Natural Dye Notebook :: No. 13, Juniper

Posted by Erin Howe on

As I drove my tractor back and forth, dumping mulch for my blueberry bushes, I kept passing this fat little juniper tree. It was covered in green berries, and I wondered, as I wonder about every plant now, what color is in there?

Peachy tans, it seems. I made a note to come back later in the year when the berries turn blue. 

In the interest of a thorough scientific inquiry, I put juniper needles in the dyepot next. 

Similar peachy tans…but wait. The cardstock sat in the dye overnight, and when I pulled it out and rinsed it in the morning it was definitely pink, and the dye was red. 

Interested, I tried to replicate what I’ve started to call the “red shift” (as though we’re into astrophysics here instead of merely kitchen chemistry). I simmered juniper needles for an hour and left the dye to sit overnight. No dice. Not until I let it simmer another hour and let it sit another night would it do the red thing for me.

And then:

Well, then it did.

Intrigued now, I moved on to juniper bark.

Which was pink from the outset.

Comparing them all gives us a whole range of tans and pinks:

Along with darker colors in the wool. 

When Thanksgiving comes, and this fat little tree is one of the only green spots in my landscape, I take a few of its branches to brighten up my holiday table and home. Now, it seems, I can add another use to my juniper friend. Pretty colors. 

Procedure notes:

Fresh berries, needles, and bark used at 200% weight of fabric/fiber. Bark soaked three days before simmering. Needle dye needs two hours’ simmer and an overnight rest before the it turns red. Soda brings out the peachy colors in immediate needle dye. 


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