dyeing with buddleja

Buddleja is everywhere is Glasgow! It’s a plant that I’ve done a bit of dyeing with in Australia so I thought it was time to try it here- you never know if the results are going to be the same in another place, as so many variables can influence the production of dye pigments in a plant.

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

Different fibres dyed with buddleja: kid mohair/ silk and alpaca/ silk/ cashmere

Buddleja davidii was introduced from China in the nineteenth century and, since then, has spread to all corners of Britain- the highly-dispersible seed of what was originally a garden plant has resulted in extensive buddleia populations in the wild, where the shrub often out-competes native vegetation and reduces biodiversity. Its huge number of tiny windborne seeds colonize bare ground, such as railway lines, amazingly quickly and can even germinate in decaying mortar, causing damage to buildings; many of Glasgow’s derelict buildings have been colonised by buddleja, which makes for an interesting sight when walking in the city!

It is recommended that gardeners and landscape managers remove the flower heads once the plant has done it’s lovely job of providing nectar for butterflies but before the plant sets seed in late summer/ autumn- so I took it upon myself to collect as much as I could from local streets and public spaces- free dye material!

Below is my standard process for dyeing with a new plant, followed by notes in brackets about anything specific to this dyebath:

  1. Prepare  dyestuff: Place 100% weight of goods (WOG) of plant material in a large pot and cover with boiling water (I used 500gm of fresh buddleja flowers to 250gm of yarn as I was not sure whether the high rainfall in Scotland would dilute the dye compounds and affect the amount of colour available). Soak overnight or longer for tough or woody material (I soaked for 36 hours, simply because I didn’t have time to dye before then!)
  2. Extract colour from dyestuff: Place on low-moderate heat and slowly bring the dyebath to 70C. Hold for 45 minutes. Allow the dyebath to cool and then strain out fine or soft dyestuff such as flowers or juicy leaves; you can leave large or woody materials in the bath during dyeing but, for even colour, ensure that it is not touching the yarn (I strained the bath to remove the many small florets that would otherwise get tangled in the yarn).
  3. Prepare fibres:  Place alum-mordanted fibres in a bucket of tepid water and leave to soak for at least an hour to wet the fibres through; If dyeing more than one skein in the same bath, run a long loop of string through the skeins and tie together as this will make it easier to manage them.  If your dyebath is warm or hot and your fibres are cold, place them in a bucket of warm water for 5 minutes and then into a bucket of hot water for 5 minutes to prevent shocking and felting fibres.
  4. Apply colour to fibres: Add fibres to the dyebath. Place on low-moderate heat, slowly bring the dyebath to 70C. Hold for 45-60 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before removing the fibres.
  5. Remove fibres from dyebath and roll in a towel or spin in a salad spinner to remove excess dyebath. Rinse all other fibres in cool water until water runs clear and then dry flat. Alternatively, dry without rinsing; some dyers find that colours intensify if the rinsing process is delayed by a week or longer (I rinsed my yarns straightaway as I was keen to see the final results!).
A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

I used a series of different fibres in the bath; from left to right above, you can see Ysolda’s Blend 1 (Merino, Polwarth and Zwartbles), two skeins of local Shetland from New Lanark, a skein of laceweight kid mohair/ silk and two skeins of alpaca/ silk/ cashmere.

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

Above are the two skeins of Shetland- the difference in colour between the two is due to the fact that I popped the top skein in the dye bath when I first set the dyestuff to soak so it had a long time to interact with the dye compounds, whereas the bottom one was added to the strained dyebath with the other fibres. There is a big difference in result, a reminder that some species take up colour without any heat at all and others require long periods in the dyebath to maximise uptake.

And the two fabric samples were part of an adjunct test (in which I poured boiled water over the alum-mordanted samples of silk velvet and left for 12 hours) to see whether the colour from buddleja flowers picked and used when still purple (right) yielded a different colour to those picked when already browning (left). The answer is definitely yes but, as it was getting on in the season, the material I used to dye the yarn in this post was brown… so it’s inspiring to know that next year I can get even more colour if I start picking and dyeing early enough!

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

Above are the New Lanark Shetland (left), Ysolda’s Blend 1 and a strand of Tarndie Polwarth. It’s always interesting to see how different fibres pick up and reflect the colour- the dark fibres in Ysolda’s yarn give it a cool cast but the strand of Tarndie Polwarth is also a little cooler than the Shetland, and I often find that dyeing with fine fibres like Polwarth and Merino results in cooler, softer colours than Shetland and other medium-strength fibres…

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

And these three skeins of the same alpaca/ silk and cashmere yarn were all dyed with buddleja but in slightly different ways. The skein to the left was dyed in a bath made from only the buddleja leaves, which resulted in a cooler, slightly greener shade. The skein in the middle is my control skein- it was dyed in the above-described bath. And the skein to the left was also in the above-described bath but had been previously dyed a soft buff-tan in a dye experiment fail with woad seeds- overdyeing it with buddleja resulted in a richer gold and I think that it’s interesting to see how even a very light underbase can affect the end result!

So, my conclusions?  I have some lightfastness tests on the go at the moment (it’s looking like it’s quite fast but a bit too early to be sure) and I’d like to experiment more with modifiers to see if I can get a bigger range of shades but, at this stage, Buddleja is definitely on my list of very useful dye weeds! I love the warm gold shades it yields and the fact that it is everywhere and free to harvest, that we’re actually helping the local ecosystem by harvesting the flowers… it’s such a win for everyone. And my question about whether the colours achieved here would be the same as in Australia? I think the depth of colour is not quite as intense but the shades are very similar…

And, in case you’re keen to learn more, I have one more dye workshop scheduled for the year on Sunday October 9 at the Glasgow Botanics – it should be a lovely day with some great autumn harvesting of dye plants and a day all snugged up in the Kibble Palace with warm tea and cake!

3 thoughts on “dyeing with buddleja

  1. Jenny

    Thank you so much for writing this post. This was so interesting for me. I am just getting myself ready to begin experimenting with natural dyeing and your explanation of your process was wonderful. I will be interested to read about the light fastness testing as I will most probably be using my dyed yarns on my dolls and I think I will need to know how well my hand dyed yarns will hold their colour.

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  2. Carmen

    This is so interesting! At first I didn’t know what Buddleja was (we call it butterfly-bush in Dutch) but it seems we have one in my parent’s garden. Guess who’ll be harvesting those flowers next year! 😉 Really beautiful results.. I’m currently dyeing some 100% wool with rosehip dye (peachy colour), and a few other 100% wool skeins with avocado dye (salmon pink). Loving the slow process of it all, can’t wait to start knitting with it! Thanks for sharing your process 🙂

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  3. Lisa

    Glad I found this post this morning – I just did a small batch of wool with buddleia and it turned out so lovely, especially using a teeny bit of iron as a modifier. Wondering about results of your light fast tests – what did you find?

    Reply

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