Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dyeing with sumac berries

 Rebecca Burgess's book, Harvesting Color, is one of my favorite dye books. Because of this book, I've added pokeberries, bidens flowers, and sumac berries to my list of favorite natural dye materials. Over the past few years, I've used pokeberries an bidens flowers to make dyes, but hadn't used sumac berries.
This year while flipping through her book, I noticed a beautiful yarn she made with wool dyed with these three things. It's a wonderful burgundy, orange, and dark steel-gray all spun up and plied together into a striking, colorful two-ply yarn. It has now become a quest to spin up a yarn with these colors. The orange came first, after gathering bidens flowers. The burgundy came next after gathering prodigious amounts of pokeberries. That left the steel-gray.
I had a few stalks of staghorn sumac berries in my store of dried dyestuffs, but I needed more. My husband and I found a nice patch of smooth sumac and helped ourselves to some of their berries. The result was that I had a nice potful of sumac berries for dye: 


I mordanted my fiber (Corriedale wool) with alum and cream of tarter, but to get the nice steel-gray color from the berries, you need an iron after-bath. What I did instead was use untreated well water high in iron for the dyebath, and for good measure I scrounged my husband's tool area until I found a few rusty nails and a couple of neglected tools that had rust on them and threw them in the dyepot along with the berries. I was rewarded with a beautiful witch's brew of scrumptious, dark color:

 After straining the dye, I plunked my wet, mordanted wool into the pot and let it brew for about 1 1/2 hours. Here is the fiber fresh out of the dyepot, before rinsing:

And here is the fiber after rinsing and drying; I love this color:

Here are the three colors that I'll be spinning up:
From left to right, combed Corriedale wool dyed with
sumac berries, pokeberries and bidens flowers
I can't wait to get spinning!