived from the following elements:








Rubia tinctorum



American Cochineal

Dactylopius coccus cacti



Cochineal of Azerbaijan (Qurd qırmızısı, Gırmız )

Porphyrophora hamelii - in Margarodidae Family



Polish Cochineal

Polish Cochineal (Margarodes polonicus, Porphyrophora polonica) in Margarodidae Family




Oak kermes (Kermococcus vermilis) Kermidae Family




Kerria lacca




Carthamus Tinctora

Flower head


Red sandalwood Pterocarpus santalinus Wood Blood red


Roccela Tinctoria




Red is also derived from other plants, berries and flowers, such as poppies (producing dark red), cherry skins, some rose roots (crimson), tulip petals (maroon). The bark of the jujube tree (Ziziphus nummlaria) and rhamnus (Rhamnus persicus) also provide red, as do the roots of rhubarb (Rheum)









Indigofera Tictoria



Indigo (Dyer’s Woad)

Isatis tinctoria



Indigo sulphonic Acid


Indigo and sulphuric acid



Indigo has been in use for many centuries, and the plants of the genus Indigofera produce a much stronger dye that those of the Isatis (woad) family; however, dyer’s woad is much more easily cultivated and therefore more widely used than Indigofera, which needs a tropical climate. Isatis tinctoria grows up to approximately 1.50 m(5’) in height and can be harvested three times a year, whereupon the leaves are dried and kept for two months before use. Indigo sulphonic acid is a derivative of indigo, made from the combination of indigo and sulphuric acid, and there is evidence to show that this dye was sued as early as the sixteenth century, although it was not recognized scientifically until the eighteenth century.










All, save root


Mulberry Morus Leaves Yellow


Allium cepa


Yellow/brownish yellow

Turmeric Curcuma Root Intense yellow

St John’s Wort

Hypericum empetrifolium

All, save root


Tanner’s Sumach

Rhus coriaria




Rhamnus petiolaris


Intense yellow

Dyer’s Chamomile

Anthemis tinctoria



Wild chamomile

Anthemis chia




Matricaria chamomilla




Crocus sativus



Dyer’s Weed

Reseda luteola

All, save roots

Bright yellow


Salvia triloba

Stem, leaves


Dyer’s Sumach

Cotinus coggygria



Bastard Hemp

Datisca cannabina


Brilliant yellow


A number of these plants yield more than one type of yellow dye. Quercetin is frequently the main constituent, and is found in spurge, onion, St John’s wort, tanner’s sumach, buckthorn, chamomile and dyer’s chamomile. It is also found in bastard hemp, although it is the datiscetin that produces the brilliant yellow colour that results from combining the dye with an alum mordant. Apigenin is found in chamomile, wild chamomile and dyer’s weed. Chamomile and dyer’s weed also contain luteolin. Fisetin is present in dyer’s sumach and crocin in saffron. Centaury roots, turmeric, Artemisia and the leaves of daphne and wild apple are also occasionally used to produce yellow dye. With the exception of madder, it is the plants yielding yellow dyes that are more readily available than any other primary colourants used in the dyeing process. But if we try to identify the different yellows used in antique rugs, it is very difficult, as many of the same dye-yielding plants grow throughout the all regions.




Orange is made by combining red and yellow dyes; madder, not cochineal, is used for the red colourant. Various yellow dyes are used. Quercetin produces a very bright orange, Apigenin less brilliant, and luteolin results in a reddish orange. Grass roots and the bark of plum tree also serve. The dried and pulverized leaves of henna are popular not only for dyeing wool but also for decorating the human body and hair.




Purple or violet is made by combining red and blue. The woolen yarn is first dyed with indigo and then by either madder or cochineal. Purple colour in certain antique kilims from Anatolia and Caucasia contains no indigo, but is derived from two madder dyes using an iron mordant.

During the era of Phoenician and Roman empires, there arose a considerable demand amongst the nobility for “Tyrian purple” (also known as royal purple or imperial purple).  This purple-red dye named after the shellfish beds lying off the coast of ancient city Tyre. This exotic and expensive colour was obtained from a mucus-secretion of the hypobranchial gland of a marine snail known as Murex brandaris (or the Spiny dye-murex), and whole villages on the eastern and southern coasts of the Mediterranean were solely engaged in the production of the purple dye.

The Roman mythographer Julius Pollux, writing in the second century BC, asserted (Onomasticon I, 45–49) that the purple dye was first discovered by Heracles, or rather, by his dog, whose mouth was stained purple from chewing on snails along the coast of the Levant. Recently, the archaeological discovery of substantial numbers of Murex shells on Crete suggests that the Minoans may have pioneered the extraction of Imperial purple centuries before the Tyrians. Dating from colocated pottery suggests the dye may have been produced during the Middle Minoan period in the 20th–18th century BC. The fast, non-fading dye was an item of luxury trade, prized by Romans, who used it to colour ceremonial robes. It is believed that the intensity of the purple hue improved, rather than faded, as the dyed cloth aged.

The main chemical constituent of the Tyrian dye was discovered by Paul Friedl?nder in 1909 to be 6,6′-dibromoindigo, a substance that had previously been synthesized in 1903. However, it has never been synthesized commercially.

The Phoenicians also made a purple-blue indigo dye, called royal blue or hyacinth purple, which was made from a related species of marine snail, called Murex trunculus or the Banded dye-murex. In Azerbaijan, this color or dye was called "purpur". The ancient method for mass-producing the purple-blue dye from H. trunculus has not yet been successfully reproduced (because the purplish hue degrades too quickly resulting in blue only), but the use of this species has been confirmed in the archeology of Phoenicia, where large quantities of this sea snail's shells have been recovered from inside ancient live storage chambers used for harvesting. Allegedly, 60,000 murex were needed to produce one pound of dye. The dye was highly prized in ancient times. Sometimes known as royal blue, it was prohibitively expensive and only afforded by the highest ranking aristocracy.


Murex brandaris or the Spiny dye-murex (Purple-red color was obtained from this marine snail)

Murex trunculus (also known as Hexaplex trunculus or banded dye-murex) is a marine snail, whose hypobranchial gland secretes a mucus that the ancient Canaanites/Phoenicians used as a distinctive purple-blue indigo dye.




Green is produced by mixing yellow and blue. The various yellow dyes are combined with indigo and indigo sulphonic acid result in differing tones of green. Pistachio and olive leaves produce a light green, although leaves often yield a yellowish green. With indigo, the yellow dyes are usually Quercetin and luteolin, whereas with indigo sulphonic acid, buckthorn berries are used.



Generally, we use natural brown wool. Sometimes, walnut husks is also used to dye the wool brown colour. These made a direct dye which is easy to use.



Black is achieved by combining plants with a tannin content with iron. This introduction of iron and the processing necessary damages the wool, so that it tends to corrode with time. Plant sources of tannin are the knobbly oak (of the Quercus family), oak apples, tanner’s sumach, and the skin of the pomegranate (Punica granatum). Adding some walnut husks into the indigo dyed wool yields also very dark brownish black.




Natural wool yields ivory white. To achieve a pure white, wool is bleached using qarğa düzü stone produced on the Absheron. For flatweaves, cotton is used to get a pure white.


Note: Because of the regional variation of soil, dye plants from different areas will produce different results. There are, therefore, a multitude of possible colour permutations. The time required for colouring the wool, the mordants and the water used will also affect the end colour. One dyebath will produce different results from another.