Grackle & Sun

The Fast and the Fugitive: Pokeberry Edition

It is once again time to play…




I sandwiched the samples from each of the original pokeberry dyebaths between heavy cardboard and taped it up against a south-facing window for a month.  All yarn is 100% wool mordanted with vinegar only.  Here are the results:

Pokeberry–First Dyebath

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-25-02 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-24-25 PM

Pokeberry–Second Dyebath (First exhaust)

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-26-29 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-26-05 PM

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-27-47 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-27-35 PM

Pokeberry—Third Dyebath (Second Exhaust):  These are on superwash wool.  Somehow I didn’t test the skein of regular wool from this bath.  Not sure why.

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-29-10 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-28-43 PM

Pokeberry—Cold Dyebath

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-30-47 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-30-05 PMSo far, I think everything is as should be expected.  We know that pokeberry is not normally lightfast, but that with proper mordanting and dyeweight ratios, can be made more so.   You can see a substantial difference in the lightfastness between the original dyebath and the two exhaust baths.  Here is the good news.  This lightfastness test was conducted in a room in my house lovingly known as The Snug, short for Snuggery, aka the Sun Room.  It is a very tiny little nook of a room made entirely of mullioned windows.  For the purposes of this post, that means that anything in the room gets not only full south-facing sun, but also east and west sun, as well.  The photos you’ve seen so far are of the side of the yarn which had direct south-facing exposure pressed right up on the glass.  The next series of photos are of the back side of the exposed yarn—the side exposed to normal daily levels of ambient light from the east and west windows.  You can just see the outlines of the direct-exposed areas.  It’s like the yarn has tan lines.  Look at this:

First Dyebath

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-25-17 PM

Second Dyebath (First Exhaust)

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-26-42 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-28-01 PM

Third Dyebath (Second Exhaust)

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-29-23 PM

Pretty cool, huhn?  The first dyebath had almost no fading on the ambient-exposed side of the yarn.  The exhaust baths had very little.  I think this is a good sign that these pokeberry dyed yarns will stand up to regular wear in normal lighting.  I mean, it’s not like anyone is going to be wearing handknit items when the UV levels are crazy high, so I’m not terribly worried about it.  I’m particularly impressed with the cold dye process.  Not only did it dye awesomely, but it was the most lightfast out of the bunch, too.  The back side of the sample was as purple as the covered section.  It was just hard to get a good picture of it.

Next, I’ve got to get lightfastness tests of the raceme dyelots.  Gotta wait for more sun, though.  Until then,

Live happy, dye happy!

Single Post Navigation

24 thoughts on “The Fast and the Fugitive: Pokeberry Edition

  1. This is pretty exciting. I have to admit that lightfastness is probably my topmost concern in plant-based dyes. I love playing around with a variety of them, but so far only a few recipes stood up to the tests of beauty, replicability, and fastness well enough to share.

    • I think that it is definitely a concern, especially if one is in the market to sell said naturally dyed yarn. However, as I am both a lover of processes and a believer in remembering the impermanence of all things, the fact that a beautiful colour may fade over time does not reduce its value to my own dyeing. And playing around with what might make a dye more or less fast is fascinating. I’ve read that pokeberries were commonly used as a dye by early settlers, and it was just a given fact that garments dyed with poke would have to be periodically re-dyed to refresh the colour. Today, this would be seen as inconvenient and undesirable, but I cannot help but think there is something lovely about accepting that extra bit of work as a condition of getting such wonderful colours from this abundant natural resource. Of course, I might change my mind if I actually had to do it. Lol. It will be interesting to see how the knitted goods hold up with wear. Have to figure out what to knit first. :D

  2. I used to work in a place with a dress code requiring black pants or skirts and white or black tops. Faded black could draw censure from management. We all developed cycles of periodically throwing a load of RIT black together to refresh our blacks. Compared to the inconvenience and expense of new clothes, it was easy!

