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How to Dye Yarn with Berries – Part 2

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Ball of pale lavender yarn with knitting needle and end of knitted scarf.

Dyeing yarn with berries is a fun way to create a unique homemade yarn for knitting scarves, hats, etc. and it’s a fairly simple process too. It takes more time than going to the store and just buying skeins of yarn, of course, but if you enjoy DIY and craft projects then natural dyeing is a fun activity and a way to experiment with different dye materials and colors. 

I choose to use berries for this experiment because I thought it would be fun to try dyeing with them, because I didn’t have to worry about anything toxic with them, and because they are so easily accessible. It’s important to note, though, that berries produce more of a stain than a natural dye, so the color may fade over time, especially if you wash the yarn or leave it exposed to light. Most natural dyes can have a tendency to fade over time, so you may find that you end up with a lighter color as time goes by, but if that happens you can always re-dye your yarn in the future as was commonly practiced by people before synthetic dyes were created. You can help to keep your yarn color for longer by storing it out of the light and by gently hand washing it with mild soap.

(And for those interested in history, I’ll also add an update that in the years since I first dyed this yarn with berries I’ve learned that people living in earlier centuries were more likely to use other dye materials to produce pink and lavender shades such as cochineal, logwood, brazilwood, etc. rather than using berries, but since berries are so easy for most people to get at a grocery store at any time of the year now, I think they’re a good introduction to trying natural dyeing.) 

In my last post about preparing yarn for dyeing, I described the steps I took to prepare my yarn, and these steps are important to follow before you put your yarn into the dye pot if you want good results from your dye experiment. Once you’ve finished the preparation process, it’s time for the fun part – dyeing the yarn!

These are the steps I used to dye yarn with berries:

How to Dye Yarn with Berries

Step 1) Choose the Berries

For my yarn, I used a combination of blueberries and cranberries. I used about a pint (2 cups) of blueberries and 1 cup of cranberries. If you have other berries available, though, you can certainly experiment with using different combinations of berries to produce different shades of color.

Step 2) Mash and Simmer the Berries.

Crushing the berries helps to release their juices and makes the whole process a bit faster. I just put my berries into a large pot and used a spoon to mash them up. Then I added enough water to cover all of the berries (6-8 cups of water is probably a good amount). It’s best to have soft water, but if you don’t, you can add a spoonful of vinegar to the water to soften it. Simmer the berries for at least 30 minutes but, if you have time, you can leave them in for longer to allow more of the juice to get into the water.

Step 3) Strain the Berries.

Once you’ve let the berries simmer, strain them out of the juice. This is a very important step that I forgot to do. (I ended up having to pick out all the little bits of dried berries that got stuck to my yarn. Yeah…. not very fun!) Then put your yarn into the pot with the berry juice. Make sure the yarn is completely submerged under the liquid or you’ll end up with yarn that’s half dyed and half still white.

Step 4) Simmer the Yarn.

The amount of time you let the yarn simmer in the pot with the berry juice really depends on how dark you want the color of your yarn to be. The longer you leave it in for, the darker the color will turn out. Basically, you want to keep checking your yarn until it looks slightly darker than the color you want it to be because the yarn will look a little bit lighter once it’s dry than when it’s still wet.

Pot filled with yarn soaking in berry juice.
My yarn simmering in the berry juice (and you can see the berries that I forgot to strain out floating in there too…)

While you’re letting the yarn simmer, stir it every once in a while to make sure the dye is getting evenly distributed to all of the parts of the yarn (I just used an old wooden dowel to stir with). Try to stir the yarn gently, though. You don’t want it getting all mashed up and frayed. Yarn is much more fragile when it’s wet, so you want to be as gentle as possible with it. You want to sort of gently poke at it rather than actually stirring it in a circular motion like you would normally stir things in a pot.

Step 5) Rinse the Yarn and Hang it Up to Dry.

Once your yarn is the color you want it to be (taking into account the fact that it will be a little bit lighter once it dries), take your yarn out of the pot and rinse it under some lukewarm water. Then very gently squeeze the excess water out of it, trying not to wring the yarn or stretch it out too much. Then you can hang your skeins up to dry. I used a clothesline to hang mine. Every once in a while while the yarn is drying, turn it around so that it’s not hanging in the same position the whole time. This will help to make sure that it dries more evenly.

Step 6) Wind Your Yarn Back into Skeins.

Once the yarn is completely dry, untangle the strands if necessary, being careful so that the yarn doesn’t fray too much. Then wind your yarn into balls so it will be ready to use.

And that’s it! My yarn turned into a really pretty lavender color, and I used it to knit a scarf. I love the fact that my yarn has a unique one-of-a-kind color, and it was a fun project to do.

End of knitted scarf with pale lavender yarn dyed with berries.
The finished product.

If you’re planning a knitting project where you absolutely have to have a specific color, you’d probably be better off just going to the craft store and buying a pre-dyed skein since dyeing yarn with berries isn’t exactly the most predictable thing in the world. You can’t can’t be sure exactly how the color will turn out until you actually do it. For me, though, that little bit of surprise was the best part of this project. If you’re looking for a fun do-it-yourself project, dyeing your own yarn is definitely worth giving a try!

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Ball of pale lavender yarn with knitting needle and end of knitted scarf.
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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

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Berries as Dyes | HortAlaska Berries

Wednesday 14th of October 2015

[…] find out there on how to use natural dyes like those found in berries to dye yarn and fabrics:    Berry Dyes Here is a Youtube video of the same process:  Dying Yarn with […]

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