The trouble with fashion and carpets… On vintage overdying.
We get requests pretty much daily for “vintage reloaded” or overdyed carpets. We have taken a decision not to keep them. “Why?” you may ask. For 2 reasons.
Firstly, they are utterly impractical for the floor and have a very, very short lifespan. Within 5 years they will have degraded to the point of falling apart. The process they use to strip the pile is very, very damaging. The rug is shaved and scrubbed, exposing the foundation of the carpet – its warp and weft, which means you are walking directly on the fragile foundation of the carpet with no cushioning to protect it from the friction of wear. Then it is bleached, using an “acid wash”, which will further weaken the warp and weft. Then it is overdyed, which is a process that they cant properly “fix” so the colour will never be properly set – it may stain floors beneath it, especiually if it gets wet. Also, there is no way to properly wash them – spot washing will cause dye in the spot to lift and it cant be fully wet washed or the dye will wash away. We don’t want customers to feel cheated when these – very expensive – carpets fall apart. We have prided ourselves on quality and good service and if we sold a rug that fell apart in a few years and couldn’t be properly washed without losing all its colour, we know our customers would lose faith in us, and our reputation, built up over 27 years – is too important for us to risk by selling these low quality rugs, and especially as they are so expensive.
Secondly – and frankly, for me, more importantly – we are lovers of Oriental carpets as artworks. To take a handwoven, beautiful rug that is still in reasonable condition, and shave, bleach and overdye it, is an artistically unethical thing to do. To take someone’s work, to destroy it and to reshape their vision into the narrow confines of fashionable dictates. Some of the rugs that have been destroyed thus are already rare and would have maintained their intrinsic value if they had not been bleached, shaved and dyed.
As an artist, this galls me. I would not take the liberty of improving a painting by another artist without their approval. I am a big fan of upcycling and if a carpet has reached the end of its lifespan then by all means, upcycle it. But to take a rug in reasonable condition and destroy it so that it fits a current fashion is a form of selfish consumerism that I cannot justify. You may call me a purist. I think I would have to agree with you. I don’t think this fashion is going to to last so I send people to buy their vintage overdyed rugs elsewhere and hope we will never be forced to keep them in stock. (We have a small selection of rugs in a vintage look – which are modern with a vintage feel – and have been hand woven to a high standard. We are confident they will last for many years and are fully able to be properly (professionally) wet washed.)
We have seen this kind of shortsighted destruction in the industry over the years. When we first started out selling at markets and expos we used to sell masses of beautiful kelim cushions. Mainly cut from bright Turkish kelims and beautiful rose blossomed Karabag kelims – which at that time were unfashionable for the floor. At the time kelims were cheap and a whole rug retailed for less per square foot than they could make by cutting it into cushions (and bags and shoes and even sofas) so the Turkish kelim cushion and bag trade literally decimated the supply of old kelims, and karabags especially. Now to find an intact Karabag in good condition is rare – and when you do find them they are very, very expensive. And irony of ironies – they are very, very much in fashion.
Bear in mind as well that hand craft in some parts of the weaving world is dying out, so you may never see some of these rugs ever again. They are not just carpets and rugs, they are artifacts, part of history. The handweaving trade is dying out in Iran – which is where most of the reloaded rugs are coming from.
So, in protest against the destruction of art in the name of fashion, can I tell you what we did? When one of our suppliers tried to sell us overdyes we rescued some before they had gone through the process! And they are beautiful. Yes, some of them may be a tad gaudy, some may be worn, some may be too bright or fussy for an on point fashionable pad, but dammit, they are beautiful… And we love them.
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