Natural Dyeing with Sumac

I’m actually loving this natural dyeing journey. I love exploring nature and just the idea of using natural plants to create colors really speaks to my heart. I’ve been waiting for the sumac around my house to produce berries. I’ve been dyeing quite a bit with dye materials that produce green and yellow and am anxious to try to get a different color. Sumac supposedly produces a pretty peach color.

Preparing to Dye

I purchased this 100% wool yarn in bulk from a mill end outlet for the purpose of experimenting with color without breaking the bank. I wound the yarn into manageable skeins and then mordanted the yarn using a 10% alum and 7% cream of tartar ratio.

Dye Bath

I had in mind creating a deep, deep peach color so I chose the deepest, richest berries to harvest.

I thought I’d get the richest color if I used a lot of sumac- and boy, did I use a lot. I filled the pot right up. I didn’t exactly calculate the WOF and the ratio of dye material to fiber, but if I was to guess it’d be more like 20:1 if not more.

I simmered the berries for about 2 hours- the color was slow to extract. Then using a strainer, I separated the dye material from the water and put in my yarn. The yarn simmered for an hour, cooled in the pot and then washed. Here are the results:

Wait a minute! What? Gold? What the heck! Obviously something didn’t go as expected. We still have tons of sumac growing around Berry Lake so I decided to give it another go. I’m on a mission- I want peach. This time I decided to be a little more scientific about my method. I’m going to use a 2.5:1 WOF ratio and use more regular berries. I’m also wondering if the type of yarn I’m using affects the color so I’m also going to dye a skein of merino super wash. I used the same process for making the dye pot described above. Here are the results:

Well, still goldish brown, but there is a difference between the color of the yarn made with a very heavy (non-measured) dye bath and the one that was dyed with a 2.5:1 WOF dye bath. It looks more dramatic in the picture than in real life, but it is a shade lighter. What was surprising was the difference between the original skein of yarn and the superwash wool. The superwash wool is significantly darker. I still want to see if I could get a peach-ish color so I had one more experiment to do.

This time I wanted to decrease the WOF again and then change the pH. I made a dye pot with 1.5 WOF and then split it into two pots. I kept one pot with just the dye material. I tested the pH and it was a 5 (leaning toward more acidic). I added one teaspoon of washing soda to the second pot. This increased the pH to 10. So let’s see what we have:

Decreasing the WOF lightened the shade of goldish brown for sure in both types wool. Increasing the pH to 10 really lightened the color. All of my experiments with sumac produced variations on the same color. Maybe the variety of sumac that grows around Berry Lake produces this color and not the peach. My friend, Joy, just dyed with sumac from her property so I’m going to compare my colors to hers to see if there is a difference. This is what I find fun about natural dyeing- you really never know what you’re going to get.

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