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Dyeing with SUMAC!


Collecting Sumac


Sumac is that recognizable bush that seems to grow everywhere!

Growing up in New England I knew it more as a scrub bush under power lines, along pasture edges and in corners of unused fields. In the fall it was unmistakable with it's brilliant red leaves and scarlet berry clusters! Our group 4H leader introduced a group of us teenagers to the health benefits of sumac when he took us out to gather sumac berries and then showed us how to make sumac tea! Even then, I had no idea of the historical and wide range diversity of sumac. I really cannot describe sumac any better than Wikipedia!

"Sumac, also spelled sumach, is any of about 35 species of flowering plants in the genus Rhus and related genera in the cashew family. Sumacs grow in subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world, including East Asia, Africa, and North America. Sumac is used as a spice, as a dye, and in medicine."

The most common sumac I use from my area of North Carolina (and in my former New England home) is Staghorn Sumac. I actually have to search to find bushes with brilliant red berries. Brown berries are very common. But in Ecoprinting the red berries print red and stay red! All parts of the Sumac leaves are strong printers!


Dyeing with sumac is an uncomplicated process. I use an almost identical process with Goldenrod (see past posts) I am not into long, complex methods! Nor do I get any money with long drawn out "click bait" articles! I prefer to dye silk with my sumac when not ecoprinting with it so my technique is below.


  1. Collect your sumac. Just clip off the berry heads. Let's use common sense here-get an app for your phone if you know nothing about ANY plant!

  2. Fill a pot with a gallon or so of water and heat to boiling. I just use a hot plate on my porch!



3. Using a mordant with sumac is not absolutely necessary as it is very colorfast! However I usually will stir in a Tablespoon of Alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) and bring the temperature back to about 185-190F. (use a digital thermometer)

4. Add your silk scarf and stir. It does not take long for the color to start appearing! I usually let the color determine how long my scarf will "simmer." So anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

5. Remove scarf or let the pot cool down and remove, then wash in cold water. Silk looks best when you take the time to iron it! So below, in just a few photos, is how it's done! The color is lovely, all natural and easy to achieve!


Enjoy your Natural dye adventure! Grab a friend, peruse the back roads and collect your sumac berries! Clusters "keep" for YEARS! Yep-for years! The staghorn sumac I collect has basically smooth berries. I noticed some in Michigan with fuzzy red berries-they all print! So experiment and have fun!


Warmly,

Theresa









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M Theresa Brown
M Theresa Brown
Jun 02, 2023

For dyeing silk fabrics, yes. If you look at the photos, the berries give a "berry look" with their spots of color. But for an overall color, sure it would work. You would have to experiment with the proportions. And different mordants would produce different effects. I used Alum. Natural dye enthusiasts can often find the dyes in the spice section of stores (such as citric acid, tumeric, to name a few)

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Nina Lerm
Nina Lerm
Jun 02, 2023
Replying to

Thank you i will give it a try. x

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Nina Lerm
Nina Lerm
Jun 02, 2023

hello, i really enjoyed your post. i have seen dried sumac in packets in some Asian and Mediterranean shops and it is used in food to give it a citric taste. can i use it do you think for dying in place of the fresh berries? thank you.

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