Dyeing with Blackberries

Blackerry Natural Dye

Every summer I pick blackberries from the blackberry bush that owns a corner of my backyard. We’ll eat some immediately and then I’ll freeze the rest with the intention of using them for pies in the winter. Problem is, I don’t like baking pies. My freezer is now filled with several years worth of freezer-burned blackberries.

Frozen blackberries

These guys just don’t look edible, so I figured it was time to use them for a dye. I took them out to thaw and noticed a few hours later that half of them were missing. My husband confessed the blackberries were very edible, which is why he used a few cups worth in a smoothie. I’ll admit it, I was slightly annoyed. Until I tasted the smoothie. My hope was that the wool would dye a similar color as my  kids berry smoothy mustaches.

I wanted to try a solar dye during one of our rare triple digit heatwaves. However, I didn’t have the patience to wait several days to see my results. Instead, I ended up doing three versions: stove top, solar, and semi-solar.

Blackberry Solar Dye

This entire experiment was done on a whim, which is why is may sound a bit confusing.

I used 3 cups of freezer-burned blackberries, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and enough water to fill a half gallon jar. I put this in the sun for a few hours until the water was hot and the color changed to a rich pink.

Note: I used the sugar (a suggestion from various dye books)  to help with color fastness. I’ve read that the main concern with using blackberries for a dye is that the yarn will fade. However, all naturally dyed yarn will fade eventually, some faster than others. And the colors they fade into are usually a lovely hue of the original.

I dumped the hot dye from the jar and into a pot, crushed the blackberries then strained them out, leaving just the dye bath, no berries.

What I noticed about each dye process, was that before I rinsed, the yarn was the same rich pick color as the dye. However, after one rinse, the water ran clear, and the yarn dried with a richer blue tone, to create the lavender color.

The color of the yarn before the first rinse

The color of the yarn before the first rinse

Three hues of purple, from three slightly different dye methods

Three hues of purple, from three slightly different dye methods

Stove-top – I poured they dye into a pot on the stove with a 1.5 ounce of alum mordanted wool. It simmered for approximately 20-30 minutes, before I removed it, and rinsed.

Solar dye – I poured the very hot dye from the stove back into the jar, added another small skein of wool, and set it back into sun and triple digit temperatures. When I pulled it out 12 hours later, the dye water was still too hot to touch.

Semi-solar- I think this was the best mix of both processes, and created my favorite hue of purple. I poured the same dye from the jar back into the pot, added another skein of wool, let it simmer for 30-40 minutes, then poured the entire mixture back into the jar, and back into the sun and over night. Again, the water was hot when I pulled the yarn out the following day.

I have another bag of blackberries in the freezer that I’ll use for more semi-solar experiments. What would happen if I added a bit of vinegar or different additive to the dye? That is, unless my husband gets to them first.

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3 thoughts on “Dyeing with Blackberries

  1. I gotta try this, my books all say that blackberries is a “stain” and not a dye-so just never pursed it-love the colors-and thanks for the sugar tip I wonder if adding vinegar to the last rinse would help set it any more
    I am a new follower-love to dye with natural materials too Kathy

    • I never thought of using blackberries for a dye (because they taste so good!) but was inspired by Jenny Dean’s book “Wild Color.” She points out that the lavender color can fade over time, but using an alum mordant on an animal fiber helps with color fastness. Adding sugar came from my other main resource “Nature’s Colors” by Ida Grae.

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