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!
Old stock pots (2)
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
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