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.
These pokeberries were harvested by a friend and frozen for a few months before using. We essentially followed this recipe by Carol Leigh: http://www.hillcreekfiberstudio.com/CL-PokeberryRec.html. 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.
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.
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!
Wow, thanks everyone for your incredible comments. It took me an embarassingly long time to notice that the blog admin doesn’t alert me to comments waiting for approval, so I’m sorry they were stuck in limbo for so long.
Michael and Marjorie, I hope your dye projects turned out beautifully! If you ever post results anywhere and want to share them I’d love to see them!
Vivian, I did my dyeing outdoors. The smell of the steaming berries plus the vinegar wasn’t a super appetizing scent, but I don’t think it’d be overhwelming indoors haha. And a stove would certainly give you better control over the temperature, but I also loved the atmosphere and friendship of hanging around outside around a campfire checking on our yarn. <3
Yes interested in natural dying. Enjoyed the Pokeweed dye described.
What a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing this. I have collected some poke weed from my yard and am hoping to dye with it. I love your journal too!
This is great. I just started processing pokeberry a few weeks ago, and what an amazing color! I didn’t have success my first go around, which was a bit rushed and included a bit of “rust” mordant. Second time around, I scrapped the mordant, went with a 4% distilled white vinegar, and added patience and time to the process — much much better results. My test material (bleached white cotton, and raw linen) is drying outside right now, vibrant with color. Very excited to see how it looks finished.
Would you recommend dyeing pokeberries outdoors or indoors?