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Dyeing Fabric with Poke Berries

Poke plants are a useful, yet misunderstood plant.

They form beautiful berries in late August and September, and I enjoy using them for pokeberry ink and dye.

They are semi-poisonous (not extremely toxic, but they will definitely make you sick) and the smell when dyeing with them is extremely sharp, but - I still like to use the ones that appear in my yard every year.

Here's a simple break-down of the pokeberry dyeing process!

Items Needed

  • Old stock pots (2)

  • Poke berries

  • Vinegar

  • Water

  • Alum

  • Wool fabric or yarn

Making Pokeberry Dye

  • Collect as many poke berries as you can

  • Place the berries into a large stock pot that you won’t be using for food

  • Poke is a semi-toxic plant – when dyeing with these types of plants, always use something that you don’t cook with

  • Cover the plant material thoroughly with water and add one cup of vinegar

  • Bring the mixture to very close to a boil - but do not boil (boiling results in a brown color, and I doubt that you want that)

  • You can use a potato masher to further break down the berries

  • Let this mixture simmer for about two hours

  • Allow to cool and sit out overnight

  • Strain the dye and toss the berries in the garbage

  • Add the dye to the dye pot again

Prepping Your Fiber

I use wool when dyeing with poke, as it seems to retain the proper colors.

· 2 skeins of wool yarn/1 piece of wool fabric

· 2 quarts of water

· 1 cup of vinegar

· (1:8 water to vinegar ratio if prepping larger amounts of fabric/wool/yarn)

· 3 tsp alum

Add the yarn slowly to the mix of water, vinegar, and alum, in a non-aluminum ot.

Don’t move the fabric around much, as when you move wool, it can cause felting of the yarn or fabric.

Bring the water, vinegar, and alum mixture to a boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer for two hours.

Dyeing with Poke

  • Remove the yarn or fabric from the mordant water (the mix of water, vinegar, and alum that you prepared)

  • Push the yarn or fabric into the dye bath until it’s completely covered.

  • Add the mordant liquid to the dye bath – at least half of the mixture.

  • You may throw out your remaining mordant liquid.

  • Heat the dye bath. Bring the bath close to a boil, but not quite at a boil level, and reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer the mixture for two hours.

  • Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to sit in the dye bath overnight

After Dyeing

  • Pull the dyed yarn or fabric from the mixture and squeeze out as much excess dye water as possible – do NOT wring the yarn or fabric

  • Place on a screen or similar object for two hours

  • After two hours, rinse the yarn or fabric in cool water, until the water runs clear

  • Rinse thoroughly and place over the screens again to complete drying

  • Do not lay the yarn or fabric out in the sun, as this will cause the color to fade or change significantly.

  • Don’t leave naturally dyed fabrics in the sunlight


Wash by hand in a wash for delicate fabrics

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