Demystifying the Lively Antique Colors of Needlepoint Rugs
1. The colors on the front side of this needlepoint panel have faded in the 150 years since it was made by hand sometime between 1750 and 1800. Image courtesy Morgaine-le-fay.co.uk.
How to easily tell the real lively antique colors of needlepoint rugs
It is a widely held belief that antique rugs, including needlepoint rugs always had muted colors. In today's blog post you will learn a quick and easy way to tell what the real antique colors of any antique rug are. We will use needlepoint rugs as our examples, but this applies to many kinds of antique rugs.
1. Turn a corner of the needlepoint rug and look closely at the reverse side of the rug.
Have you noticed how rug experts always turn a needlepoint rug over and look at its reverse side? It is similar to a doctor looking at an X-ray or taking a blood pressure reading.
1A. The reverse side of the needlepoint panel in image 1 above. The reverse side shows the original colors of a 150 years ago.The white lines in between the red row of stitches is the cotton canvas that forms the base of a needlepoint rug (see image 5 below). Image courtesy Morgaine-le-fay.co.uk.
You can see at a glance that the original background color on the reverse of the above needlepoint panel was a lively reddish brown. The blue, red, yellow and green were all vibrant and full of life. You would never know this if you only looked at the dull and muddy colors on the front side of a needlepoint rug.
2. The reverse side of a needlepoint rug tells you the original colors.
Image 1A. shows the reverse side of the same needlepoint shown in image 1. The colors on the back of a needlepoint rug do not fade as much as the colors in the front.
Sunlight affects all colors, some colors fade more than others. But no matter what kind of dye is used, all colors will fade in 150 years, less if they are never exposed to direct sunlight.
The colors on the reverse side of a needlepoint rug are not as exposed to sunlight so they will usually be closer to the original colors of the needlepoint rug, unless the rug has been chemically washed or dyed with tea to make it look like an antique.
2A. The front side of a 150 year old needlepoint panel shows the muddy colors people associate with antique needlepoint rugs. I do not like antique rugs in which all the colors have faded to muddy tones. They look too much like rugs that have been chemically washed and tea stained to mimic antique needlepoint rugs. Image courtesy Morgaine-le-fay.co.uk.
2B. The reverse side of the needlepoint panel in image 2 above, has the original vibrant blue, green, gold and burgundy. These colors are very different from the muddy and faded colors of the front side of this needlepoint, see image 2. Image courtesy Morgaine-le-fay.co.uk.
3. The colors on the front side of this Needlepoint panel (made in France around 1750) are still vibrant after more than 150 years of use. See picture 3A showing the unfaded original colors on the reverse. I love antique rugs that have a mixture of vibrant and faded colors. To me they have the real character of antique rugs that cannot be faked by chemical treatments and other methods of distressing rugs to make the resemble antique needlepoint rugs Image courtesy Morgaine-le-fay.co.uk.
3A. The reverse side of the needlepoint pictured in 3 above shows the even more vibrant yellows, greens and red colors in the back that was protected from the sun. Notice the green color faded more than the red.
3. Some colors in a needlepoint rug should fade more than others.
For me the beauty of an antique needlepoint rug is the unpredictable vibrant colors juxtaposed right next to others that have become soft and faded looking. Different colors react differently to sunlight. Some will fade more than others. When I design needlepoint rugs I take this into account by selecting some vibrant colors and mixing them with soft colors.
One of the many reasons I do not like the chemically washed or tea stained needlepoint rugs is that they make all the colors uniformly dull and muddy. This is not how real antique needlepoint rugs look as you can see from the images 1 and 3. For some reason all the colors in image 2 have faded more or less equally and I find this needlepoint the least attractive of the three.
4. An array of vibrantly colored embroidery yarns.
5. Until this year when China virtually stopped making high quality needlepoint rugs, needlepoint rugs were made entirely by hand, the same as they were first made 2000 years ago in ancient Egypt. The picture shows a vibrantly colored needlepoint panel being hand stitched with wool yarn threaded through a needle. This is at the Royal School of Needlework, London. The white mesh cotton fabric is called the canvas. A needlepoint embroiderer makes millions of individual stitches by hand to create the pattern as well as the background of a needlepoint rug. Image courtesy Royal School of Needlework, London.
4. London's Royal School of Needlework uses vibrant colors in their needlepoint rugs.
London's Royal School of Needlework carries on the tradition of making true English needlepoints. They repair and restore antique needleworks and see every day the vibrant colors used in the antique pieces they restore. Image 5 shows the RSN uses clear and vibrant colors in their needlepoints.
6. An antique needlework being restored by hand at the Royal School of Needlework, London. The RSN sees knows the original vibrant colors used in antique needlepoints and prefers to make new ones in these colors.
7. The vibrant colors of Asmara's Adria needlepoint rug were inspired by Van Gogh's sun drenched paintings made during his years in Provence.
8. Vincent Van Gogh, Irises