Indian Berberry YellowDYES

Indian Berberry Dye

Indian Berberry Dye – Berberris Aristata

Indian Berberry (Berberine) dye comes from the roots and stems of the Indian Barberry plant. The natural plant dye can be purchased as a pre-ground powder.

Indian Berberry Dye
Indian Berberry Dye
Indian Berberry Dye
Indian Berberry Dye

Dissolve in Alcohol (Vodka)

As with many of the woody or bark dyestuffs, Indian Berberry doesn’t dissolve very well in water, but requires a bit of alcohol to extract the colour from the wood. I used to use rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol for this. In the past 2 years, I have developed several serious allergies. One of these is an allergy to anything that has an alcohol base (such as perfumes, hand sanitizer etc) so I have had to stop using rubbing alcohol for this dye extraction.
Instead, I have started to use vodka and find that it works well, and doesn’t have the harmful fumes that isopropyl alcohol has. I measure a small amount of the dyepowder into a glass jar (in this batch I used approx. 20 grams of Indian Berberry dyepowder. I added a bit of vodka – enough to thoroughly wet the dyestuff. I covered the jar with a lid and let it sit overnight. I tested it in the morning by adding a bit of hot water to the wet dyestuff. I check the water to see if some of the yellow colour has been released into the water. If I don’t see any release of colour, I add a bit more vodka (alcohol), give it a good stir and let it sit for another day or 2 until I see colour in the water I have added.

Indian Berberry Dye
Indian Berberry Dye

Rain Water

Several months ago, I noticed that I was not getting good colours with some of the plant dyes that I have used for many years. I puzzled over this, and purchased dyes from several different sources and still achieved disappointing results. For example, when dyeing with Alkanet root, I usually got soft purples or grey shades. But instead, the yarns were disappointing muddy browns. I experimented with changing the pH as Alkanet is pH sensitive, but the dyed yarns were still muddy brown.
Then I realized that it must be the water. (Not sure what has happened to our local water supply, so that is a bit concerning.) I experimented with purchasing bottled water and the colours improved. But I did not wish to be paying for my water, and having to dispose of large plastic bottles.
I purchased a large water butt and set it up to collect the rain water from the roof of my studio. A few days of rain, and my water butt is full!

Rain Water Butt
Rain Water Butt

Slow Cookers

I use crock pots or slow cookers for all of my dye work. I don’t have a lot of space, so I only dye small amounts of yarn at a time. Crock pots can be left to simmer on a slow (warm) setting, avoiding the issues of overheating the dye vat. A lot of plant dyes are sensitive to excess heat than can destroy the colours. To achieve good colour results, natural dye colours take time to develop. I let the dye simmer on low for a few hours and then turn it off to allow the colours absorb into the yarn and develop overnight.

Indian Berberry Dye
Indian Berberry Dye


I always use a mordant prior to placing the yarn or fibre into the dye vat. The mordant assists in preparing the fibre to bind to the dyestuff. I generally use Alum as the mordant. Alum is a natural salt that has been used for plant dyes by many cultures for centuries.
I use a 10% ratio of alum to fibre. I find that using more than this can result in a harsh texture to the yarn. I also add 5% Cream of Tartar to the mordant bath, as this also helps to soften the texture of the yarn. I reuse the mordant bath several times, adding more water and another 5% of Alum each time I add more fibre. This results in less waste of both water and mordant.
I simmer the yarn in the mordant bath for about an hour, and turn the heat off and let the yarn soak overnight. Natural dyeing is a slow, gentle process.

Indian Barberry Dye
Indian Barberry Dye

Indian Barberry Dye can now be purchased in my Web Shop at Paivatar Yarns

More about Natural Plant Dyes

Anti-microbial effects of natural dye plants
What is Berberis AristataIndian Berberry or Berberine is also a medicinal herb.
Frontiers in Pharmacology: Berberine: Botanical Occurrence, Traditional Uses, Extraction Methods

Natural Dye Books
Wild Color, Revised and Updated Edition: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes
Botanical Colour at your Fingertips
The Modern Natural Dyer: A Comprehensive Guide to Dyeing Silk, Wool, Linen and Cotton at Home
A Weaver’s Garden: Growing Plants for Natural Dyes and Fibers
The Rainbow Beneath My Feet: A Mushroom Dyer’s Field Guide
Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes
A Heritage of Colour: Natural Dyes Past and Present by Jenny Dean (2014-06-10)

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