Natural Dye Notebook :: No. 7, Black Cherry

Posted by Erin Howe on

And then I came to the trees. Dyeing with weeds and plants from around the farm is one thing, but dyeing with tree leaves and bark feels entirely next level. I’ll show you why. Above is the sample set I got from wild black cherry leaves with my usual process, which is: Simmer the dyestuff for an hour, strain it out and put the soaked fabric and fiber in, then simmer for another hour. Put one cotton swatch into some dyebath with some soda in it and one into a bath with some lemon juice or vinegar in it. Rinse it all out, let it dry, and see what you’ve got. 

I also put a little hot dye into a mini bread pan and stick my cardstock in there. That soaks for a couple of hours, then I rinse that too and let it dry. The day I did cherry leaves, it was late and I didn’t empty the bread pan and wash it. And this is where black cherry got interesting. 

When I came back in the morning the dye was blood red. I did a double-take, neither of the things I’d dyed with the day before had been blood red. I suspected the cherry leaves, and I quickly set up another dyepot. Simmered for an hour, strained, and left it overnight, before putting my sample stack in. 

It’s a completely different set of colors. 

Just soaking in the overnight dye without heating gave me golds:

So at this point, with this many colors from leaves, I was excited to see what black cherry bark could do. 

To make bark dye, I peel or shave the bark off of young branches, not the trunk of the tree. I’ll show you why when we get to river birch. Then I put the shavings in a jar with hot water and leave them to soak for several days. Then I use them like regular dyestuff. So I did that with cherry bark and got this:

Muted pinks. Nice. The wool gets orangey. Now that I know cherry’s secret, though, I left the bark dye to sit overnight and did it again:



Aha! Black cherry bark overnight dye did not disappoint. So now we have four options from black cherry: leaves, leaves overnight, bark, and bark overnight. Which brings me to this photo, a comparison of all four: (Yes, I geeked out HARD making this photo)

Stick with me here a sec while I explain. Top two rows are leaves, bottom two are bark. Top one of each is immediate, bottom is overnight. Technically we have five color options, don’t forget those crazy golds the leaves made.

So black cherry is pretty versatile in the range of colors we can make with it. It all depends, it seems, on when in the process of cherry’s journey to blood red you do your dyeing. This accidental discovery led to my adding another step to my process; let the dye sit overnight and see what you get in the morning. The most common results of this experiment are a) no change or b) intensified color. Still, it’s worth a try because every now and then you’ll get an accidental magical red. 

Procedure notes:

Usually I use 200% weight of goods with fresh dyestuff. To try to pinpoint the culprit in the blood-red dye mystery, though, I didn’t measure the second cherry leaves dyebath. So it’s not quite the rigorous apples-to-apples comparison I usually stick to. Still. Culprit found and apprehended. 


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