My next door neighbour knows I like to use natural dyes. Still, coming home in early summer to find a couple of containers of fresh mulberries on my porch was a real surprise. I knew, however, that she didn’t intend for me to eat them! She had painstakingly harvested them from trees in the paddocks in which her horse was agisted.
I froze all of them as I didn’t have time to dye with them right then.
I suspected that there would be tricks attached to using mulberries. Although there are plenty of tales about kids getting hideous stains on their clothes from eating mulberries in their backyards, I reckoned that it might not be that easy to get a good colour on cotton, for example. Whatever, I had some recycled/gifted cotton damask fabric which I had put through a home-made soy milk bath previously.
I first took some frozen mulberries and wrapped them into a piece of the cotton damask. The colour was a vibrant pink-purple. I put the fabric and the berries back in the freezer for a couple of hours, then took it out of the freezer and let it sit for a couple of hours at room temperature. Brushing the berries off , I hung the fabric on the line to dry, then washed it in Lux Flakes.
I then put freshly thawed berries into a pan with tap water and made a bath of mulberry dye. I placed a piece of the soy-assisted cotton damask fabric over a sieve and poured the dye bath through it, creating a bright pink area in its centre. I hung that to dry then washed it in Lux Flakes.
Finally, I put a third piece of the soy-assisted cotton damask fabric into the mulberry dye bath.
In the spirit of experimentation I went further:
This time I squeezed a piece of the soy-assisted cotton damask through the lovely dark rose juice coming out of the mulberries. The fabric became a lovely bright purply pink. I then put it in a steamer basket above a mulberry dye bath.
As a sort of “control”, I put a piece of “vintage” silk fabric from a blouse donated by my sister through the same process of being squeezed through the the neat juice coming out of the mulberries. I placed that piece of fabric in the steamer too.
Finally, I put an untreated piece of cotton/linen mix from an old apron into the mulberry bath below the steamer. It too became a lovely purply pink.
After 40 minutes of steaming or simmering, the fabrics were removed, cooled, dried and washed in Lux Flakes.
Since all the above experiments were carried out either on untreated fabric or on soy-mordanted fabric, I resolved to test the use of a soda ash bath, thinking that the cotton in particular might benefit in terms of brightness of colour from a high pH pre-treatment.
I made up a fresh dye-bath of mulberries in tap water. I then added:
.a largish piece of washed but untreated cotton;
.two pieces of deconstructed cotton/linen apron , one with Battenberg lace on it, which had been pre-soaked in soda ash; and
.a piece of silk from a vintage silk blouse , also soaked in soda ash.
The silk, as expected because it is a protein fibre, became a slightly darker shade than the cotton and the cotton /linen fabrics, but all were grey rather than pink of reddish, or even blue.
Before washing and drying the piece of untreated cotton from above I ripped it in half, taking one half and rinsing it through a vinegar bath. Again, I was testing pH effects. It immediately went purply pink and I put it into the previous mulberry dye bath to simmer. I added a piece of dupion silk which had been washed but otherwise untreated.
The addition of vinegar seems to preserve the pink in the mulberry on silk but not on cotton. The cotton that had been treated in vinegar went a nice pink at first but reverted to grey on heating so that it was very similar to its other half.
It looks as though the best results in terms of getting pink from mulberries come from silk but that interesting shades can come from dyeing cotton which has been soy-milk treated and either wrapped in raw mulberries or simmered in a cooked mulberry bath.