Dyeing with Pokeberries

Hello my friends,

It’s tutorial time! I don’t know how this started, but apparently I’ve gotten into the habit of showing you how to do the cool things I do. I’ve been doing this dyeing stuff for over a year now, and from the start I have depended on people generously sharing their experiences, so I hope this is as useful to someone out there in internets-land as it was to me to get tips from others. Besides, it is cool when knowledge is free!

This time, it’s pokeberries. I’ve been collecting these things like mad, and for Erntefest I started this season of dyeing with them. As I did so, I took pictures so I could share the process with you over the next week. These rules are not set in stone, of course; so if you try this and it doesn’t work, or figure out something new, let me know. Heck, if you try it at all, I’d love to know!

P.S. this took a long time, so it totally counts as like five posts. Don’t get annoyed if I go take a nap for a week.

Step 1: Pick pokeberries. You will need: ziploc bags, latex gloves (optional), and a good pokeberry picking spot.

This goes rather without saying, but you want to make sure you pick enough. As a rule of thumb in natural dyeing, you generally want about 3x-4x dyestuffs as wool. So if you have 1 lb of wool, pick 3-4 lbs of pokeberries – more or less depending on how saturated you want your color to be. One completely full gallon ziploc weighs about 5 lbs.

The best picking spots are in massively overgrown thickets. Pokeberry plants need sun, but they like to be in areas associated with woods. Since they focus on quantity rather than quality, they like to team up with bushes and things that they can intertwine with and grow large without collapsing under their own weight. Unfortunately, many of their favorite growing buddies are laden with thorns and/or burrs. (This is my personal opinion on why they are called “poke” berries).

Helpful hint: Latex gloves are optional through this entire process, because the pink does wash off your hands fairly easily. (Exception: the dyebath after mordanting will make it stick for a lot longer.) But as I learned the hard way, it is really helpful if you drove to your picking spot to be able to drive home without sticky purple crap all over your fingers.

Another helpful hint: If you are going to freeze them, Double Bag your Berries. I’m not sure why, but the fridge freezers we’ve had have not totally frozen the juice that ends up in bag of frozen berries, and ziplocs do not totally prevent that juice from seeping out. Enter the fuscia sludge that has ornamented every freezer we’ve used for the past year. It’s not that hard to clean up, but… really. It can be easily avoided with an extra bag.

* * *

Step 2: Mordanting. You will need: your wool (yarn or fiber; the process is the same), a large pot, and lots of white vinegar.

Berry dies are notoriously non-colorfast – i.e. the color goes away after time. However, after a lot of research, asking people who knew on the internet, and experimenting, this seems like the best solution (no pun intended). My oldest pokeberry-dyed yarn is over a year old, and its color is nigh unto undistinguishable from when it was first dyed, so I think it worked.

The key is acetic acid. You may have heard professional dyes called “acid dyes”, and that is because they include an acid that makes the dye bind to the wool. Vinegar, as it turns out, has about 4-5% acetic acid, and we can make it work similarly.

With the wool in the dyepot, fill it with a 50/50 solution of cold water and white vinegar. (If very hot water hits dry wool, it will “shock” it and cause it to shrink. Just don’t make your water very hot out of the tap is all I’m sayin’.)

Make sure the wool is good and submerged and wet through, then put the whole mess on the stove. Cover unless you want to choke on the fumes. Heat it to simmering, then turn down the heat and let it simmer for an hour. Then turn the heat off and let it cool overnight.

Try not to let it get to a full boil. Hot water and agitation are the main ingredients for felting, so if you let it boil, it may felt a little bit. But if this happens, it is not the end of the world. The main thing is, whether it boils or not, When your wool is in hot water, do not muck about with it. You can poke it to get it underwater, you can very gently turn it, but really, just leave it the heck alone and everything will probably be fine.

Your whole house will smell like vinegar and wet sheep for a while when you do this. Some people think it smells clean and pleasant. It makes my husband crave hot & sour soup. I am just glad it goes away quickly.

