How To Dye With Pokeberries

This summer one of my goals was to start doing natural dyes. I am quite comfortable with synthetic dyes, but have never really done natural dyeing – I felt intimidated by the “long and unpredictable process.” Well this summer I finally tried it, and I am finding it so much more satistfying than synthetic acid dyes! The process is somewhat unpredictable, but it is not long, and I am finding that the unpredictability is the fun part.

I was looking forward to when the pokeberries ripened so I could get some nice bright colors to dye with. We have an untamed section in the backyard that many pokeberries grow in, so I had a readily available source of dyestuff. The Pokeweed plant is very common here in Connecticut.

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The dye recipies that I found called for a 25:1 ratio of pokeberries to fiber! I didn’t even come close to that but my dyes turned out well –  I’ll have to see how lightfast they are though.

My very inexcact recipie is this:

  • 2 – 3 Ibs pokeberries, without stems
  • 3 or so quarts of vinegar
  • I used about 2.5 ounces of wool

The first step is to collect the pokeberries – and you’ll want to wear gloves. I didn’t, and got purple juice all over my hands that wouldn’t wash off. (isn’t that the point of a dye?) I froze the berries in between gathering sessions until I had enough. Next you will need to pluck all the ripe berries off the stems – it’s tedious, but the resulting dye is worth it.

Now you that you have enough berries, you can start mordanting your fiber – if you want to be technical you can weigh your berries and use a 25:1 ratio of berries to fiber to find out how much fiber to mordant. I just threw in as much fiber as I wanted to risk in an unknown dye, and my risk level was about 2.5 ounces of wool.

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The mordant is a half and half ratio of white vinegar to water. It took about 6 quarts of liquid to cover my wool in the pot, so I used 3 quarts of vinegar and 3 quarts of water. I heated it on low heat for roughly 4 hours. You could use a Crock-Pot for a nice long mordant. (a Crock-Pot is also useful for a long dyebath; I have a dedicated crock to use in my pot.)

After the mordanting was done, I thawed my berries and had the bright idea to mash them up in a seive so I could lift them right out of the pot without having to strain it. Not so bright… I had to pour water though the packed down berries to get as much dye out of them as I could. And I ended up straining it twice anyway. There wasn’t very much juice, so I used the mordant water to have enough. Make sure to use the mordant water unless you want to waste another 2 quarts of vinegar.

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Now I added the wool to the dyebath and heated it at medium high heat, but not simmering or boiling, for about an hour and a half. I let it sit overnight with no heat and took the wool out to dry and drain in the morning.

Make sure you rinse it really well after you take it out. A lot of dye rinsed out when I did, but the color of the wool didn’t really change. It must be residual dye hanging on to the fibers, but not absorbed into them.

Here is the dyed roving… I spun some of the darkest roving into a 100 yard 2-ply. I carded the roving into batts to be able to spin it because it had felted slightly in the dyebath or mordant.

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Here is some batts I carded out of the pokeberry fiber and some other roving I dyed with cochineal. I want to spin a gradient yarn with them.

batts

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