Folk Fibers Blog

  • Natural Dyes - Pomegranates

    Natural fibers dyed with pomegranates harvested in Austin, Texas

    above: no mordant--pure and earthy 
    below: alum pre-mordant brightens colors creating yellow tones

    Steeped in history and romance pomegranates have long been cultivated, they're even biblical. I find myself lucky to be living in a place they grow prolifically, they're packed with usefulness and in my case a botanical dye. Overall the pomegranate is an attractive shrub or small tree and is more or less spiny, and extremely long-lived. The fruit is widely praised for the juice, but I'm after the brilliant dye properties great for coloring textiles. The dye properties are found in both the rind and the flowers. Each pomegranate has a tough, leathery skin or rind, basically yellow, more or less overlaid with light or deep pink or rich red. The interior is separated by membranous walls and white spongy tissue (rag) into compartments packed with transparent sacs filled with tart, flavorful, fleshy, juicy, red, pink or whitish pulp (technically the aril). In each sac, there is one white or red, angular, soft or hard seed.  All parts of the tree have been utilized: root bark, rind, flowers, leaves, and obviously the fruit, all of which have high tannin content, making it useful for curing leather, yielding dye, and medicinal uses. Ink can be made by steeping the leaves in vinegar. When dyeing I go whole hog, using the entire fruit and crushing or breaking the surface either before or after soaking them in water. Taking the time to remove the seeds for eating before using the rind for dying is an option. The fruit size depends on the plant variety. I have been harvesting from a shrub type that produces smaller fruits which is why I have not bothered removing the precious seeds before using the whole fruit as a dye source.

    The Recipe: (pre mordant fibers with alum for brighter yellow tones) 

    Pomegranates!

    Enough to fill dye pot at least 3/4 full.
    Break the surface of the fruit by cutting, stomping, or breaking them open with a hammer. An alternative to cracking them open is to soak the dye stuff (pomegranates) in water for days (or weeks) this will soften the rinds, allowing them to break open when the bath is brought to a boil and aid in extracting color.

    Time to get cooking!

    Cover dye stuff with water. 
    Bring the water w/ dyestuff to a boil 30 mins (or longer) and simmer (for at least an hour or longer)
    Let the pot cool to touch, I suggest removing the heat and allowing the pot to rest overnight, then strain pomegranates from the pot, 
    set aside the dye stuff (soggy rinds) they can be saved and reused again or composted.
    Return strained, richly colored dye bath (free from debris) to the pot and reheat 

    Time to color your cloth! 

    Evenly soak fibers before introducing them to the dye bath,  place the fibers you will be dying in scalding hot water before placing them in the dye bath (this helps open up the follicle and achieve even color on your cloth). Once cool to touch ring out the fibers from the clear hot water and place pre-wet fibers into the dye bath.

    Heat dye bath to a slow boil for approximately 1 hour, using a spoon or stick to submerge fibers and free air bubbles to achieve even color avoid crowding the dye pot.
    Reduce heat and let the fibers cool in the dyebath this will give brighter results. 
    Most dye artist let the bath sit and cool overnight or even a few days... longer is stronger.
    Check the color of your cloth and if it's dark enough, remove the fibers from dye bath, rinse with cold water until water runs clear
    hang to dry. Once fabric has dried, hand or machine wash gently with a mild detergent such as synthrapol.

    Use your fibers to create something beautiful! 





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    • Victoria says...

      Thank you for sharing! I recently saw a bunch of ornamental pomegranate bushes that are blooming a retail property. Was wondering if it could be used to dye. Stumbled upon your blog!

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      What is the ratio of alum to water? Does it matter if you use well water vs. rain water?
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    • Gail says...

      Does anyone know of the best way to save pomegranates? I have bought a bunch ’cause they were on sale at Costco, but will not be starting to dye for a month or so.

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      On December 29, 2014

    • Lauren says...

      Hi Maura!

      I followed the directions as you stated above, but I am not getting the same results on the wool. It is a very special yarn that my friend made and I am terrified of felting it. It is already knitted into a cowl. Should I just heat it gently, or steep it for a whole week? It is definitely slowly taking color. My cotton fabric, also, turned a really beautiful soft gold with the dye. Thanks so much!

      Love,
      Lauren

      On December 11, 2014

    • Ava Adler says...

      I love all the pictures and want to dye with pomegranates myself. I was wondering if the more red pomegranates would work the same? Also, how do you pre-mordant the fibers and what fibers are you using? Thank you for this lovely post!
      -aVa

      On November 30, 2014

    • Ginni says...

      I’m a big fan of your work! I’ve recently began natural dyeing for my wool and linen fibers. I’m wondering for pomegranates that are bought from the grocery store, they are ripe and large in size and the seeds are very bright in colour ( perfect for eating)- if I were to salvage the skins and rinds, will the results still be effective? Or are the seeds a dominant source for colour in your experience? The seeds from my fruit, are much darker than those in your photos and are filled with the red juice that pomegranates are known to stain for.

      Thanks for your input and sharing all that you do!

      Ginni

      On October 24, 2013

    • sharilyn says...

      Hi there! I just found your blog and LOVE it- like love love it! Even though it is past 10 pm and I should be asleep I want to bust back into my studio and get started on another project- thank you for all the awesome inspiration!

      On September 24, 2013

    • peggy says...

      So incredibly beautiful. I am inspired and want to take fabric dyeing classes asap. Thanks for sharing.

      On July 31, 2013

    • Kris says...

      I’m living in MN now, but did live in Ft,Worth once , and had a pomegranate in the yard. I didn’t know it could be a dye-stuff until today! Thanks for a beautiful post!

      On May 12, 2013

    • Amy Higgins Stambaugh says...

      Beautiful! I’m going to hit the grocery stores next December and scrounge up all the “rotten” pomegranates.

      On April 24, 2013

    • Michal fierstein says...

      Just wanted to say … “Your textiles are amazing”!
      You have given me a lot of inspiration for my final project (I’m a Textile Design student from Israel)

      Thank you ✽

      On February 23, 2013

    • Georgia Sakura Howell says...

      I loved this!
      Very inspirational…planning on plant dying the fabrics 
      For my newborns quilt
      So excited to start,
      Thanks for the instructions & beautiful photos 
      xoxo
      Lady G
      >^.^<
      http://littlesparrownest.etsy.com

      On February 21, 2013

    • tia says...

      Your photos make this process look so lovely. I will be looking for pomegranate bushes on my way to drop the kids off at school. I love the shades your dying produced.

      On February 20, 2013

    • laura says...

      gorgeous.

      On February 19, 2013

    • claire says...

      you make me want to just run outside and start dying. thank you for sharing.

      On February 19, 2013

    • Elizabeth Beattie says...

      So beautiful!

      On February 19, 2013

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