Natural Dyeing with Pokeberry

At the end of last year I had the wonderful opportunity to dye yarn with some poke weed berries a friend had saved from the previous summer. Pokeberry is a fascinating natural dye. It's one of the few plants that can give a very strong fuschia pink, and color can range from orange to deep red to bright pink. It's also very easy to dye with, and only uses plain vinegar as a fixative. 

Un-dyed skeins of yarn waiting to be scoured. Pokeberry dye bath

These pokeberries were harvested by a friend and frozen for a few months before using. We essentially followed this recipe by Carol Leigh: The yarn was scoured in a simple warm water + soap bath, and then gently heated in 4:1 water:vinegar, and left to soak over night. The berries were gently smashed and simmered in vinegar water for a few hours before the yarn was added. We strained out the plant material into two different pots and let them warm up over a fire circle while we sat around chatting for a few hours occasionally giving things a stir. The skeins were removed from the bath, but let to sit over night before being rinsed in cool water and hung to dry.

Yarn steaming in a pokeberry dye bath Dyed yarn hung to dry.

I made up skeins of several different yarns because I was curious how the different fibers would take the dye. These are all protein based fibers. There's some 100% sheep wool, an alpaca-silk blend yarn, and yarn rescued from a cashmere sweater. 

Because we used two different dye pots which had different places over the fire, we ended up with pretty different colors of each fiber. In this photo, the two skeins on the left were in one pot, and the three skeins on the right were in the other. You can see that the unraveled cashmere sweater took the darkest dye, but one pot gave much pinker raspberry tones, where as the other tended more orangey red. Its my guess that the dye pot over the hottest part of the fire probably resulted in a slight browning that gave those orangey red colors. The center skein was the silk-alpaca blend yarn which took color the lightest.

Finished dyed yarns, ready to make something new.


This was such a fun experience. I finally got around to documenting the dyeing in my new Natural Dye Journal by Salt Textile Studios. I can't wait to use it to do more natural dyeing this year! 

Natural dye journal with several yarn samples, sketches and written notes.

Do you hope to do any natural dyeing this year?

Let me know in the comments!


  • Thanks for your great post! I have been wanting to try creating dyes with poke berries, and other natural materials. Right now I have a pot of black walnuts sitting on the stove. Do you think I need to put a type of preservative in this? I picked them up from my sons yard. (He lives in another state.). Also, since they had frost and it affected some figs that were on his trees and not ripe, I picked the figs and thought I’ll try making a die with them. It turned out to be a brown color and now I’m wondering what I should put into it to preserve it. Vinegar? Essential oil? I plan to use these dyes more as watercolors or inks for two dimensional paintings.

  • My brother and I were big fans of poke series in the late summer-early fall. We would have poke berry fights, wherein we would give them a little squeeze to soften them up, then throw them at each other while running around through the woods. By the end our clothes looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. We had a couple of dedicated outside play clothing sets, and white t-shorts were preferred, because they took up the color of whatever we were in to. Without the heat and color fixing, the poke berries mostly left a reddish brown stain, but also lots of memories on those clothes.

  • I’m sort of surprised, I didn’t see you mention its toxicity. Or did I miss that? Just wondering and probably something ppl should know if they’re going to handle ANY part of this toxic plant. Great info on dying though thanks!

  • What a neat experiment and experience! Thank you for sharing. When is the best time to harvest the Pokeberries for dying?

    Karla Mironov
  • Interesting post on your dyeing with Poke berries, but no mention of the toxicity of this plant or the stability of the dye? Do you know if it fades fast as per Beets or Red Cabbage as they are the same type of pigment. Thank you


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