Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


This documentary, filmed in 2006, examines the process of naturally dyed carpet production in a village in the Milas region of Muğla Prefecture in southwest Turkey, a region well known as a traditional Turkish carpet production area. In large numbers of villages of this region, carpet weaving is the household based work of every woman who lives there.

In this paper, I aim to add more detailed information and discussion specifically on the colors and dyes of the carpets shown in this film (see the abstract). First I will introduce the varieties of the natural dye materials the villagers use one by one. The natural dyeing process is quite laborious and difficult, so what can be their incentive to refrain from using synthetically pre-dyed yarns as most people in other villages in this region do? Secondly, to explore the matters around this question, I will examine the changes in the dye materials and thread production over time. Although Milas carpets had been traded for several centuries, drastic changes in their production affected by market pressure have been observed over the last 20-30 years. Bozalan village (Fig. 1) was not the exception. It did have a period when some people suddenly began using synthetic dyes mostly for their ease as well as the novelty of the bright colors. But in the course of time, the Bozalan villagers, unlike most people in other villages, returned to the traditional natural dyes voluntarily. How do some people sustain the use of natural dyes while the majority of others shift to using synthetic dyes? I try to analyze these transformations in the general shift to synthetic dyes, as well as the shift back to natural dyes in the case of Bozalan, though the examination of what was going on in the transitional period. And thirdly, I will briefly describe the present situation of carpet production and sales in the village, to put their preference of natural dyes into the context.

Natural Dye Materials: Botanicals and Mud

The basic procedure of dyeing yarns for carpet pile begins with the preparation of yarns and of dye materials and finishes with the actual dyeing process. After being washed, the combined labor from over 20 neighbors, yarn strands are doubled into balls then unwound and looped to be soaked into dyes. Dye materials such as madder, mud, and herbs are gathered or purchased. Some of these are ground into a fine powder. With enough firewood gathered, water is boiled and first dyestuff is added (usually napuz, Mentha pulegium) with ground alum used as mordant. As they rely on natural materials and conditions such as sunlight, the dyeing process requires continuous checking and making adjustments for the changing conditions. The ability to understand and make these adjustments is related to the level of experience one has with the process. Although there are a number of major dyes and methods of dying that are common to all of the villagers, there are also some minor differences in the dye repertoire of every household where one can find materials and methods of dyeing that are rather uncommon in the village at large. It is analogous to the different home recipes that may be found in individual homes in a generally homogenous food culture.