    Of course we didn’t have to gather berries weeks or months ahead…

    • What’s funny is that the fading you are talking is with synthetic dyes. It is easy to forget that synthetics are every bit as prone to fading with washing and UV exposure as natural dyes—albeit not usually in as short an amount of time. Tossing them in with RIT is a great idea! (I, too, work in a place requiring the black uniform of doom and understand the fading well).

  3. Thanks for your careful investigation of lightfastness. And these thoughts on impermanence. I have redyed my black hemp shirt and linen shorts about 3 times now. The fabric sure outlasts the dye and these are clothes and fabrics I love. It’s much quicker than making a new set.

    • You know, there were a few posts on the Ravelry natural dyeing blogs that really resonated with me and got me thinking about this. Carol Lee from Encampment, Wyoming, a well-respected natural dyer with decades of experience had this to say about lightfastness in one of her posts:

      “The berry dyes are much the same, lovely to look at, but destined to fade to mostly gray tones. In our generations we want colors that stay put for the effort we put in to gain them. In past history that was not always the case, particularly in the home dyer who was just looking for something to brighten up their nearly black, white, and brown world. It didn’t particularly matter that the color faded. It brought joy for a time, and then it was back into the pot for new color.”

      And another dyer, John, has also brought up wonderful points about lightfastness. He said this in one of his posts:

      “My partner Alan just did “nature dyeing” at his spinning certificate course this past summer, and he raised the question about lightfastness. The reply was interesting!! “Lightfastness is a very Western concept.” In other words, in many cultures they don’t (or didn’t) worry about it a whole lot, because garments would be repeatedly dyed to refresh them, and likely repaired at the same time. It made me think of Buddhist Monk robes dyed with saffron, a rich and glowing colour that would maybe fade enough it would need a touch-up in a year or two. Perhaps it would get sent to the indigo vat and live a whole new life in a different tone for awhile. Are our expectations of light-fastness (in general) too stringent? Dunno!”

      And another interesting thing is how many people disagree on the fastness of individual dyestuffs. Many people, for example, say that onion skins are known for not being lightfast at all, while others say the total opposite, claiming them to be one of the few substantive dyes. Why the difference? Are people getting different results due to dyeing methods? Or maybe their methods for testing lightfastness differ? Maybe even the strength of the sun by region effects the results and therefore the opinion on the dye’s fastness? Fastness comes up a lot with black bean dyeing. For some people, the dye has remained to their satisfaction, and for others, it has not. And I wonder if it really is a difference in the degree of actual fading or a difference in the amount of fading that is acceptable to one person vs another, you know what I mean? And then there are some dyes where fading is acceptable—indigo, for example. To the extent that even our blue jeans, which are no longer even dyed with real indigo, are still expected to fade—and it’s a desirable trait which adds character and depth to the garment. So why not with other fabrics and dyes?

      I think that this topic is fascinating for its scientific relevance to natural dyeing, but I think that it is most important because it seems to be the topic of fastness, more than any other, that keeps people from appreciating the value and validity of natural dyeing. And while finding ways of making individual dyestuffs more fast is advantageous, I think examining our issues with permanence and impermanence may be every bit as necessary to show that natural dyeing has a rightful place in today’s textile market. I really appreciate all the comments here from you and others that show that people are willing to view the “refreshing” of a dye as just part of the process.

  4. Hi and thanks for the beautiful blog. In return for your generosity I might help with some info. I am a fan of processes myself. Only a beginner in dyeing, but I suspect a process was lost with the centuries. Undocumented process alas. In France there are a few dyers who believe that cold fermenting baths or fibers in baths is the way to go, mainly because colours are more light and wash fast. No formal studies that I know of. Just hearsay. You seem to confirm their practice with your study of phytolacca. I am in the process of tests of a related procedure via my own blog (in French) but if you are interested in the method initiated by Anne Rieger, there is one website in English:

    • Thank you! That is very interesting. I can’t wait to read more. You know there is a great dyer in Wales who has the blog Tyfu Lliw. She does a lot of solar dyeing, and her results seem to support the idea that the long, slow “cold” dyebaths might be the way to go for a lot of dyestuffs. Lots to experiment with! Please do link to your blog, as well. I’ll get the Google to translate. ;)

    • Thanks for visiting my blog. I really love the fermentation dyeing, but find that if it is not done the proper way, colours fade as much. After dyeing the fibres need to cure for a long time, of for example with felting the colours come out. The fantastic side with the technique of Anne Rieger, is that you can dye vegetable fibres without mordants.

