When she planted it, it sounded like a good idea. A friend called the other day and asked if English Ivy made a dye and would I like some before she either A. Hosed it with a certain weed killer much in the news and not to be mentioned here-or B. Set it ablaze.
I went over armed with scissors and a laundry basket. I also took a mayonnaise jar in the event it had berries as according to Jenny Dean's Wild Color you can get color from the leaves and the berries. We spent about an hour hacking away at it and of course when we were done it looked like it was growing back as fast as we could cut it down.
The berries needed to be mashed and soak overnight so I did the leaves first. I used one piece of fabric that I had already experimented on with roots from Hound's Tongue (not exciting, just several shades of beige) and one that had an alum pre-mordant. The bright green-yellow is the alum, the duller color of green is the one that had been dyed before.
The next day I looked in on the berry mash. Hard to tell what was going to happen in there, it looked very swamp like.
Well, it got interesting. I put in one piece with an alum pre-mordant and one plain piece. According to Dye Plants and Dyeing by John and Margaret Cannon, the alum treated one should have been a deep olive and the plain one should be a mauve. The berries can't be overly ripe for this apparently and these seemed pretty ripe. I did turn my back on the pot at one point and had a boil over. Temperature can be really important in natural dyeing, so this could explain the alum one being a very attractive shade of gray-blue and the plain one was pink, but very pale.
Next winter or early spring I will search for the berries when green and keep an eye on the temperature of the pot. It would also be interesting to do a post iron pot boil to see how it affects the colors, but that will have to wait for another time. I have a freezer full of ivy leaves, so I can do that anytime. Wow! All these colors from one plant!