One of the most important physical guides in determining a weaving’s origin and age is its palette, particularly if this contains synthetic dyes. The first aniline dyes began to appear in Eastern weavings during the second half of the 19th century and were initially expensive and available in only a very limited palette; thus the earliest rugs with aniline dyes, probably dating from the late 1870s and 1880s, have only small amounts, the most common being a very light-fugitive mauve called fuchsine. Other early synthetic colors include a somewhat lurid orange and various types and shades of red and pink; the reds in particular have a tendency to run if brought into contact with liquids and most early synthetics show signs of fading, especially if the base of the knot is compared with the tip of the pile. Natural colors are far less sensitive to light, particularly over short periods, and if the dyes are properly mordanted, they will not run.
This does not mean, of course, that rugs with no synthetic colors are all antique or even old. Conversely, a rug with small amounts of aniline dye could still he antique and in any case, the presence of such dyes does not necessarily destroy the aesthetic merit of a weaving-indeed it could be argued that in the early days, because of their cost, such colors were only used on special weavings.
One natural dyeing agent, indigo, was not found in Turkmenistan but was easily available from both Afghanistan and India. Madder root, which is indigenous and was always available, dives a wide range of colors from deep red, through red-brown and dark aubergine to pale pink, and can also be used in combination with other dyes. Plants such as henna crossthorn, safflower (“dyer’s thistle”) and sumak were also indigenous. Extracts from these, as well as madder and indigo, give the basic Turkmen palette – many shades of’ red, aubergine, blue, yellow, green and brown. By using undyed wool, various shades from cream to deep brown could be obtained. Brown is used to outline designs and motifs on most Turkmen weavings. Black, as opposed to a very dark brown, is usually the sign of a late weaving. In some weavings, the clear withe found in small areas is usually cotton.
Red could also he obtained from various species of hark insect, particularly cochineal and lac; the presence of these dyes can also be a help in dating. For the ordinary collector, of course, scientific dye analyses can be difficult and costly to obtain. However, there is some useful published material on the subject. particularly by Professor Mark Whiting of Bristol University, who divides Turkmen weavings into five periods based on their dye content (Mackie and Thompson, Turkmen, pp.223 ff.).
The quality of color as a whole, as well as the palette itself, are helpful in the dating process and enable useful conclusions to be reached without the help of scientific analysis. Comparisons between the colors of rugs within a particular group will often allow us to arrange weavings into a broad chronological sequence.
The Development of Patterns
As the use of color changed, so did the use of motifs and designs from one generation of weavers to another. Later pieces having a higher vertical knot count so that the motifs appear flatter or ‘stretched’ sideways. Thus Tekke main carpets which have the roundest guls are considered to be among the earliest; following from this, it is often argued that a squarish format is also indicative of an early date.
There are, however, many problems with such hypotheses as changes occurred only very slowly and in small details. Secondly, carpet knotting in a tribal environment was based on precedent, with designs being handed down from mother to daughter and faithfully reproduced. However, as outside influences increased throughout the 19th century, those weavers who were the most isolated were the last to be affected. Thus what would have seemed the norm to one group of weavers might have seemed archaic to another; the cultural environment which allowed for the smooth linear progression of design was being destroyed during the very period in which most of the surviving tribal Turkmen weavings were made. It is certainly dangerous to argue that simple renditions are necessarily later than complex ones; indeed many writers have suggested, quite logical K. that exactly the opposite is true.