Three times in the last month I've been to the woods where the wild blackberries grow. I've learned one thing about myself during these outings - if I see a berry that's ripe, it's impossible for me not to pick it. Impossible. So we eat some and my husband makes batches of blackberry shrub to enjoy in winter cocktails, but then I still find myself with leftovers.
With the luxury of abundance, I opted for some experimentation outside of the culinary. I've been curious to see how blackberries work as a natural dye (since they stain your fingertips so well) and these were so juicy and almost overripe that they were begging to be used. The process was easy and the resulting color is just divine.
I used the dye bath for a yard of linen (you must use natural fibers or the dye won't take) and I dip dyed sheets of watercolor paper as well (good for gift tags). Here's the process, very simple and so gratifiying.
Prep: When working with berries, you will need to prep your fabric with a salt fixative. I used 1 cup salt and 16 cups of water (you can cut this in half if you're dyeing a smaller piece of fabric). Combine them in a pot and bring to a boil; stir to dissolve the salt. Put the fabric in the pot of boiling salt water and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 1 hour. Remove fabric and rinse with cold water.
Dye Bath: You'll find various recipes and ratios for natural dyes, along with varying times for dyeing, but this is what I did to achieve the color that I did. Experiment for other shades.
3 cups of berries
6 cups of water
Combine in a pot, mashing the berries to release as much juice as possible. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and simmer for 30 minutes. (I read here that too high of a temp would release tannins from the berries and give me a more "tannish" color, which is not what I wanted.)
After 30 minutes, strain the berries out of the dye bath and return the dye bath to the pot. Place the wet fabric in the warm dye and agitate it with a spoon for 15 minutes (to get the color shown here. For deeper colors, you'll need to leave it in the dye for longer periods). After 15 minutes, my fabric was a raspberry color, but after washing the fabric with cold water and Woolite, I was left with the delicate color shown below.
To dip dye watercolor paper, I just stood a sheet of paper in the (now cooled) dye bath and let it stand for about 30 minutes to get the color here. If you let it stand longer, the color will turn more of a bluish purple.
Great Resource for Linen: Gray Line Linen (graylinelinen.com). I used the open weave linen (Style #8064) in white. It retails for $9.50 a yard.