      • Part of the appeal of this method is the increased sustainability and the fact that there are no mordants to worry about disposing of. I also love that it is an old, old way of dyeing. I’ve been trying to find as much information as possible on the technique, and the name Anne Rieger comes up often, but I cannot find any direct sources to her method. If you can point me in the right direction, I would appreciate it. It is interesting that that the colour fades with felting–I’m assuming from the heat. Is lightfastness effected, as well?

  5. My blog in French is not a real blog, it is a place where I write down my own test notes and work in progress, published in the hope that a few readers can benefit from some crumbles. It is a draft for a book-to-be on alternate ways in dyeing (and painting). Address: – follow the posts starting with “teintures”. I was planning to comment on growingcolours too (in Wales) and at Riihivilla’s place too.

  6. another track to follow: at Isabelle has been using a fermentation process for her threads (wool; cotton; silk) with great success.
    See the top picture at all fibers are dyed with this process. Gorgeous isn’t it? Isabelle reads English, hope she writes fluent English to reply to your questions.

    • Yes, it is an attractive method for econological reasons. But this is what I could understand from my dyeing discovery journey (only a few months old, I may be completely wrong).
      1. Old method: alas, I am afraid I will disappoint you. There is no historical track that we know of. The urban legend in DyeLand says Mrs Anne Rieger rediscovered old ways. Actually, it appears she made up a fine method, based on an experiment published by Le Pileur in an old book (1750+-? An experiment to demonstrate the power of pH). Or… it could be she rediscovered unwritten methods of old Celts, by chance. I share the view that our Ancestors would not have used fuel so hard to gather (or water in some parts of the world) and would have used cold dyeing. Maybe. Maybe not. Still researching. Not much written evidence, though. I am planning on having an interview with Dominique Cardon next year on the subject. Hope she agrees.
      2. Lightfastness: all dyers that use the method say so, but I have found no actual tests comparing a traditional dye and a fermentation dye of same plant on same fiber, in same conditions. Michel Garcia, whom I interviewed on the subject, is ready to have fastness tests in a lab made if I bring him the stuff.
      3. no mordants: true for silk and wool; not so efficient for cellulosic fibers, say the dyers. Most fermentation dyers use wool or silk because cotton is so disappointing to them. I am still not clear about that because I have made some tests with alum acetate a la Garcia, with milk baths, with no mordant and the colours look OK on cotton fabric and linen thread.

      My hypothesis as to how this method works is on page Maybe some more chemistry oriented dyers could help in understanding?

      • Also, may I ask where did you find the methods outlined by Anne Rieger? I saw that you mentioned there are still some sources available online, but I’ve been unable to find them. So, I don’t know exactly what her method is. I did just order an ebook on fermentation dyeing by Kimberly Baxter Packwood entitled Compost Dyeing and Other Fermentation Dyeing Techniques. I’m planning on reading it in the next few days and would love to compare it to other methods.

    • Yes, I’ve read that “old” referred to roughly the 17th century, and that’s pretty old for us Americans, lol. However, I did just find a German article that refers to known Finnish fermentation dyes of the Iron Age (

      As far as lightfastness is concerned, it would be interesting to compare, wouldn’t it? I’ve found that even with regular dyeing methods, opinions on lightfastness vary widely for a variety of dyestuffs. One question I have is if the dual baths created with the fermentation method (acidic and alkaline) is just for the purpose of achieving different colours or if it is an integral part of the process form making the dye fast? I am suspecting the latter, but I’m not sure.

