Between my back door and the dyehouse door there is an elder tree, at the moment it is overloaded with berries and taunts me everytime I walk out of the back door!
In the back of my mind I was convinced that I had read in Ethel Mairet's book (Natural Dyes) that if you dye linen with elderberries then it is a permanent dye, so I thought I would do an experiment!
The first thing was to find the book - this was a success!!! I found the relevant page and read under
"Elder Sambucus nigra Berries"
then a little further down
"Sloe* Prunus communis. Fruit"
"*on boiling sloes, their juice becomes red, and the red dye which imparts to linen changes, when washed with soap, into a bluish colour, which is permanent"
Aha - I had read it, but got my berries muddled! So off I went to the sloes at the end of the field. This photo looks like a damson but I can assure you the thorns got us when collecting the fruit! (I fancy having a pick at the lichen, but I'm a good girl and I won't touch it!!!) from the bush we got about 750g of fruit. Into the pan it went and was boiled for about 3/4 hour. I then left it overnight and maybe this is where things went wrong!
The colour of the fruit when boiling was much darker than this pinky colour I have here - this was taken after straining out the mush, it's frothy cos it's just been strained into a jug and then poured back into the pan.
I had a piece of linen cloth and a piece of wool cloth which together weighed about 150g, so I thought that was a very generous ratio of dyestuff to fibre and immersed them and heated them back to boiling and kept there for about another 3/4 hour.
The colour was a pretty wishy washy pink as far as I can see! The linen is on the left and the wool on the right.
So the instructions say wash in soap and the colour should change - out came the soap flakes - hmmm neutral, olive oil soap? Still no colour change, in the end I decided that all my detergents are neutral and tried adding washing soda to the washing water!!! I have to be honest and say I can't see much happening in the water, but I left everything soaking overnight again in the vague hope that some miracle would happen. !
I guess the answer has to be - NO!
The wool (on the left) has actually changed more than the linen (which looks exactly the same to me!)
I will do a lightfastness test on them in my South facing window and see what happens, but I don't think that this has done what Ethel suggested!
I have also now found a reference in Dominique Cardon (Natural Dyes) to dyeing with Elder - so maybe I will collect the fruit and try it. Bilberry seems to be the best of the fruits with quite a few finds showing evidence of being dyed with them, however my absolute FAVORITE pie is bilberry, (or whimberry if you're a Lancashire lass like me) so if I pick any I know where they'll be going and it won't be a dyepot!