When my friend Emily mentioned earlier this year that blackberries could be used to dye yarn, I knew it was something I'd like to try. Another friend of mine has wild blackberries overtaking her garden in August every year. They grow faster than anyone could eat them. I made lots of blackberry jam last summer (in fact I still have a few jars left). So this year, when blackberry season started in early August, Emily and I set out to dye some yarn. Using her copy of Wild Color by Jenny Dean and Karen Diadick Casselman, we figured out what we needed. We went to our LYS (Weaving Works). I picked some thick/thin wool yarn (hopefully enough for a scarf) and Emily chose two skeins of fingering weight merino. I also decided to dye some leftover ivory-colored Cascade 220. We were dying about a pound of fiber.
First step, soaking the yarn in water for over an hour. Then, I prepared a mordant solution with alum 8% and cream of tartar 7%. I boiled the yarn for a good 45 minutes, and then let it soak overnight in the mordant solution. The next day, I picked about 3 pounds of blackberries (I didn't realize how heavy blackberries were!). We only needed a pound of blackberries for our dye bath. I boiled the blackberries and strained them to get the deep pink blackberry juice. We rinsed the yarn thoroughly and put it back in the pot with fresh water and all the blackberry juice. We let this simmer for about 40 minutes, then let it cool a little. At that point, the yarn was a pinkish mauve.
We had to let the yarn sit in the blackberry dye bath overnight, so we divided it in two so that Emily could bring her yarn back home with her. I rinsed my yarn out the next morning and hung it to dry. Emily waited until the next night to rinse hers. We decide against the iron treatment, because iron solutions are somewhat toxic and need to be disposed of as hazardous waste. We didn't want to deal with any of that. After rinsing and drying off, my yarn ended up a pale lavender.
The Cascade 220 actually a little darker shade than the untreated yarn. Emily's yarn is also a different shade, somewhere in between.
The color looks slightly different depending on the lighting, ranging from a dusky grey to a very light mauve. The mordant is supposed to help stabilize the color, so it won't fade over time. I guess we'll have to wait to see how well the color holds up...
I think the thick/thin yarn will make a nice scarf. I'm not sure how I'll use the Cascade 220 yet. It'll have to be something quite small, or maybe part of a fair-isle project.