What's in that Dye? Natural Colors Found in Bunyaad Fair Trade Rugs

What's in that Dye? Natural Colors Found in Bunyaad Fair Trade Rugs

Author: Noah Wotring, Community Engagement Intern at Global Gifts Short North

Bunyaad Rugs are handmade in Pakistan by local artisans who implement a combination of modern and traditional methods of production that dictate everything from how the sheep wool is spun, to how the woolen fabric is cut and designed, and even how the fabric is dyed! Between the rich crimsons, deep blacks, and vivid oranges intricately displayed on these rugs, the creative ways that rug designers of antiquity were able to naturally display such a wide variety of colors is just as incredible today as it was 400 years ago.

Here are just a few examples of natural sources that are still used today by artisans:

Pomegranate Skin

The romantic history of the pomegranate dates back a millennia. From Persephone's fatal desire for the red ambrosia in Greek myth to local village lore surrounding the crimson fruit in North Africa, the pomegranate is as famous for its flavorful seed as it is for the mythical status that has been cultivated around it. Pomegranates are a highly valued food source in the drier parts of the Mediterranean and Middle East. In Pakistan, however, the rind and juice of a pomegranate were also discovered to produce an immensely strong dye property. That has since been used as a crucial source of natural red coloring to the world at large.  

Walnut Shells

Walnut shells have made a name for themselves as a crucial ingredient in one of the most long-lasting and steadfast dyes that can be created from natural ingredients. The solid, brown dye is created by exposing the hulls of walnuts to air until they turn a dark brown due to oxidation, after which the exposed hulls are crushed and boiled in water. Once it's been brought down to a simmer, the dye can either be kept cool in the fridge for future use or used immediately by soaking the objects you wish to dye into the walnut solution.

Orange Peels

The rich, sun soaked color of the common Citrus Reticulata, or the common orange, lends itself well to a number of decorative uses. While the dried skin from oranges are often used in potpourri mixes for their sharp scent and as an additional spice in many Asian cuisines, the dried orange peels are most prized as a primary ingredient in naturally made color dyes. Similar to other methods of natural dye making, the dried orange peels are placed in a large pot of boiling water for an hour, after which the liquid is brought to room temperature and strained in a filter until only the vivid orange dye remains.  


It may come as a shock that one of the most common ingredients in natural dyes around the world comes from the cochineal, a species of scale insects that can be found in numerous parts of the the southwestern United States and part of northern Mexico. The dried carapace of the cochineal is famed for the strong and undilutable red color it creates, a color that ranges from bright reds to heavy burgundies. Meanwhile, in parts of India and Pakistan, a resin secreted from the Coccus laccae, known as “lac”, is popularly used to create rare blue-red and purple-red dyes.

From cave paintings done with berries and roots to the decadent, natural dye designs of handmade rugs, the ways in which humans have harnessed nature to recreate the world around us is astounding.

Learn more about natural dyes and how hand-knotted rugs are made in Pakistan at the free talk: "From Loom to Living Room" at Global Gifts in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday, March 8, 2018 at 7PM! And be sure to stop by the store by during our Fair Trade Rug Event from March 7-11 to peruse a selection of over 300 fair trade and handmade rugs! For more information, click here.



Thinking, P. (2017, January 30). Making Natural Dyes from Plants. Retrieved March 07, 2017, from http://pioneerthinking.com/natural-dyes

Pearson, G. (2015, September 10). You Know What Makes Great Food Coloring? Bugs. Retrieved March 07, 2017, from https://www.wired.com/2015/09/cochineal-bug-feature/

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