Out of the Dye Pot: Dogwood Fruit & Lessons in Chemistry

Originally posted Oct 14, 2015

It came to my attention the other day that my neighbor’s dogwood tree is producing fruit.  I’m sure I noticed before but never thought to ask anyone about it.  So, doing a little research, I found out this is a Korean Dogwood variety, and it turns out that that fruit–besides being edible–*supposedly* makes a nice dye stuff.

The sources that I saw online (which I think may have just been quoting each other) said that the berries themselves would make a lovely blue-green yarn.  Unfortunately, they didn’t say what kind of mordant they used*, so it was time to do a little experimentation.  I first mordanted my yarn with alum and cream of tartar.

*They also didn’t mention that there are several different varieties of Dogwood that produces fruit, including one that grows a blue fruit, that, like the Oregon Grape, may create the blue hues.

I picked up a bunch of berries off the ground and off the tree as high as I could reach (there are still plenty I couldn’t reach), and put them into the dye pot.  I let them simmer for a while, which made a rather orangey-tomato-red colored sauce.  I took a sample of yarn and dropped it in there just to see what color it would be.  It came out not blue or green, but a slightly orangy yellow.

Top yarn: the orangy-yellow Dogwood fruit yarn. I dunked into vinegar after pulling it out of the dye pot, which brightened the color just slightly; the white yarn is the undyed yarn, just for color reference; the other yellow is the common tansy yarn, again for a color reference.

A few days ago, I found a reference to making your own iron mordant by taking 2 parts water, 1 part vinegar and placing them into a glass jar and adding rusty nails.  “Well,” says I, “Let’s do that and see what happens!”  I found some rusty nails (thanks to a kind neighbor) and dropped them in the jar with the vinegar and water.  The recipe says you need to wait a week or two, but I didn’t have that kind of time for this project.

So continuing on with the experimental part, says I, “what would happen if I added iron to the bath?”  So after a couple hours, I shook the jar and poured most of the contents into the dye bath with the yarn.  I probably should have started small and added more later, but I figured it was a weak compound having only been sitting for a couple hours.

I checked the yarn a few minutes ago and looking in, it looks like grape jelly.

The yarn, on the other hand, looks like rather blah grey.  Not blue.  Not purple.  Not green.  Blah.  Maybe heather grey…just a hint of blue hue.

I will let it dry a bit and see if the color improves, but so far, you can color me unimpressed.