Dyeing with Elderberry and a PH Experiment

Wednesday, October 14, 2015 – Filed under: Uncategorized ::


We did a ton of natural plant dyeing this season and since I haven’t yet posted about most of them, I hope to sprinkle them into blog posts and add a little bit of color and sunshine to the wintry times ahead. Up first is elderberry.


My daughter was the lead on all of these plant dyeing experiments and I was her assistant. Her first attempt at elderberry dyeing (see above) gave some gorgeous colored silk fibres (both above the label and directly below it) as well as some lighter mauve purple wool yarn and wool roving (left). When we cooked the elderberry dyebath too long and let it get too hot with the fibre inside, it all turned into a rich brown. That led us to believe that elderberry is very temperature-sensitive. It seems to do best in a cool or very very lightly warm dyebath, both for extracting the color and dyeing the fibre.


So, elderberry is temperature sensitive. But what about pH?

To test this she made up a new batch of elderberry dyebath from frozen elderberries. She used a cold method and just soaked them in water for a day or so.

Then she divided the dyebath into 5 little glass jars. And added a variety of acid and alklaline modifiers.


Then she added her fibre (wool and silk primarily) and put them out on the picnic table to gently solar dye for a few days. It was pretty cloudy that week and the jars never got too hot.


The dyebaths were all different and the resulting fibres were all over the color spectrum. Here they are wet, just pulled out of their respective jars and arranged on thick watercolor paper. That happened to be the most absorbent large paper we had around – we only realized after the fact that it was a fantastic way to get a permanent record of the dyes and a pretty bit of art.



Here are the fibre samples all dried out. We tried to rinse them out with water of a similar pH (i.e. acid-modified samples rinsed out in acidic water). Elderberry dyes are notoriously changeable and can be sensitive not only to pH and temperature but also to sunlight.