Old Fustic

Old Fustic yields a range of colors from dark yellows to an attractive peach colour on silk, cotton and wool.  It has reasonably good light-fastness. Old fustic is an excellent dye for over-dyeing, as it produces good greens with woad and a good black with logwood and iron.  It is often recommended to be over-dyed with Saxon Blue for beautiful teal and emerald greens. 

Fustic can refer to either of two trees that produce yellow from the wood. To distinguish between them, one is called old fustic and the other young fustic.  I sell Old Fustic.

Old Fustic, or Dyer’s Mulberry, is made from heartwood of Maclura tinctoria, a medium to large tree of the mulberry family that is very common in Central and South America and the West Indies. This tree is also known as Chlorophora or Morus tinctoria.

While reading about natural dyes, you will come across the name young fustic. This is made from the wood of the Smoke Tree (Rhus cotinus), another dye plant but from a completely different family. Young fustic is related to cashew and sumacs and comes from southern Europe and Asia. It produces a less permanent color.

Old fustic was used extensively from about 1600 to 1850. During the WW1, fustic was one of the main dyes used to produce khaki for army uniforms.

Fustic is an easy dye to use. It is best to boil or soak the fustic chips in water and leave sit overnight to extract the color. The following day, simmer the chips in the water for about an hour. Leave the dye bath to cool down for an hour or two and then pour the contents of the saucepan through a sieve to strain out the chips before adding the yarn.   Add 100 grams (one skein normally) of wool mordanted with alum to the dye bath and simmer for 30 minutes. Take the wool out and add another 100 grams of wool for paler colors.

Above I say to soak the chips and strain before using the liquid as a dye bath.  This is best practice.  Do I always do that?  No.  I like to feel like I did as a kid concocting and playing in nature, and so I like to put my chips and my yarn all together, and I never think ahead, so I haven’t pre-soaked the chips.  It’s ok.  If you are pleased with the result, and at least done the steps of mordanting, then dyeing you can just simmer longer or leave the wool cool in the dye pot…you’re good…enjoy doing what works for you.  Also, I often put my dyestuffs and yarn together into the pot.  I find that the dye stuffs shake out pretty well when dry, but if you are a sensitive skinned person, then maybe you don’t want to take the change of an errant wood chip hiding in your yarn!