The Brellis House


[Failed] Experiments with Natural Dyes: Pokeweed

Posted on October 17th, 2014 by Susanna

Last year I successfully died fabric with black walnut, which was my first try at dying fabrics with natural plant material. My end goal is to have about 10 or so colors so that I can make a quilt similar to this beauty. This year I decided to try my hand at pokeweed. I had read that it can be difficult, but we have so much pokeweed around our neighborhood I couldn’t help but try. A 25:1 ratio is recommended, 25 pokeweed weight to 1 fabric weight. I ended up with about a 35:1 ratio. Then I picked all the berries off the stems. This part took FOREVER.  pokeweedAnd it made my hands look like this. It’s a bad sign for dying fabric that this washes right off your hands with soap and water.

pokeweed handsUsing two books from the library (one of which is a really beautiful book called Harvesting Color) and the internet, I read that a vinegar mordant helps the fabric hold the dye, so I pre-mordanted the fabric in vinegar, which was done by simmering (160 degrees) the fabric in water with about 1 cup of water. To prepare the berries for the dye bath, I mashed them in the dye pot, filled the pot with water and 1/2 cup vinegar for every gallon of water for a pH of 3.5. I heated this for 1 hour over low-medium heat, then strained the berries out. The pre-wetted/mordanted fabric went right into this dyebath and soaked on medium heat for 2 hours. I turned the heat off after 2 hours and let it soak for about 30 hours.

I ended up with fabric that looked like this. Needless to say I was pretty ecstatic, but worried it would all wash out like it did on my hands.

pokeweed fabricWhich is exactly what it did. I let it sit and dry for over an hour, then brought it to the sink. The color immediately started to rinse out, and I was basically left with a piece of dirty looking fabric, with a SLIGHT pink hue if you squint (or just pretend). Oh well! Maybe I’ll try again. There are a few things I think I could possibly do better, such as being more precise with measuring exactly how much vinegar should be added to the dyebath and using pH strips to get to exactly a pH of 3.5 in the dyebath. Also, using a thermometer because the dye is very temperature sensitive and the color will be destroyed at temperatures too high.

pokeweed fabric

Here are the three fabrics I have so far. Pokeweed on the left, black walnut method #1 in middle, and black walnut method #2 (soaked overnight) on the right.

natural dyes fabric