Perplexing Persimmons

I have a plethora of persimmon trees, so for the last two years I have been trying to use them for natural dyeing, hoping they would produce a color of their own or be a good mordant.  And the results have been disappointing.

Persimmon dye samples.

Persimmon dye samples.

India Flint says, “Persimmon juice has been  used as a mordant both fresh and fermented,”  (Eco-Colour, p. 99) but the picture she shows is of Diospyros kaki, and mine is Diospyros virginiana.

Diospyros virginiana, common persimmon.

Diospyros virginiana, common persimmon.

Over the last two years, I have put scoured muslin samples through every combination of soaking, mashing, heating, dipping, freezing, exposing to the sun, re-dipping, and re-heating you can imagine.  I have had a giant black enamel pot of mashed persimmons sitting on my porch for an entire year!  (A little mold forms on the top, but there is no odor.)  Every now and then I would drop in some fabric, and after days or weeks pull it out and let it sit in the sun, and then re-dip.  I have dipped in persimmons, and then in soy milk, and back in persimmon, etc.

I have only been able to find a few helpful articles online for further information, a master’s thesis on colorfastness with persimmons by Nicholas Malensek, and these two posts by Janice Paine Dawes.  Janice used common persimmon too, and got interesting results with a technique that looked pretty straightforward.  I tried to follow her technique, but my results were minimal.

I have also tried these samples with other natural dyes, to see if the persimmons can serve as a good mordant.  I tried them with goldenrod and parsley hawthorn, to no avail.

I found no difference between fresh and frozen persimmons, so if you are going to try this for yourself, and don’t have time right after you get the persimmons, you can stick them in the freezer until you get around to it.  Also, I found a meat tenderizer mashed up the persimmons better, faster, and with less mess than sticking them in my food processor.  I just sliced them in half and then bashed them with the meat tenderizer.

The best I got was a pale khaki color, and there is also a very crisp feel to the cotton.  But there is so much work to the picking and mashing of the persimmons, that the results don’t seem worth the effort.

If my samples were my only indication, I would just think this plant is not really suitable for dyeing, but then there is this:

Persimmon residue put through the dishwasher.

Persimmon residue put through the dishwasher.

If you are like me, when a dish like this comes out after the dishwasher has been run, you think, “What good colorfast dye!  How can I replicate this?!”  This is a dish that I mashed the persimmons in, and I can not get it clean!  After going through the dishwasher, it still looks like chocolate pudding was just scraped out of it.  How is it that the color wouldn’t show up on cloth, but it sticks to china?

My brilliant thought was to reheat some of the samples in water with a little of the dishwashing powder added.  Within a few minutes, it had gotten really dark, and I thought I had discovered something!  But when it dried it was not much darker than any of the other samples.

Most promising results - which still isn't saying much. Dishwashing powder sample on far right.

Most promising results – which still isn’t saying much. Dishwashing powder sample on far right.

For the really blotchy sample on far left above, I just stamped some cut persimmons onto the cloth.  I tried heating and sun exposure and nothing worked.  When I threw it into the water and dishwasher powder, the juice blotches turned color.

The yarn looks amazing, right?  But it feels horrible!  Very brittle and sticky.  Maybe it could be used to weave sails or tents, but other than that, I wouldn’t use it.

So, unless any of you fine people can help me out with more information, I think I am going to give up on persimmons.  Following Dre’s advice on ripeness, I will eat a few myself, but I will leave the rest for the deer, foxes, and coyotes.