Saskatoon berries (Amelanchier alnifolia)

Berries are special, tricky but special. I didn’t even know this berry existed before I moved to Regina, but it was very much used by the natives here (it was supposedly one of the ingredients of pemmican). It looks a bit like a large blueberry, though it is supposedly more closely related to apple, it tastes a bit more like black currant maybe, and once you cook it, it smells beautifully of cooked sour cherries. And it dyes. This was made from cooked frozen Saskatoon berries with alum.

Shades of blue are just the Saskatoon berry dye, and other shades are over-dyed with other colors. The dye is rather strong and tends to overpower the colors under it, but if you put it into red or yellow after the blue, shades and even different colours can be achieved. The purple egg is sappan wood over sask berries, the green ones are coreopsis and elderflower over sask. The yellow on the light-blue egg in the bottom is elderflower, then the egg was etched with vinegar back to white, and the light blue is a quick dip (maybe 5 min.) of a white egg into sask berry dye.

The question is, how long will the color last? Berry dyes tend to be not very lightfast, so I’ll need to do some experiments and wait and see what happens.

Dried elderflower

And here is a smell from childhood, we used to make a drink from fresh elderflowers. I wanted to try this for a while now, it gave a beautiful and quite even bright yellow in just 10 minutes.

The recipe is usual for dried flowers, put as many as you have (I had a lot, so I put maybe 40g), add water (enough to submerge 1 egg and a little extra), simmer for about 10 min, drain the liquid and add alum to it, once it’s cool, use as dye.

Buckthorn bark

Buckthorn berries (and less so the bark) have been traditionally used for dyeing in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, later also by professional dyers in North America. I didn’t have access to the berries, but I bought the bark in the herb store and tried it. This buckthorn variety is Rhamnus frangula, other varieties exist and have been used for dyeing even more than this one. The egg on the left is the dye with alum, the one on the right is the same dye post-mordanted with iron.

The books (Wild Color by J.Dean) say that you can extract the dye from this bark without even cooking it, by just pouring boiling water over it and soaking overnight. It is suggested to then simmer the bark again to obtain the second batch of the dye. I tried both, with more or less the same result, so you could make half a batch by soaking and the other half by simmering and then mix them together. Like most wood or bark chips, you can dry them out afterwards and try using again for lighter shades. I have also added some cream of tartar to one of the dyes, as this was suggested by Maiwa, but didn’t see much of the difference. Still it’s something worth experimenting with in the future.

The dye itself doesn’t have a very nice smell, however, unlike most natural dyes it did not spoil after sitting for months on a warm counter. I have made it in mid-December, and it still works in March. From that point, it is definitely a keeper, worth exploring more. The color is also very nice, and seems to give a lot of potential for over-laying with other colors. The iron post-wash was not particularly effective and has partially come off when the wax was removed, it might have worked better if I added the iron directly into the dye instead of soaking the egg in iron-water. I might try that next time, I actually do have two batches of this (and it doesn’t spoil!), so I can turn one of them into an iron batch.