      And now I’m off to read your blog. ;)

  7. Lizet, what do you mean exactly “if it is not done the proper way”? What steps in your opinion could be carried out wrong? Thanks! Taty

    • Taty, there is a lot that can go wrong, that is what I found out the hard way.
      -The first most important thing is the quality of water. According to AR it needs to sit for 4 months, so that impurities can sink. I haven’t done that and use rainwater, which is quite clean here, but it all depends on your local water.
      -Temperature: when too high, the ferments and microbes can die, when too low, fermentation starts slowly which will give different colours. This is not necessarily bad, but might be disappointing when you expect a certain colour. Colours seem to turn brown or tan when the fermentation is not starting well.
      -I am no expert, but have experimented with it and that is how I came to this conclusion.
      -the alternative dips in acid and alcaline bath are very important for lightfastness. Unfortunately, I don’t know what the reason behind this is. I would love to know.
      -Curing long enough is one of the most important things, which I found out recently. I had some madder dyed wool that had cured for over 6 months and no colour came out during felting. In the same week, I used madder dyed wool that had cured for one week and the colour that was left was really light. So that seems to be an important part in this method. I think it happens because I use soap in felting and a lot more than if I would just wash the wool.
      I find it an interesting journey and am happy to find some other people who are interested in trying it.

      • “may I ask where did you find the methods outlined by Anne Rieger? ”
        Her 5 articles published in an ecological magazine ten or twenty years ago are available as pdfs on the internet. In French. They will not teach you much more than what you can read as instructions on the websites of “fermenteuses”. Actually she changed the method since. I called her, she is planning on writing a book on the subject. I have not met her yet in person long enough, but a French chemistry professor turned dyer had a long two day interview with her. I will ask him your questions when I meet him (next month I hope).
        ciao Taty

      • dual baths: the aim is clearly lightfastness according to Rieger. I interviewed Isatinctoria on fermentation. According to her experience, drying in between dips is much more the key to success. She does not alternate baths, it makes things easier. Imagine if you have ten plants in acidic baths, it means ten more pots for the alkaline ones.

      • When I said that I don’t know the reason behind using the 2 baths, I expressed myself wrong. It is, as you mentioned, for light fastness. I just wanted to say that I don’t know what exactly happens in the dye baths that makes it more lightfast. From what I understand is that the air is alcaline, so after exposure to the air, the fibres will gradually take on another colour, so that is why she puts it in an alcaline bath to make that happen and the colour would be stable. that is what I understand anyway. Still, I am very interested in more information.
        As far as I know, Isabelle from Isatinctoria uses acid and alcaline baths, unless she has changed her method. There are many different methods of fermentation and the one Kimberley uses is totally different. I think it is important to experiment and find the most suitable method for your needs. Anne Rieger needed colours to last for centuries. Deciding on our needs will help us to choose the most suitable method.
        Have fun with it. Lizet.

      • It is important to have fun with dyeing. :D Thank you for the conversation!

  8. “Finnish fermentation dyes of the Iron Age”
    There is amore detailed description of the method at Riihivilla’s blog, where Leena also explores fermentation vats. I reread the whole Cardon book with an eye on fermentation techniques. All I could find was basic vats, like the Finnish one; or like indigo. Leena also cold-dyes in madder (acidic if I remember well) over nine days. No alternating and drying. She seems very trustworthy to me, I appreciate her methodic view on dyeing. She would not do it if she was not sure of light- and washfastness (and sweat fastness, a detail we often overlook…), would she? She also got a marvelous colour with alcaline fermentation of buckthorn bark according to Ancients as per Cardon. But I suppose all of you alternative dyers know her website already.

    • Thank you very much for all of the information. It is most helpful. There are so many variables and variations with dyeing. It is fascinating to learn about them all. Cardon’s book is one that I want to get, and I’ve heard wonderful things about Garcia’s videos, as well. And if Rieger does write a book, that would be quite something. I love Riihivilla’s blog, and will have to search for her fermentation experiments on there. Thanks again for the great conversation! Cheers!

Add to the conversation :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: