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Berries on Beltane May 3, 2009

Posted by lunarawe in dyeing, fo, natural dyeing, pokeberries, spinning.


This glorious tale owes its wonder to the unbelievable patience of Devorah. You are looking at three gallons of pokeberries. Three gallons! Talk about days and days of fuschia fingertips. We live in Florida (for another month anyway). The pokeberry bush in our yard got so big that it has an honest to goodness trunk at the moment and would have to be taken down with a saw. Devorah, who has long loved making ink from pokeberries, took it upon herself to find a way to dye with them. Well. For me to dye with them. But check out how many berries she picked! Two pots full over time. I helped. A bit. Such a wonderful adventure!

Devorah found this article by Carol Leigh for a nonfading pokeberry recipe. Scroll down a bit on her site to find it. Pokeberries are very tricksy about refusing to be colorfast and people have to go to extreme measures to get nonfading colors. See below.

The most important thing in dyeing with pokeberries (aside from a ridiculously high pokeberry to fiber ratio) is high acidity. These pots were prepared using 56% acetic acid. The mordant pots and dye bath both steeped overnight. There are Teeswater locks, Superwash Merino, and Bluefaced Leicester in those pots. Wool fumes! On that note. Boiling pokeberries stink. Really stink. Did I mention stink? Wow.

After a night in the acid the dyebath was intense. It is almost as black as that crock pot. Wow. There was so much dye! Magenta was everywhere! But soon wool and dyebath met in that heavenly combination that leads to spinning happiness.

It was hard to set that in the garage and walk away for a few hours. I kept wanting to poke it! Amazing how you can already see differences in color uptake between the merino and teeswater (on the bottom of the photo) and the BFL at the top.

After two and a half hours of heating in the crock the fiber sat in the dyebath overnight. Then out it came to rest on this fabulous screen set up (thanks again to Devorah) to oxidize for several hours. Can you see the cute binder clips holding the screening on this clothes drying rack? She is the best.

Later that afternoon when the sun was streaming into the garage I had to take another pic. No flash on this one, no adjusting to correct the color. This really is what that rack looked like during the afternoon on Beltane.  

This was a fabulous adventure. It was well worth doing. The photo above shows the final fibers. This is after several rinses in water (no soap!) and includes the two fibers that got dyed in the pot on round two. I have no idea if they will be lightfast given that they went through the dye on the second round. The tussah silk (pink draped across the whole thing) was only in the crock for two hours. The Leicester Longwool stayed in overnight. But the crimson colors from the first fibers are not to be believed. They are just so rich and lush. While I hope that these will stay colorfast for years to come as Carol’s have, I can understand why people were willing to redye their fabrics with pokeberries once a year to keep them a brilliant red.

To think they call this plant a weed….


1. trillian42 - May 3, 2009

Wow. That is a SERIOUSLY incredible shade of red! Just gorgeous!

2. Adam - May 3, 2009

My goodness — lovely, lovely, lovely! I can’t wait to see it in person…but I’m just as happy to have skipped the nasty-smelling boiling of the berries. Ugh. That should make wonderful yarn. Perhaps there will be a little extra that I can use in some weaving? 🙂

Merry, Blessed Bealtainne!

3. Chris T. - May 4, 2009

What lovely colors. 🙂

4. Anne G. - September 28, 2009

Where did you get the acetic acid? Me wants some!!

lunarawe - September 28, 2009

Oh I am sad to tell you that I don’t remember! And I used it all so I cannot even check the label. My apologies.

5. Spinning Lately « Stitch Witch - October 7, 2009

[…] This Leicester Longwool is lambswool actually, my first spun single! I was playing with this in preparation for Rhinebeck, where the annual New York State Sheep and Wool festival is held. Leicester Longwool is the featured breed for 2009. This is about 250 yards, spun at a low ration (7:1) and unbelievably soft. I am working on a companion skein for some colorwork from the Leicester Longwool I dyed with pokeberries. […]

6. Christine - October 18, 2010

I am about to try this myself after a quick chat with Carol Leigh at Rhinebeck. I will be using citric acid though. I’m curious what yours looks like after a year, how about an update?

Carol told me that the important thing is a pH of 4 for the dyebath…how to measure the pH of brilliant fuschia dyebath with a test strip has me stumped though!

lunarawe - October 18, 2010

Oooh good question about the Ph testing. I can tell you that a year later the fiber is just as vibrant, but it has been stored in chest for all of that time. Next time I dig in the stash I will take updated pictures. Please let me know how your pokeberry experiments go!

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