Helpful hint: You do not have to dry your wool, but if you aren’t going to dye it right away, just lay it out somewhere to dry completely. You can mordant as much as you want as far in advance as you want. But if you are going to be dyeing right away, Save the vinegar solution.

* * *

Step 3: Prep the berries. You will need: your berries, two a large pots or bowls, a strainer, and some potato mashers (if you’re of hispanic extraction, bean mashers).

Helpful hint: Dyers will tell you that you should NEVER cook food with pots or utensils that have been used in dyeing. When it comes to pokeberries, I bend the rules a little… pokeberries probably won’t kill you (though I hereby take no responsibility for any trouble you might get yourself into), and you’re not using any harsh chemicals. HOWEVER, use your brain. Anything that you’re going to use for food later, for pete’s sake, just put it through the dishwasher.

After all my fear of purple freezer-sludge, I double-bagged all 86+ lbs of berries, then discovered that our new deep freezer on its second-to-lowest setting freezes the living daylights out of everything in it. So no sludge, just solid berry blocks. Anyway, If you’ve frozen your berries, now is the time to thaw them. I usually pull out my berries after I start the mordant pot going, so by the time I’m ready to dye, the berries are ready to go. I put them in a bowl or pot in the sink to thaw.

I don’t know why I have two potato/bean mashers, but I use them both. When they have thawed, mash them until they cry. (See above about berry symbiosis. Over the past few weeks, I have had my arms scratched up by thornbushes, clothes torn up by stickers, and been attacked by a bush with giant burrs that explode with tiny spines that take multiple showers to work out of your skin. I may have been just a teensy bit vindictive at this point.)

Helpful hint: Pokeberries do wash off stuff pretty well, so you don’t have to be anal about your surfaces or your clothes or anything. However, wiping purple junk off everything in the kitchen five hundred times gets old. Work accordingly (i.e. do everything you can in the sink).

When you think they are mashed enough, pull out another big pot (it’ll save you a step if it’s the pot you will use for dyeing), and strain the seeds and pulp out. I like to mash it up more in the strainer to get everything I can out of the suckers.

This is where that 50/50 vinegar/water solution you saved from earlier comes in handy – your dyebath should have about the same acidity as your mordant water, so if you didn’t save that solution, you will have to use more vinegar. This extra step just helps make sure the dye sticks as well as it possibly can. Pour enough solution in that you will be able to soak all your wool, and stir to combine. You now have a dyebath.

* * *

Step 4: Heat. You will need: your dyebath (presumably in a dyepot) and your mordanted yarn or fiber.

Heat helps the dye to fuse to the yarn. But how you heat your dyebath will determine what color you get. Pokeberry has a wonderful range of color: from pinks and fusicas to reds to oranges to salmony-browns. Here’s the primer:

  • Pinks and fuscias: The saturation of the final color depends on how many pounds of pokeberries you use; a 3:1 ratio of berries to wool gets you a bright fuscia-hot-pink. Less berries will make a paler hot pink; more will get a darker fuscia, even a beautiful deep maroon. Some people like solar dyeing; this more or less means you leave the pot out in the sun for a few days and you get what you get. I’m a little afraid to do this, but let me know if you try. I still like to put it on the stove, but I watch it pretty closely. I just want the water to be very hot to the touch, not hot enough to burn myself in. Once it gets to that temperature, I turn the heat off.
  • Reds: This is the hardest color to get, as you have to watch the pot like a hawk. Your goal is to have it just barely simmering for about an hour.
  • Orange-salmony-browns: This is what you get when you let your dyepot get to a rolling boil for any length of time. The more you boil it, the lighter and browner it gets. Do note that these colors are not as fast as the others; I couldn’t tell you why. (I usually get them by accident and do not like them.)
  • You can mix and match to your heart’s content; when dyeing yarn, I always leave some out or pull some out sooner so it’s more of a semi-solid.

Helpful hint: Fiber content also affects saturation. So far I have found that wool takes colors most deeply (middle in above picture) while silk, acrylic, and angora (blended with wool in the yarn on the right) do not turn out as dark. I think that’s pretty neat. If you are dyeing fiber and it’s not perfectly clean, often the greasier tips of a fleece will turn darker than the cleaner butts. Know your yarn or fiber and plan accordingly.

