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)
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!