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),

Triple bundle dyeing with eucalyptus leaves

I had a stem of dried eucalyptus leaves waiting to be used, so I decided to experiment with bundle dyeing for the first time. I used bamboo fabric that was pretreated in soya milk and left to cure for around a week.

My son loved laying the leaves onto the fabric as I rolled up the bundle. He saw what I was doing and rather than stop him from touching it, I just let him get involved and he had so much fun.

Below is the result of steaming for one hour. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I unrolled the fabric!

I reused the same leaves in a second bundle with new fabric to see if the second steaming would extract even more colour, or perhaps different colours. This is an idea that I read about in one of India Flint’s books.

The colour was just as beautiful as the first bundle and there were flashes of yellow this time. 

The leaves were used a third time. 

I was amazed how much colour could be extracted from just a handful of leaves. Even the third print produced a pretty pattern.

Below are the three experiments. The first bundle is at the bottom and I discovered that the second steaming (middle) seemed to produce the deepest corals with the greatest range of colour.

Bundle dyeing, or eco printing as it’s also known, is definitely the most economical way of plant dyeing as such a small quantity of plant matter is needed.

In contrast, when extracting colour into a liquid dye bath, a 1:1 ratio of plant material to fabric is usually used, and a lot of colour is ‘wasted’ as it never attaches to the fabric and ends up poured away at the end of the process. When making a ‘dye soup’, the water acts as a middle man and holds the colour, but in bundle dyeing there is no middle man; the colour transfers directly from the plant into the fibre, with no colour wasted in the process. Also I feel that I used much less water steaming the bundles than I would in a dye bath, although I would need to actually measure the amounts to be certain.

After my first bundle dyeing experiment I am now hooked and can’t wait to do more!