Dyeing with berries

In this blog post I’ll show you how to dye a scarf with mahonia berries (also known as Oregon grape) with a simple tie dye stripe pattern. These are my local berries – in the early summer, the bushes are laden with hundreds of strands of these little purple jewels. Maybe you have other local berries growing abundantly. You can follow this recipe and use the berries of your choice. Berries are pH sensitive, so I’ll show you how you can adjust the colours and make multiple shades.

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Dyeing with Dandelions

Given how dandelion flowers stain hands, I was interested to see how well they worked as a dye.

I’ve been collecting dandelions for weeks and keeping them in the freezer. When the time came to use them I gently heated them for an hour to extract the colour. I left them to soak over night then squeezed the liquid through a muslin cloth.

The dye liquid was actually a light brown and not at all yellow and I wonder if fresh dandelions would yield more of a yellow.  The fabric was mordanted in soya milk and left to cure for a few weeks before dyeing.

This cotton voile scarf is a lovely caramel colour but it was an awful lot of trouble and I’m not sure if I’ll repeat it again as I can produce a similar colour from alder cones which I suspect will be more lightfast due to the tannins in alder cones. It was fun dyeing with dandelions, nevertheless! 

Dyeing with Avocado Skins

Avocados are probably my favourite food ever, so it hasn’t been too much of a hardship to eat lots of avocados over the past few weeks! I saved the skins (and also the stones for future use) and stored them in the freezer.

The fabric was mordanted in soya milk, left to cure for over a month. The avocado skins were soaked and heated in water and after 24 hours, the mush was squeezed through a muslin cloth to reveal a beautifully deep red dye.

I used a 1:1 ratio of avocado skins to weight of fabric, but I could see that there was still a lot of dyeing potential in the dye bath so I dyed two more scarves afterwards.

The fabrics left to right are bamboo silk, organic cotton and hemp/cotton jersey. I also dyed another cotton scarf that’s not pictured. The markings are all created through various methods of tying and clipping to form resists.

The fabric swatch on the top left was modified in iron water which produced a beautiful deep mauve colour. 

I am currently carrying out lightfastness tests on the aldercone and avocado skin dye. The swatch at the bottom on the right is madder mordanted with aluminium acetate as a control.

Dyeing with Alder Cones

I have an abundant supply of alder cones right on my door step and I’ve collected a couple of shoe boxes full of them so it was time to try out this dye!

I pre treated my fabric in soya milk, by soaking it in a bucket of diluted milk over night, spinning it out in the washing machine and leaving to air dry, then doing two more dips. I left the fabric to cure for a month before using it.

The reasoning behind the soya milk treatment is that the soya protein coats the cellulose fibres of the fabric which makes them more protein-like, therefore making the fabric more receptive to plant dyes. I did the soya milk treatment instead of mordanting in aluminium acetate, which I used to find to be a fairly quick and very reliable method, but I do not want to use metallic salt mordants anymore due to their potential toxicity. Plus it’s much more exciting experimenting with new methods! (I first learnt about soya milk mordanting from India Flint in her book, ‘Eco Colour’.)

The alder cones were soaked over night in water, then heated in an aluminium pan for a couple of hours to extract the dye and the liquid was finally strained through a muslin cloth.

The fabric was soaked in the dye bath for about 24 hours, with a couple of heatings during that period.

The scarf below was modified with iron to deepen some areas of the pattern.

The final colour from the alder cones is a delicious, warm caramel, deepening to a chocolate brown when modified in iron. I will continue collecting alder cones to experiment further!