Dear Emily,

I thought I would finally update you on my experiment in natural dyeing conducted earlier this autumn. Here’s the yarn I decided to dye. I used blackthorn berries I had picked myself not far from home (the hedge in front of the new cemetery, which is close to that field where we saw the golden cows, in case you remember), and made a dye “soup” from them by crushing them and simmering them for an hour. I was using the book Wild Colour by Jenny Dean to guide me through the whole process and tell me what to expect. I used a little under 600g of fresh berries, because I meant to dye 500g of yarn.

The book said to strain the dye obtained by simmering, and that it could be used to cold-dye animal fibers. It showed that a pale-ish dusty pink should be the result, which could then become a darker violet if the yarn was saddened afterwards– that is to say, soaked in iron water.

I had prepared iron water beforehand, by dropping rusty nails in a solution of water and white vinegar, and waiting 3 weeks for the liquid to turn a pretty copper colour (copper water turns blue, but iron water is copper coloured. I find it amusing). The iron water’s effect is to darken the shade, but also increase the light-fastness and wash-fastness of the colour.

Long story short, I never got any pink in my yarn. I let it soak in the cold dye bath overnight, and because it didn’t look much better than grey-ish, I tried heating it up too (the book said I could). I had two batches and tried several things, but no matter what I did and how long I let the yarn soak (I even dyed some of it twice), in the end I could only get this greenish grey.

I suspect that the colour of the yarn is due more to the iron water than to the blackthorn berry dye bath. Perhaps they weren’t good berries. He’s a before-and-after picture.

I might attempt to overdye this yarn in the future, if I can forage for another source of natural dye, but all in all I’m not actually displeased by this colour. I’m disappointed that I couldn’t get the purple shade I saw in the book, yes, but as ever with natural dyeing, there is a depth to the colour that is very pleasing. Perhaps I’ll just look for a yarn to pair with this one to make stripes; I have a feeling this grey could be a perfect complimentary tone.