Dyeing for Blueberries

This book provides a wonderful introduction to creating and
using plant-based dye.
A little over a year ago, full of creative aspirations, I purchased a book at my local Barnes and Noble.  Entitled Natural Dyeing, this work is a well-organized, clear, and visually appealing  guide to using fruits, roots, leaves, and other natural products to create colorful raw fiber, fabric, and yarn.  This weekend I finally took the time to experiment with dyeing wool yarn with blueberries I had in the freezer—fruit which was a couple of years old, shriveled, and dehydrated. 
While Jackie Crook, the author of Natural Dyeing, does not give specific instructions for dyeing blueberries, I followed the general directions she provided for using blackberries.  I’ll share some instructions here, but be aware that there are different processes for different types of fiber, and that some substances, such as indigo, require vat dyeing—a procedure different from the one I used.  The author of this beautifully designed and informative book, however, does encourage fiber artists to experiment—as I did a bit with my project, since I used blueberries instead of blackberries and yarn, rather than the raw fiber suggested in her chapter on blackberry-based dye. 
Synthetic fibers do not retain natural dyes, so wool, cotton, and silk are the best choices.   There are many types of
mordants, which help fiber hold color, but to dye using blackberries, the author suggests using alum, combined with cream of tartar (so I used the same mixture for my blueberry experiment).   
I wound my yarn on an old-fashioned yarn winder, so that it would open up to absorb dye.  Be sure to
tie hanks of yarn in several places, to avoid tangling. 
Add a few drops of laundry detergent to the hanks of yarn and let soak, then rinse. 
I used a kitchen scale to measure the alum and cream of tartar.  For wool, the amount of alum used should equal 10 percent of the dry weight of the material to be weighed.  Cream of Tartar equal to seven percent of the total weight of the fiber should be combined with the alum.  Look at the weight in grams on the yarn package and do some calculating. 
Let the water with the mordant and the yarn simmer for an hour, and then let sit,
preferably overnight. 
In her book, Crook suggests using 10 1/2 ounces of blackberries for every
100 grams of fiber.  I had a lot of fiber (three skeins at 227 grams each), so I figured that I should have an amount of berries equal to Crook's instructions for blackberries.  I guesstimated a bit, but used at least five-to-seven pounds of berries.  Take berries and simmer for one hour, and then steep for another hour.  Strain berries.  (I wasn't too concerned about consistency of color, so I strained right into the pot that contained the yarn.) 

Simmer the wool in the dye bath for one hour.  If you want consistent color, be
 sure to stir a bit.  Cool until yarn reaches desired color. 

Rinse the yarn in water that is the same temperature as the
cooled dye bath. Notice how the hue really changes after

Hang up to dry. 

Wind into ball and start knitting!
As the state of North Carolina is set to demolish my mother-in-law's blueberry patch (the prolific source of the berries in my freezer) in order to build an access road to a highway, I hope to use my new yarn to create a garment to wear as a reminder of summer hours in the country spent picking berries.  Robert Frost's poem "Blueberries" best expresses the awe-inspiring nature of each new crop:    

"You ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson's pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!"

Announcement:  The winner of last week's prize giveaway is Knitmish.  She is a nursing student who is also a prolific knitter, with a display of gorgeous projects on Ravelry.  Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment on my blog.


  1. Wow! We have blueberries, but they have been disappearing before they fully ripen. No, it is not the birds...Just one guess!

  2. What a wonderful post! And what an exciting foray into natural dyeing! I love dyeing things but haven't used natural fruit or vegetable based dyes. Amazing to see the finished colour of the rinsed yarn - actually much closer to the original raw bluer colour of the blueberries than the cooked purple one which seems much redder. You are impressively equipped with winding gizmos! I need one of these as skeins of yarn and I have got in a fearful pickle in the past! Looking forward to seeing what you knit up with your newly-dyed yarn. Sad that your mother-in-law's blueberry patch must go to make way for asphalt - sic transit gloria mundi. What a lovely poem to end with too - have copied it out onto the blueberry muffin page of my handwritten recipe book. E x

  3. So sorry to hear that the blueberry patch will be demolished, that is such a shame. I love the dye job though! It looks wonderful, I cannot wait to see it knitted up into something pretty. I'm interested as to why you need to add cream of tartar to the alum, I've never heard of that before, but obviously it worked!

  4. Love all of the chemistry in dyeing! We'll have to try this in our clubs at school. Exciting!

  5. Hi do you need to set the color with salt or vinegar or anything?


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