Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dyeing with Pokeberries

Although pokeberry dye is a fugitive dye and will eventually fade, we have heard many reports from diaries and contemporary publications that women loved the color so much, that they were willing to have to re-dye every few years. When we read this, we just HAD to find out why this color was loved so much to go through all the trouble.

We tried a few variations. First was the straight pokeberry juice with the wool yarn simmered and mordanted with vinegar. 

The yellow color is pokeberry mordanted with vinegar, and then baking soda simmered with it in lieu of lime, to turn it to "solferino". The yarn first turned a honey-carmel color and then changed into a brighter yellow as time went on.

Our third experiment with pokeberries is a receipt from the New England Farmer in 1824 that says to put it in a pumpkin shell for nine days to produce a crimson color. This advice was again repeated by Godey's in 1866. "One old lady made a really brilliant dye by dipping wool in pokeberry juice, and then inclosing (sic) it for several days where Peter put his wife-in a pumpkin shell. The color obtained was a brilliant red."

Well, it's in there! We'll find out on the 10th what color it will become!

We also had to do a bit of silk:

Just stunning! We're curious how long the color will last.


  1. Poke berry dye is amazing! Can't remember it being done at GCM before. The information you learn there is fantastic!

  2. We're glad you enjoyed our experiment! Stay tuned to find out what color we got from the pumpkin.

  3. Great pictures and information! I'm planning a dyeing day here at Historic Brattonsville, and had even planned on dyeing in a pumpkin shell! Did you need to mordant the wool that went into the pumpkin shell or the silk cloth? I'll stay tuned...
    Karen C.

  4. Thanks, Karen! We didn't mordant the wool in the pumpkin shell, but we did wash it and dry it prior to putting in the shell. The silk cloth was mordanted in vinegar in a brass kettle. We'd be happy to send you information on what we found in historic accounts. Seems it was very popular in the South!