privet berry surprise
In the area where I live (Marin County, California) there are lots of Privet trees (Ligustrum spp.), and I have always found them somewhat annoying because of all the seeds and berries that they drop on the ground, and which sprout up as new trees if you aren’t careful. But recently I read a reference to someone using the berries for dye, and when I did further research, I found that they were once used as a traditional dye source in the Scottish Highlands. (It’s important to note that Privet is an invasive species that has been outlawed in some areas, and that the berries and leaves are highly poisonous to both people and animals, although the berries are a food source for birds.)
Deciding to search for Privet berries since they are ripe this time of year, I took a walk around the neighborhood, and what should I find but a whole green waste bin full of privet clippings right on the sidewalk! I clipped off the stems of berries and filled a bag with them, then hurried home to make a dye bath.
I left the berries to soak in a pot of rainwater for about 5 days, and then I put the pot on the heat to simmer for about 3 hours. An hour later I scooped my strainer into the pot to remove the stems and berries, and while wearing rubber gloves I gently squeezed the bunches of berries to release more juice. The liquid in the dye bath was a beautiful burgundy color.
I let the dye bath cool down a bit more before adding a skein of wool that had been mordanted with alum and cream of tartar. I slowly brought the liquid to a simmer, and left it on the heat for about half and hour. What a surprise…the yarn was now a light olive green color! I took the pot off the stove and left the yarn to soak in it over night. I haven’t yet done any testing for lightfastness, which I plan to do.
I never thought that I would find a reason to love the Privet! Supposedly the berries can dye blue with alum and salt, and the leaves can also be used as a green dye, so I have further experimenting to do.
Note added March 7, 2011: Recently I made a second dye bath with Privet berries, and the yarn that I dyed came out a boring tan color. Not sure what happened, but I will try another batch at some point to see if I can get the green color again. Also, the piece of Privet-dyed green yarn that I left in the window for a few weeks has definitely faded somewhat.
Note added March 21, 2011: A friend on Ravelry mentioned that she read something in a book called Color Cauldron about the ripeness of the privet berries being a factor in the dye color. I had been wondering if that might be the case, because the second batch of berries weren’t quite as ripe as the first batch.