No matter what color you use, when you have heated it according to your desires, let it sit overnight. Just one more step to give the dye a chance to bind as much as possible.

* * *

Step 5: Rinsing. You will need: your dyed wool, a sink, and rubber/latex gloves. (The dye is most likely to stick to your hands both at this point and when it is in the dyepot.)

Rinsing is my least favorite step, but it is so important. You really want to rinse your wool until it the water runs fairly clear, and that takes a long time and a lot of running water. I have tried various ways, but this is the fastest I have found, and it took me about half an hour to rinse 1 1/2 lbs of thoroughly saturated wool. I just let the tap run, take some of the stuff in my hands, let it fill with water, and squeeze. I repeat until it runs pretty much clear, then move on to the next bit. It takes ages, but if you don’t do this, the dye is much more likely to rub off on other things when you are using it, and that is really not something you want. If you feel badly about the water usage, skip a couple showers to feel better.

* * *

Step 6: Drying. You will need: Your rinsed wool, a drying rack (optional), and a couple towels you don’t care about.

This is pretty self explanatory. Lay it out to dry until it’s dry; it’ll go faster the more you spread it out, and if you use a drying rack (it’s on my wish list). Let me just state loud and clear, though: Do not dry naturally dyed things in direct sunlight. Natural dyes are not that lightfast (acid dyes aren’t as lightfast as you think, either). I put it out in the evening and let it dry overnight, though again, make sure you don’t know any Amalekites you might have to go to war with.

* * *

Step 7: Care and Use.

You now have a beautiful, naturally dyed something-or-other that you’ve worked very hard to make, and for which you’ve wiped purple juice off God-only-knows how many surfaces, and washed your purple fingers who knows how many times. I imagine you want it to stay bright and beautiful for as long as possible. (If you’re wondering, the above was dyed with a rather higher pokeberry concentration than usual, and if anything, it’s even darker in real life than in that picture. It was probably a 6:1 ratio of berries to wool by weight.)

Light: I will keep bringing it up: Don’t leave it in direct sunlight. I don’t mean you can’t wear it outside or anything, but when you store it, put it in a closet or something, and for the life of you, don’t let it sit out by a sunny window for a week.

Washing: This is not going to be machine washable. Period. Full stop. Wash by hand in cold water. I have not tried washing pokeberry dyed things with soap yet, so I don’t know what the ph of soap will do, so if you do use soap, use baby shampoo or wool wash. (And let me know what happens.) I prefer to just add a dash of white vinegar to the wash water.

Be Chill: Back in the day, when everything was naturally dyed, and you couldn’t get fancy chemicals or massive amounts of vinegar for cheap, colors faded. That was just the way things were. So every year, folks would just pull out their faded clothes and dye them over again. Knowing that makes me feel a little better about holding my naturally dyed colors with an open hand. It is good to accept that colors fade – natural or not. I have heard, from people who know, that if you dye and take care of your naturally dyed things as I’ve described, they should last for 30 years or even longer. But try not to sweat it if they change a little. Besides – now you know how to dye them over again.

48 thoughts on “Dyeing with Pokeberries

  1. Stacie says:

    I don’t know that we have pokeberries in Spokane, WA, but you’ve inspired me to get over my fears and actually try dyeing something! My husband will be so excited when he finds out just how big a mess I can truly create! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jonica says:

    Lord no Rebbie! Love the tutorial but I will pay you to dye it for me! It should dry out enough between tonight and tomorrow so I can harvest some more pokeberries for you!

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  3. Linda says:

    I’ve got pokeberries, I’ve got white vinegar, now I need some yarn to dye….oooo….there’s a box of white yarn in my craft room full of white yarn from Clover Hill Yarn store! Just kidding!
    I hope you don’t mind if I keep my 3 pounds of poke berries and try this out instead of saving them for you.
    I LOVE that gorgeous pink you made. But of course I’ll try for the red…..always my favorite color.

