In Praise of Prinsepia

Fiber arts have been on hold due to more pressing matters, such as trekking in the mountains

There were shepherds!
Oh yeah, and stunning views too.
Oh yeah, and stunning views too.

and eating too many jalebis

One-stop shopping for heart attack AND type 2 diabetes!

and watching my friends dance in the village festival.

They also sang, very loudly and off-key. But they rocked the pom-poms like nobody’s business.

But now things have settled down again, so it’s back to the grind. Nettles take 1 didn’t take, but we’ve seen enough success stories on other blogs to give it another go. Ranbir just rinsed out his experiment and was quite disappointed to find that the color ran out completely. But this is NOT another fail post, thanks to the heretofore unsung Prinsepia utilis.


P. utilis is known in the local language as “bekhali” or something like that (I have a hard time distinguishing some of the sounds, and it’s an entirely oral language so getting someone to write it in Hindi wasn’t much help). It grows absolutely everywhere. Its main utilis seems to be as a natural barbed wire fence–people pile up the dead, thorny branches along the stone walls surrounding their orchards. But it was also listed as a dye plant in some of our sources, and was one of the few that we could positively identify. It produces small purplish-black berries which have only just starting coming ripe. So the other day I worked my way down the path and gathered a small handful for experimentation.*

We didn’t have any idea of how to process them, and weren’t even sure which part of the fruit gives the dye. So I opened them up to see what’s inside. The less-ripe berries contained a bright green goop, while the older, more wrinkly ones were dark all the way through. They started to stain my fingers purple while I was opening them, so that seemed like a good sign. And when I poured hot water over them, lots of color came right away. But of course none of this is a guarantee. I put in some test fiber, some of which was mordanted with alum and some which was not.

And it worked! After a couple sessions on the induction burner, and a couple days just sitting around because the kitchen was rather busy cranking out vats of mattar paneer for festival guests, I rinsed out my little samples and was relieved to see that some color stayed. And wasn’t yellow. I tried out some lemon juice on one piece, and it shifted the color from bluish-purplish-gray to magenta. Not a color I personally would wear, but, decidedly not yellow. Score.

Believe it or not, this is the most exciting picture of this post. Really.
Believe it or not, this is the most exciting picture of this post. Really.

*By the way, while I was collecting berries a local stopped and asked me what they were for, and was very adamant that I shouldn’t eat them. Then he proceeded to try and sell me a 2000-year-old Buddha. Just because.

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