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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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)