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  4. Rebecca says:

    Stacie: lol it’s not that bad. It’s about comparable with canning tomatoes, in my opinion.
    Jonica: I will take them… this fleece came out weighing a lot more than i thought, so I will have to use 1/3 of my stash of berries just to dye it!
    Mum: NOOOO MY YARN MINEMINEALLMINE

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jonica says:

    Ok babe! All yours. Some are in ripe and some are still green. The doggies found some more behind the pine trees so I may have a full baggie for you. I can tell you if you spin that fleece into a laceweight I will take some! That color is vibrant!

    I do have to say Himself nearly had a heart attack when I showed him the post and said I wonder if I can do that here! You should have seen it! I never thought he would go pale but he did.

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  6. Linda says:

    I was good. Yesterday I bought 5 hanks of white yarn for dying on sale from Webs. It’s Valley Yarns Stockbridge….50% superfine alpaca and 50% wool. Hopefully it will work. I think I have enough pokeberries for this much- basically 1 sweater.
    Jonica: I told Cliff I was going to do this and he went a bit pale too! He said the kitchen would stink and I saw him inwardly planning a day out of the house!

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  7. Rebecca says:

    lol! i don’t really know how bad it is because i don’t warn jared; i just start doing one day and he’s like um? But he doesn’t dislike the smell. You can cover it and let it cool outside, point a fan at the window… compared to some other dyeing smells i’ve had to deal with, this one is not that bad. but then again, in our house we have what we call “a high tolerance for chaos”

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  8. Linda says:

    Okie doke. I won’t worry about the smell too much. Today I picked all the berries off the stem and weighed them in my 5-lbs scale and it came out to 3 pounds. Yay! I double bagged them and put them in the freezer. Now I’m waiting for my yarn to come and I want to know if I have enough berries. I checked and I see I bought 1250 grams of wool. How many pounds is that? I also see the yarn is super light and comes out to 2,725 yards!!

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  9. Rebecca says:

    1250 grams is like 2.5 lbs of wool! that’s way more than enough for one sweater, no matter how fine it is 🙂 hopefully it’s something you can stand working with… maybe doubled?

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  10. Linda says:

    Wow! After I posted, I asked your Dad to help me figure it out too, and we came up with about 2.7 pounds. Yep. I bought at least two hanks more than I needed…..or…..I could learn to dye another color……or I could dye enough pokeberry worsted to last me the rest of my life…..o (although the pokeberries are rapidly fading)…….
    I picked about 2 1/2 more pounds worth, and that’s everything on our property. I’m going to have to start walking the street with bag and scissors!

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  11. Linda says:

    I have to tell you all I just went to Highland Day and bought my first fleece!! The had several alpacas visiting and there was a large white alpaca fleece for $40, which I was told was a good price. Is it? I also picked another 5 lbs of poke berries at a neighbor’s house and bought gloves and a jug of white vinegar. I feel rather loopy.
    I will go vacuum.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. rebbiejaye says:

    Ladies and gents, she officially has the sickness! lol!

    Questions about the alpaca fleece – how much does it weigh? Has it been skirted and cleaned already? honestly though i have no idea how much they go for (i’ve never actually paid for one).

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  13. Linda says:

    I squished the fleece down and weighed it on my 5 lb scale. I showed 2 pounds. Is that big? The lady on the phone who sold it to me said she was worried it had been picked over by people walking by and that’s why she gave it to me for approx. half price. (It had been displayed at various fairs and shows.) But the woman who was at Highland Day and helped sell it to me, said it looked good. It’s very soft, clean, hardly any VM or other debris. It looks like I’d be able to use nearly all of it for spinning. I might be asking for a spinning wheel for xmas!! Yep…..I’m slowing allowing myself to give in to knitting passion…..istead of trying to be so sensible.

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  14. Those colors are so vibrant and beautiful!!!

