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

A New 10″ Hackle

Recently I made a new hackle (much larger than the first one) to blend wool on. I used 6 cake breaker heads on this one for 2 pitch hackle with a working length of about 10 inches.

 custom hackle, diy hackle, maple wood hackleWe used a nice chunk of maple wood for the base.

2 pitch hackle, fiber prep hackle, double row hackleWe made custom clamps to hold the hackle to my desk. I was pretty excited about these clamps; they look so much nicer than bar or C-clamps. They are made from a 3/8 square U-bolt cut in half. That bolt is at this link: http://www.tractorsupply.com/en/store/national-hardwarereg%3B-2192bc-675-square-u-bolt-zinc

We also picked up 2 each of 3/8 washers and wing nuts for each clamp. We used 2 pieces of oak wood for the clamps’
pads
custom clamps

custom clamp

It works wonderfully for blending. I’ve been using it to mix some alpaca/angora to spin.

fluffy hackle This hackle cost about $38 to make. Some of the supply costs are listed below, in case you are interested in making your own hackle.

  • 6 cake breakers – $30
  • Square U-bolt, washers and nuts – $6
  • Maple wood – Free

We had the wood and epoxy on hand, and we also had the tools, such as a router, various saws, a power sander and a drill.

Thanks for reading!

DIY Hackle

Have you ever heard of a cake breaker? Me neither. A few weeks ago I was walking down the kitchenware aisle at our local thrift store, and a giant fork happened to catch my eye. I picked it up because I originally thought that I could make a wool comb out of it.

cake breaker

No one quite knew what it was intended for. (we thought it was for holding meat down while its being cut) After some time on Replacements.com, we found out that this utensil is specifically used for angel food cake. Its supposed to be really good at cutting the cake without squishing it. Who knew?

I decided to make a hackle out of it, so I ordered another off of Amazon to make a 2 pitch hackle.
The other cake breaker is here:http://www.amazon.com/Animewild-R-M-Cake-Breaker/dp/B000FRUNXM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1408905724&sr=8-1&keywords=cake+breaker

The supplies I used are here:

supplies

  • Mahogany Wood, or any hard wood
  • Cake Breaker
  • Liquid Epoxy
  • Chisels
  • Wipe-on Polyurethane
  • Power Sander

I measured a groove about half an inch wide and a little less than that deep. I used a chisel to cut the groove.

I used a saw to cut off the heads of my 2 cake breakers (one was sterling silver!)

Than we used liquid epoxy to set the metal heads in the groove. It got a little messy, but sanded off nicely after it dried.
We used a bulk epoxy that we had originally used for another project, but I think a small tube of 2-part liquid epoxy would work. Those small epoxy packs can be found at hardware stores or auto parts stores.

Here’s the epoxy I’m talking about: http://www.amazon.com/Gorilla-Glue-4200101-Epoxy/dp/B001Z3C3AG/ref=pd_sim_sbs_indust_6?ie=UTF8&refRID=13KRHAC7D1Y4XZ13RM7M

epoxy unsanded
epoxy sanded

Then I applied 2 coats of a wipe on polyurethane finish, and taadaa! A hackle!

finished outdoor  top white
finished white

I am going to make another one, 12 inches long. The tines on this one are about 4 inches wide, and while it works, I really need more room to make roving that is long enough to be useful for spinning. My experiment cost under $10 to make as I had most of the supplies on hand and I got the satisfaction and enjoyment out of coming up with idea to make something and having it work!