Not all sumac is the bad stuff that gives a person a poison ivy like reaction (like this), the sumac pictured here was used by native americans to make plant dyes and even a citrus tasting drink akin to lemonaid. Red sumac, also known as Staghorn, grows all along the roads here and up on open hills- so I rode my bike about a mile from my house to gather some to make non toxic dye with! The highest goal I have for making organic paints and dye is for it to not be poisonous in any way whether chemical or natural (which is the only downfall for poke berries, ya can't eat 'um) - staghorn sumac is one that can even be ingested- so it gets the 5 star award for being totally eco friendly and safe!
I cut the berry clumps off with a knife (the stem is fairly soft but might be hard to break by hand), and I gathered them in a hemp bag. The sumac is self contained, it wasn't bursting open and staining anything along the way. It has a sugary looking substance coating the each little berry.
I put the sumac berries in a pot, with some salt and water. I brought it to a boil and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. I think the more you mush them, the longer it cooks, the deeper a color that can be achieved- even though this most likely will never be as opaque & dark as poke berries or tumeric. As far as I could tell from the consistency it makes a better watery dye, then a paint, but I will keep you posted on that! I did a quick short experiment, just to see if the red-ish brown water would stain an undyed organic cotton shirt.
I was surprised how easy the color took to the fabric, mainly because it looked even darker in the shirt then it did in the pot. It will dry a shade lighter then when it's freshly wet, probably making this a peachy red, with brown overtones. I am impressed with how nice the color came out- but what's even better is the SMELL! This stuff smells yummy, and when it comes to making DIY dye that is a huge bonus! Toxic dyes smell like crap and are unhealthy to inhale, to have against our skin, and the throw down the drain. If someone wanted to try this as an organic paint, it might work best if painting on fabric instead of canvas or paper, using this in combo with other natural dye stains to achieve depth and variations in darkness to light.
Yay, for sumac... more plant dyes to come.
Please share your own natural dye experiments!!!