How to Dye with Sumac

So one of the things I haven’t been able to do much of as of late is dye. Without a dedicated workspace, I have to wait for good weather so I can work outdoors.

However this last week the weather opened up and I pounced on the chance to get some work in.

What is Sumac?

I advise checking out the Wiki for a full run down but as a short summary

Sumac (/ˈsjuːmæk/) or (/ˈsuːmæk/), also spelled sumach,sumak,soumak, and sumaq, is any one of about 35 species of flowering plants in the genusRhus and related genera, in the family Anacardiaceae. Sumac grows in subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world, especially in East AsiaAfrica, and North America.[3][4]


The important part is that you can use the bark and leaves for dye!

We happen to have a rather thriving group of trees thanks to a neighbor as the trees spread via the root systems. After a quick look at the book “Wild Color” I decided to take several branches and try my hand.

Disclaimer I am by no means an expert, proceed with caution and make sure to wear gloves have proper ventilation and such. Remember safety third.


Step 1: Get branches into pieces that will fit in the dye pot. Also, get a scale to weigh out your sticks. I just clipped a few down aiming for a 1 oz in dye to dyestuff. I used 2.5 quarts of tap water and let the whole thing just sit outside to soak to draw the color out.

Step 2: Weigh out the wool. I got one oz of wool roving out of my stash. After forg…I mean intentionally letting the sumac soak for two days. Next, I placed that in enough cold tap water with 2 teaspoons of Alum to help fix and brighten the color. I left that to soak from 1-4pm.

Step 3 At this point I heated the sticks while giggling about stick soup till a low simmer until I got a weak tea color.

Step 4 I moved the dye back outside discarded the sticks. I then squeezed the water out of the wool before putting it gently in the dye pot. Remember wool plus hot plus agitation equal wool felt. So I mostly poked at it before leaving it to sit overnight.

Step 5 Let ambient air temp get to pleasantly warm after the cold night before removing wool and washing in cold hose water. Trust me your hands will be happy. Wash wool until no color bleeds out and then hang to dry.

Step 6 Admire yellow color and eye sumac for more bark to try again as you know you can get an intense yellow for silk.


The color was subtle but dyed for sure. I plan to revisit this dye once the leaves come back out and see if they do any better. I also plan to try the bark again once the sap starts running and see if that changes my color.

My son also put a stick in some water for his own dye. This little dye bottle has become way more intense….and I am thinking of liberating it to see if it dyes better. Or just letting my next batch go longer.

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