Dyeing with Mulberries

Mulberries have become a pretty important harvest here. We have two trees (conveniently right where the berry patch is) that we happily pick from every year. It does take a bit of work to get them. My preferred method has been to spread a sheet over the grass and either shake the branches or pick by hand, dropping the berries to the sheet, then gathering them up. They don’t have the zing a blueberry or raspberry has and the little green stems can make for an interesting texture in your mouth but they are probably my favorite berry here, just behind blueberry. The fact they taste sweet and are a nutritional powerhouse, loaded with vitamin K, C and iron and are free and organic helps their appeal as well, I’m sure. I managed to put over two gallon bags in the freezer as I’m hoping to make a mulberry jelly as well as mulberry cordial. (More on that later.)

But every year, I look with sadness at the berries wasted: way up in the trees, unreachable and eventually falling to the ground, smooshed and dirty. Then I had a clever idea on how to use the “seconds”—the ones that aren’t the best to eat but are still worthy of other uses, like dyeing! I laid a couple tarps down and every morning and every night, over the span of four or five days, I had accumulated enough to feel confident to get a decent color.

Berries, however, are usually what they call “fugitive” dyes, meaning they don’t hold to the fiber and tend to fade or wash away. So I prepared for that possible disappointment in the back of my mind. Although I have been reading up a bit about the science of dyeing, mordants, modifiers, PH and what not, I still like going with my gut. This time I stuck with my familiar route (what can I say? I’m a Taurus) of alum and cream of tartar as a mordant. Then did an after bath with vinegar. Whatever I did, it worked! I will say I used a lot of material in ratio to the fiber so that probably aided in the dark color. I’ll also admit, after I took these photos I realized they aren’t perfectly accurate. It was very hard to capture the color—it’s not so shiny looking, a bit darker and more of a greenish gray with a purple-y brown through it.

Behind the scenes photos here. And this photo shows what the pillowcase I used to strain the berries with looked like a few days and a few heavy rainstorms later.