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  15. Rebecca says:

    Thanks Michelle! 🙂

    Mum – that sounds great. 40$ is probably a reasonable price if she said so! Is it white white? You are SO lucky you don’t have to clean it. As I’m sure you know. oy! When you dye it you should do a post.

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  16. […] with pokeberries over the past few weeks. The above is a purposely lighter pink than the product of my pokeberry tutorial, but the same general idea. The below I let simmer for as long as I could stand it in an effort to […]

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  17. Caitlin says:

    I’ve always been interested in using pokeberries for dyeing… and since I just picked up some unspun, undyed fiber to practice spinning, I think I’m going to practice dyeing skills as well. Thanks for posting this!

    Just a quick note since you did mention it… Pokeberries are indeed poisonous, especially the seeds. The young leaves don’t have much of the toxin, so some people like to boil them and eat them, but I definitely would be careful when using utensils and pots for food preparation as well as dyeing here. The more you know… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  18. […] a post of its own (unlike vinegar mordanting, which to my knowledge is pretty much useful only when dyeing with berries). But the black bean dyeing is down there, so keep scrolling if that’s why you’re here. […]

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  19. Pokeberry Dyer says:

    You asked for reports of anyone who followed your instructions – firstly thank you for such a detailed tutorial! I have never dyed anything before. I dyed two 50g balls of 100% Merino and two 100g balls of 70% Super Wash Wool/15% Silk/15% Bamboo. I had hoped to dye a light shade of fuchsia and a dark shade, I put a little less than cup of pokeberry juice in the first bath and the merino just sucked it up instantly! I left it to soak for an hour before I realized that that dye was not going to wash out and if I wanted to stop it going maroon I needed to wash it out now. The Merino rinsed out almost instantly but the bamboo yarn took a good bit of washing. I left the other yarn soaking for about 9 hours in the more potent dyebath however apart from the striping being a little more evident (I pulled some of the yarn out and drapped it over a spoon I put over the side of the bath) it is pretty much the same color.

    I love my yarn – thank you!

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  20. Rebecca says:

    @ Caitlin: Thanks for the tip; I would not want to eat those seeds. Foosh! Though in the spring who knows, maybe I will cut back on my grocery bill by making some pokeberry greens. I will say a prayer over them first.

    @Pokeberry Dyer: Great job! Very interesting technique on the lighter one. Yes if you pour the dye directly onto the yarn it does tend to soak in very darkly; if you want it lighter i would try making a very diluted dyebath before putting the yarn in. I also love to stripe by leaving some of it out of the dyebath! Thanks for the report.

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  21. Alice says:

    Hi, just happened to find this after a long lapse of natural dyeing and was happy to find notes on pokeberry dyes that don’t fade. Back-in-the-day, we didn’t know this was possible. I’m usually dyeing cottons, but I think these comments still apply:
    1. You may not need to do all that rinsing under running water. When I first learned (waaay back), we filled a pot with water, squished it around awhile, dumped it and filled again, repeating as long as it took for dye to rinse out. Point was that the water was not continually running and the fiber could sit in the rinse water awhile and still lose excess dye. Once I left it about 30 min., and when I came back, it seemed just as much dye had released for that amount of time, rather than using more and more water. Does that make sense? I only needed to rinse once or twice more to have it clean.
    2. Another point, I once was too tired to rinse much at all, so threw it over the clothesline in the shade and left it for a couple weeks. When I went back to it, almost none of it rinsed out and the color was still deep. Ie, time cured it. And maybe the dew and alittle sun, too. This was not with pokeberries, but I think the principle is the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Rebecca says:

    Hi Alice! Thanks for the tips on rinsing; I might try that next time and report back. For pokeberries I get worried about having ANY direct sun on it, so i’m not sure I’d leave it outside if there was any chance of it getting sun. But I like the idea of “curing” it.

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  23. Jenessa says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    Thank you for the great information. I live in Utah where pokeweed doesn’t seem to grow. Do you know anyone who has leftover dried berries they may be willing to sell? Also, do you know if Pokeweed can be grown in a container such as in a greenhouse?

