Natural Dyeing Experiments: Apricot Bark & Root

For a number of years we’ve tried a range of different approaches to try and save a very old and rather diseased and fungal apricot tree in the garden. The reason for this was largely sentimental rather than practical connecting us, via my parents-in-law, to the person who previously lived in this house and farmed the surrounding land on behalf of the landowner prior to the abolition of share cropping from the 1960s*. In the end however, it needed to make way for something more productive and I hoped that I would be able to preserve its legacy as a dye material and in the everyday wearing of items made from the subsequently dyed yarn.

Apricot being a member of the prunus species is a recognised natural dye source and according to Wild Colour by Jenny Dean** the bark should produce pinks of various shades depending on the mordant used, so let’s see how I got on….

Initially I laid claim to the bark, even before the tree was felled, but actually during that process I was really struck by the root which appeared to have a highly pigmented layer just below the surface.

A piece pf Apricot tree root showing the different layers

So I decided as we were sorting the the wood bark and bits of root as the tree came up, to experiment with this first.

I eased off the bark/outer layer of the root and extracted 23g of a mix of this granular orange layer and some more woody bits that didn’t separate so easily, covered it with boiling water and left it to soak. It promisingly started to release colour almost immediately.

Beginning the extraction process

The next morning I simmered the dye materials for an hour, allowed it to cool, decanted off the liquid, then added 2 10g skeins of alum mordanted superwash wool to soak in the dye. (Barks don’t need mordanted yarn, but that’s what I had). Meanwhile I reboiled the roots for another hour to extract more colour and when that had cooled added it to the yarn.

The dyebath

I raised the dyebath to a low simmer and kept it there for about an hour and left t to cool and sit overnight.

The yarn had turned a lovely dusky orange colour and i thought I’d try modifying one of the skeins with iron (a solution made from rusty nails, vinegar and water) to see if it would produce a richer even more dusky colour. I think perhaps I added a little more than I should and it came out a darker brown that I had been aiming for:

Top: Apricot on alum mordanted yarn; Bottom: The same yarn modified with iron

On the basis of these colours, I collected as much of the root as I could and I collected a lot of the bark because that too should give good colour. However, I was also struck by the depth of colour in the wood itself. So I thought I would try out some of the wood chips created when chopping up the tree.

Apricot logs showing the colour in the wood itself

I used much the same method of covering the wood chips in boiling water, leaving them overnight and then boiling them up to extract as much colour as possible. Boy did it keep on giving! Then I again added some alum mordanted yarn.

This time I used some vintage aran weight yarn, a very generic yarn that wasn’t superwash treated. I used two 50g balls with a view to having enough to combine in a project. Again the first I dyed just in the apricot solution, and the second I did the same followed by an additional heat and leave in the dyebath after I’d added some iron.

Left: Wool dyed with apricot wood chips; Right: The same yarn modified with iron

On this non-superwash and the colours are a little more muted that the superwash 4 ply that I dyed with the root. In neither case did I get anything approaching pink, but I’m really pleased with them and am pondering the project I want to use them on. At the moment I can’t decide whether that should be a single project with just these two colours, e.g. a hat or cowl, or whether I should keep them for a bigger project with other colours I dye…

What do you think? Please feel free to comment below.
Until next time,
take care
Tess xxx

*While officially abolished in Italy in the 1960s, share cropping or mezzadria in practice continued beyond this with formal prohibition in the 1970s and redistribution of land taking until the 1980s.

**Please note: This is an affiliate link. I have signed up with which enables you to financially support local, independent UK based bookshops. Buying via affiliate storefronts allow you to support the affiliate whose content you (hopefully) enjoy or at least find informative, and local bookshops at the same time.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.