This last year, I nurtured a pretty little weed in my backyard. It grew and thrived and grew and grew until it pretty much blocked the door to the backyard. I protected it from all attempts to cut it down because it was a pokeweed. A huge, 5 foot tall majestic pokeweed. And pokeweed produces pokeweed berries, which are big, beautiful purple berries that dye the skin bright fuchsia. I was going to gather these and try my hand at dyeing yarn.
In the great big universal intellect called the internet, I could find nothing on how to prepare them, so I began a trek to experiment and find the perfect recipe.
A friend raises alpaca and I bought several skeins of her lightest wool, (from Amelia who is the cuddliest alpaca you will ever meet). The yarn was an off-white. I was going to see if I could change that.
Let’s talk mordants. Most fabric and yarn do not readily take a dye. They must be treated first with something that will bind the dye to the material. That binding agent is called a mordant. The most common ones are salt, vinegar, alum, and iron.
The closest recipe I could find was one using blackberries. For that, they used a salt mordant, so there I began.
Large pot for the mordant
Enamel pot for the dye
The pot for the mordant can be any large pot that can accommodate what you are dying. It will only have salt or vinegar in it so it is safe to use for food afterwards. The rest of the equipment should be “dedicated”, or not used for food. Pokeweed is poisonous. Can I wash out all of the pokeweed residue? Probably. Am I willing to risk it with my family? No. Fear not, though. I found the enamel pot in a thrift store for $4, and bought the rest at the dollar store, so my initial investment was $7.
4 cups pokeberries on the stems
1 cup table salt
5 cups vinegar (for round 2)
Whatever you want to dye.
Note that finished fabrics will need to be washed to get out any residue of finishing agents. I used my alpaca yarn straight from the alpaca, so I didn’t wash it first. (I was told it was washed before being carded and spun.)