    Thank you,
    Jenessa 🙂

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  24. rebbiejaye says:

    Janessa – how interesting! well, we live on the east coast where our growing season tends to be very humid. so I bet it would grow quite well in a greenhouse, though if you wanted a lot of berries, you’d have to give them quite a big bed. I’d be happy to provide you with seeds…

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  25. Jenessa says:

    Thank you for the offer of seeds, rebbiejaye. I really appreciate it, however, I just purchased some seeds a couple of days ago. Whoops! 🙂

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  26. Holly says:

    Thanks for the tutorial and excellent pictures! I have been dying with poke berries for several years with great success though the color fades considerably (at least in my experience). My vibrant magentas and reds have faded to bronze and pinky browns (which are lovely as well). I have always mordanted with alum which has done an excellent job retaining color (I dye spun wool yarn and silk fabric) but I am interested to try your suggestion, in addition to alum, of using a 50:50 acetic acid to water solution to dilute the dye pot. Great suggestion. The colors I have gotten using my current method have been: deep maroon/ purple, magenta, red, medium pink and light pink. When I let the dye bath get too hot (by trial and error): bronze and red brown. On silk, I made a strong dye bath and got purple. Great colors indeed, but as you mentioned, they fade with light and, in my experience, time. Granted, I crochet hats and scarves and have used the yarn, which inevitably is exposed to light either indoors or out. Thank you for the vinegar suggestion. Also, wanted to mention, since poke is poisonous (containing phytolaccatoxin and phytolaccigenin, which is poisonous to all mammals) it’s best not to get the fresh juice on your skin. The berries are least toxic when fresh compared to other parts of the plant, but caution should still be used. Apparently cooking them renders them benign, so the finished product is not harmful against your skin. When preparing my fresh berries, I always wear plastic gloves and wash off any splashes. Oh, one other note, I always ferment my berry mash a few days before using- not sure how that affects the end result. Thanks again for the suggestion! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  27. admin says:

    Thanks for bringing your experience to this discussion, Holly! I have not been doing this long enough to make a judgment on fading over time, though I’m hoping the vinegar helps with that. And good to know about the poison… I knew I didn’t want to eat the things, but I don’t always wear gloves when handling them. Now I will.

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  28. amy d says:

    ah-hah! my problem is the boiling!!! i got it pink once but kept cooking…i thought that the mordant i added to the dyebath was the problem. thank u!!

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  29. Lucy Steele says:

    read your post by accident when doing research on what to do with my poke weed. What you did for everyone was phenomenal. I teach crafts to disabled people, and our budget is basically negative….so we appreciate this new activity for all of us THANKS

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  30. Charles Arnold-Hearthwise says:

    Amazing. I live in an area where pokeberries are everywhere but have always been told that it is impossible for them to be used as a permanent dye. Now I do have a question. since I dye mostly with woods and I generally use 190 proof alcohol instead of water (and don’t heat the dye), have you ever used alcohol with pokeberries? If not, I think that I will give it a try. BTW, wonderful information well presented. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Rebecca says:

    Hi Charles! How interesting. I have never dyed with alcohol; what is the reasoning behind that? The point of the vinegar is to make the solution more acidic. If alcohol is at least 1/2 as acidic as vinegar (which is like 5.6% acetic acid, I don’t know what the PH on that is), your method is certainly worth a try. It’s the acid that really makes it last.

    Of course, Pokeberry works as a permanent dye only if you keep it out of direct sunlight for any extended period of time. (Like, wear it to work, but don’t leave it on your dashboard if you parked in the sun.) But if you can manage that, I have yet to have any of my poke-dyed yarns fade on me in the 3 years we’ve been doing this!

