A considerate bird planted a privet bush against my fence a few years ago. This simple act created a food resource for themselves, and all their friends, who binged during many raucous bird parties, and subsequentially planted a few more. Their perfect aim created the perfect privacy barrier, as well as a new backyard resource for natural dye experiments.
Naturalized backyard natural dye resource? (Say that three times)
Yes, please and thank you.
I searched through my dye books and found one reference of this dye by Ida Grae from her book Nature’s Colors (still one of my favorites). She mentioned they made green in an alum pot using tin as a mordant. I don’t mordant with tin, and decided it was time to play with these berries using alum and washing soda.
I did several dyes over a few weekends, adjusting ratios of berry to fiber (premordanted alum wool), and different levels of alkalinity in the dye bath. Each time I created different shades of green. I used a similar process for each dye bath, so let’s call it the master bath:
- I picked and weighed berries; added them to a pot of distilled water. (I’m trying distilled instead of tap to see if it makes a clearer dye)
- Ratio 3:1 berries to fiber worked fine. When I used a higher ratio, the color was only slightly darker.
- Cooked the berries at low heat until soft, about an hour. I let the bath cool enough to stick gloved hands into pot to squish the berries into a pulp. (So satisfying)
- Reheat berry-dye-mush. The dye will turn a tantalizing reddish-purple.
- Note: I didn’t do this however, I suggest straining the berries from the dye before adding the wool.
- After the dye reheated, I added alum mordanted skeins of wool. I let them simmer for about an hour and hoped they’d turn as purple as the dye, but alas, they never did.
- I pulled the skeins and increased the alkalinity of the dye, (more on that below) before adding the skeins back into the pot. This was the most awesome part, because how totally cool is this:
Note: before I go into specifics, you may be wondering Why change the alkalinity and go for green if the dye-bath was purple! I hear you. No matter how many times I tried this dye without changing the alkalinity, the final result was a muddy red-gray-purple. When I made the dye bath more acidic with vinegar, all color washed out. When I used an iron premordanted skein, it turned gray.
Privet berries and Baking Soda (the mistake) – pH8
I thought I was using washing soda, like I normally do, then I looked at the label after I did the dye. This led to learning something new – and learning is always good! Baking soda will increase the alkalinity like washing soda, but you’ll need to use more of it, and the final color had a tinge more yellow, like a granny smith apple.
Privet berries and Washing Soda- pH8
This is my normal method of changing alkalinity. I repeated this dye using both “sodas” and achieved the same results.
I ordered this fingerling yarn by mistake (75% wool/ 25% nylon). This was the same bath as the washing soda skein above- but look at this color! This is so close to teal, I’m declaring it teal.
I’m still left with this question- why aren’t these prolific berries mentioned in my other dye books?
I did my own lightfast test and the color held up to my high standards. I haven’t tried washing it because I wash my wool projects sparingly, therefore that’s not usually an issue.
Just as I was typing this up, I found another reference to the dye but with salt – and it’s supposed to make blue??!? The experiments (and mistakes) never seem to end. Until next time.