Perusing my natural dyeing book, Harvesting Color, one of the colors that attracted me was the red/magenta of pokeberries. I can tell you the day I first saw a pokeberry plant–September 16th. It was the day before Anne and James left to return to New Zealand and part of our family day was a game of touch football played on the field next to our house. John, James and Anne were playing against Taylor, Johnny and Laura*. My job was to keep Kellen off the field. While doing so I spotted a pokeberry plant at the corner of my back yard and the baseball field. Hmmm.
It took me three weeks to get around to harvesting the pokeberries. I’d learned that my friend had a whole patch of them behind her garage and I also noticed some growing behing my neighbor’s garage. But I was busy with other things and just didn’t get to it.
Until October 11th. I had to take my car to LaGrange for servicing and thought it would be a good chance to harvest Marilyn’s pokeberries. But to my surprise, every last one of them was gone! The birds had beat me to them. (My book suggested that I leave some berries for the birds, but they weren’t even that considerate!)
I came home and checked the plant behind my neighbor’s garage and found a few clumps of berries. And a few more clumps (but not many) by the baseball field. Then I went in my own back yard and found a few more plants beneath the overgrowth of weeds that I’ve complained about for years–full of berries that the birds hadn’t found! I harvested about half of what I needed but enough to at least make a trial run. I needed a ratio of 25:1, weight of the berries to the yarn, which meant I could only dye about half an ounce of yarn with my 12.5 ounces of berries harvested.
I followed the recipe, pulling the berries off their stems and crushing them inside a zip-loc bag. I added water and vinegar and let the vat steep for about an hour. I also soaked the yarn in a vinegar mordant, as directed. I thought I removed most of the berries and seeds before adding the yarn, but discovered that I didn’t get all of them by a long shot. I had to hand pick lots of tiny seeds and more than a few berry skins out of the yarn both that night and the following morning. I let the yarn soak overnight, hoping to get a dark, rich color. It looked promising.
I woke up early the next day, excited to see my dyed yarn.
It still looked good when I removed it from the vat.
But faded even more when I rinsed it, a lovely heather shade.
Still, it’s quite nice and satisfying.
Later the same day, I went out looking for acorns to make a tannin solution for another part of the dyeing process. Simple huh? Find an oak tree and pick up lots of acorns on the ground. Well, I’d waited too long to harvest acorns as well. The squirrels beat me to the acorns, leaving only the shells.
I had no idea I’d be competing with the birds and animals for my dyeing supplies. No slow poke-ing it next year when it comes to acorns or pokeberries!
*Just a note: That football game ended memorably when an unnamed player got a little too enthusiastic, taking down not one but two opposing players. Laura said it best when she explained how she got a huge abrasion on her thigh: “I was playing touch football with a rugby player.”