Friday, 7 November 2014

Attempt at Dyeing in a Pumpkin

Halloween is the only time of year that supermarkets stock big pumpkins.  In America, they fill them with pokeberries to dye woollen yarn vivid purples and pinks.  I've heard the colours fade and I know berry dyes are generally a short lived pleasure, but I tried to grow pokeberries anyway this year.  Though the seeds germinated, sadly, no berries, the plants have disappeared, as if by magic. Houdini the slug and his lovely assistants. Still, I do have this ornamental vine, Vitis viticella. After the long mild autumn, it is still ablaze with red leaves and laden with little black grapes. The birds haven't eaten them fast enough to stop the patio getting purple splat marks.
Last week, friends on Ravelry were discussing a blog with this method and pumpkins were on sale at two for the price of one.  A black cat walked under a ladder and lying in bed, I saw the droppings of three magpies combine to make a Significant Sign on the skylight. Harupsicate or scry, I divined it was time to essay the dark art of pumpkin dyeing. And clean the windows.   How this method mordants wool as the same time as dyeing is weird. Maybe pumpkins have a high tannin content, perhaps the vinegar helps release it. The potion for pumpkin one - let's call it Grimalkin - consisted of the guts of the pumpkin squished up with a pound or two of slightly mouldy grapes blended with a cup of vinegar.  
Pumpkin two - Pussy - was much tamer, just a cup of water to loosen the same grapes and guts mixture.  My test dye subjects were two parcels of scoured white fleece, stuffed into one leg of a pair of tights to stop the fibres getting too choked up with pips and slime. Grimalkin had a sausage of plain fleece, Pussy got fleece mordanted with alum. Encouraged by the stains on my chopping board, I waited four days for the magic to come to fruition.
The inner lining of both pumpkins went soft and the smell certainly got fruitier with successive squishings and turnings.  I couldn't really tell what was happening to the wool inside those dark tights, but the juice went a fabulous red/purple. Getting a handful of the contents of these pumpkins would be a
terrific trick for small monsters knocking on our door at Halloween.  Total gore.  I was sure the lad next door would love it.  Himself advised we stick to cellophane wrapped treats, observing that if the mothers down our street found out the origin of the mess, there really would be a bloodbath.  While scrubbing the colour off my hands in the bath, I pictured deep purple fleece carded with some silver Gotland, spun up and woven 
into art for the blank bit of wall by the shower.  Hmm.  Turned out I'd been a bit previous.  
First picture, the lavender contents of Pussy.  Second picture, Grimalkin.  The unmordanted fleece does have interesting orangey patches, could be the vinegar was doing something.  Maybe I should have left it stewing a bit longer.  If only himself had agreed to dance round the pumpkins widdershins, clad only in a weaselskin jockstrap.  Unsupportive swine,
such unkind remarks about bonfires and a trip to a pond to find out if I floated.  I suppose I shall have to have another go planting pokeberry seeds next spring.  Chance is over for 2014 - the pumpkins have disappeared from the supermarket shelves without so much as a puff of blue smoke.  I'll leave these two to thaumaturgically transmogrify into compost.


  1. Great attempt though and made me scold myself for being so lazy with my plants.
    We had but two kiwi's on our vine this year, however the abundant flowers in spring made a pretty peachy lemon. Our black grapes have been left for the blackbirds.
    Perhaps a slow oven bake, say 24 hours have set a stronger colour, roll on next Halloween!
    Susan (Pembs WS&D)