More experiments with Mahonia berries

Dye from berries isn’t a long lasting colour and I didn’t think I’d be playing around with mahonia berries again, but I had a couple of projects in mind and was tempted to collect some berries. Where I live in south east London, they grow in gardens and also in public places.

The purple staining on my hands turned blue under the tap water. It’s amazing to see. 

I extracted as much colour as I could over a 24 hour period of heating and soaking the berries. I could have probably heated the berries in fresh water to get more colour but I didn’t need anymore.

My first experiment was to dip dye some watercolour paper to make new business cards. This was a lot of fun and I love the results! 

The second project was to dye a dress. I wouldn’t sell clothes dyed in mahonia berries as I don’t know how long the colour will last, even if it is stored in a dark place and washed carefully. I’ve read that berry dye may only last a couple of years, so time will tell. But I really wanted to dye a dress to wear to a wedding this summer and I won’t be wearing or washing it often and if it fades I will just redye it!  I actually like the transient nature of this dye and the fact that I can keep adding layers of colour over time.

I really love the result, although the colour was a complete surprise to me! 

The colour is a purple/beige with cool undertones. I was sure that I would end up with a grey/blue dress based on my experiments a few weeks ago. However, I had to dilute the dye massively, as I’d made a very concentrated colour and my dress needed quite a lot of water so it could stay submerged in liquid. As I added water into the initial concentrated dye, the colour didn’t turn from pink/purple to blue as I’d expected, but it turned purple/brown, and this is the colour that the dress dyed. But the paper that I dyed in the concentrated dye turned from purple to blue under tap water when I tested it. It’s fascinating how the pH of the dye affects the final colour outcome.

My initial experiment with mahonia berries from a few weeks ago is shown above and the dress isn’t any of the colours that I achieved a few weeks ago. (The colour samples  on the left page, from top to bottom: 1. modified with iron water, 2. rinsed under tap water, 3. straight out of the dye pot, 4. dipped in vinegar),

Dyeing with Mahonia berries

I’ve been walking past this bush of berries for the past few years and whilst flicking through Jenny Dean’s book ‘Wild Colour’ I recognised them and learnt that they are called mahonia berries. I went back the next day to pick a small amount of berries to experiment making a dye. 

The berries give their colour up very quickly and the fabric also takes on the colour quickly. I’ve read that this is a sign that the colour will fade on fabric so this may not be the best dye to use for anything that will be washed, but it was fun experimenting.

This dye is very pH sensitive and the lilac turns to grey when rinsed in tap water. The swatches below show the results of various modifications such as iron water and vinegar.