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  32. Elizabeth Christeller says:

    I just received my copy of a new book sponsored by The John Clayton Native Plant Society called Wildflowers and Grasses of Virginia’s Coastal Plain. For American Pokeweed, it states the following: “Warning:All parts are poisonous, especially the roots, seeds, and mature stems and leaves. The plant juice can cause dermatitis and can damage chromosomes if absorbed through skin abrasions. American Pokeweed contains a highly toxic chemical being investigated for anticancer and anti-HIV potential.” Gave me pause.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. carol schumacher says:

    I have also read that pokeberries can be toxic if ingested, but the wildflower site also said that a poultice made from the fresh berries can help with arthritis. It seems the stalks and roots and leaves and berries are only toxic if not cooked and ingested. I had the juice rubbed all over my bare hands for about 20 minutes until I washed it off and i did notice that my one knuckle was free from arthritic pain all night!!

    Liked by 1 person

  34. admin says:

    Carol that is fascinating! I hear you though, Elizabeth; I would be hesistant to get the stuff on me. It would be so awesome to use it medicinally.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. […] ripe pokeberry to harvest.  Which ended up being not colorfast at all, and poisonous . . but a completely fun mess. I spotted bamboo in someone’s backyard; knocking on the door to ask if I could harvest – I was […]

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  36. […] dyeing with pokeberries. The woman at Osborn Fiber Studios has a wonderful blog post about dyeing with pokeberries that we found very informative and useful. We just followed the advice she gave about how to get a […]

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  37. […] The Osborn Fiber Studio blog told me to use vinegar as a mordant for these berries. Something about acids and bases… someone smarter than I am figured it out, so I trust her. For the uninitiated, a mordant is some sort of additive that causes the fibers to open up and the dye to stick to whatever it is you’re dying. The simplest example is when you put a little vinegar in your Easter egg dye to make it stick to the egg. It’s the same concept. Different dyes and fibers require different mordants, like alum, iron nails, pennies, vinegar, and urine (or urea, if you want to buy something you can make at home for free). […]

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  38. Julia Treedoe says:

    I would love some advice on how to use poke to dye hair!

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    • Rebecca says:

      Oh man! What an idea! That sounds amazing, but… i’m not sure I would do it. (a) Pokeberries are poisonous, and the poison can be absorbed through the skin, to the point that when harvesting berries, I usually wore two layers of gloves, since I’d be getting so much exposure. I would really not want it on my scalp. (b) this stuff rinses for EVER… seriously I have to rinse for ages after dyeing, like half an hour, and then when I block after knitting it still gets the water red. So it’d wash right out in the shower.

      So I don’t know… Maybe if you had dreds, and didn’t plan on much showering, and just dyed the tips, and didn’t spend a lot of time out in the sun, you could pull it off?

      That just my guess. My experience with hair dyeing is almost nothing, though, so I don’t know how the chemistry differs, or what your goal is. But maybe someone else will pipe up with better information than I have!

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  39. Tracy says:

    Thanks for the great info…Just a friendly word of caution pokeweed and many other natural dye sources are very poisonous.

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  40. Judie says:

    I just boiled some pokeberries, strained and mashed them. No mordant needed for dying reed. Then put my latest basket in it for just a shirt while and it turned a lovely red. Am wondering how it will hold up, regarding indirect sunlight in a room. I will save my solution in the freezer

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    • Rebecca says:

      Interesting! Why no mordant for reed? Do they have some mordant qualities built in? I have not had a problem with indirect sunlight, and I have had some pieces for upwards of five years now. But that was mordanted wool, so I don’t know how it compares.

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  41. Dawn JO says:

    Just a note, not sure on the archival qualities of this idea, but I made my own poke berry dye and saved the dye and added a bit of alcohol and am using it for watercolor paint on paper. I did the same with yellow onion and black walnut, beautiful so far.

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  42. Dawn JO says:

    I am reposting, sorry if I am repeating myself. I just made poke weed berry dye and put the left over dye (strained) in a little jar. I mixed in a bit of alcohol and now have homemade water color paints. I did the same with yellow onion peels and blackwalnut. I did a sample painting and it came out lovely. Not sure how it will keep, but we will see!

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  43. […] Osborn Fiber Studio, Dyeing with Pokeberries […]

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  44. […] madness started, but here’s a good post) … to learning about natural dyeing (fun fact: this is still my most visited post) … to the first of the unspeakable sadnesses that changed my life … to giving it all […]

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